INSIGHT: LRI drives biomonitoring analysis

04 July 2008 16:17  [Source: ICIS news]

By John Baker

LONDON (ICIS news)--Biomonitoring for man-made chemicals in the human body has developed rapidly in recent years as analytical techniques have improved tremendously, but advances in detection have proved a double-edged sword for the chemical industry.

Media reports of biomonitoring tests on high-profile politicians and “typical” members of the public have created concern and distrust.

On the other hand, advances in biomonitoring offer industry a significant opportunity to improve its understanding of chemical exposures and its ability to perform risk assessments.

Thankfully, the industry looks to have held its corner in the battle over the negative publicity created by the NGO-sponsored testing of high-profile individuals.

This can be put down to the industry’s focus on good science and a concerted communication programme to a range of different audiences.

Both have been driven by its Long-range Research Initiative (LRI) programme, set up by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) in 1999.

LRI reviewed the issues surrounding the adverse impacts from biomonitoring as early as mid-2005 in a meeting in Paris and set research priorities just a year later in Minneapolis.

Now, says Richard Phillips of ExxonMobil and chair of the Cefic LRI strategy implementation group, “industry is positioned as a leader in the interpretation of biomonitoring”.

David Duncan, senior vice-president for R&D in Unilever’s home and personal care business, and a member of the Cefic Research and Innovation board, supports the notion that industry “must set high standards” in science and “communicate more broadly to build consumer confidence.”

He told ICIS at an LRI workshop in Amsterdam entitled “21st Century Approaches to Toxicity Testing, Biomonitoring and Risk Assessment” on 16-17 June that industry has tried hard to combat scare stories.

Now, he believes, the public has become desensitised, “as the scare stories have happened just too many times”.

But he does not deny that NGO interest in biomonitoring probably made the industry move more quickly.

“While the need for innovation is never more important”, said Duncan, “people are still worried about chemicals and scare stories”. It is very easy to generate disinformation and people still think that the industry is a major cause of environmental problems, he says.

“We need to measure and mitigate impacts and promote consumer confidence and we need to collaborate across the range of stakeholders.”

Fortunately, attitudes are improving. Industry has been talking to downstream users to get some key messages across, and has been able to put its case to regulators through, for example, the high-level group on the competitiveness of the chemical industry in the EU.

And in the US there have been some big shifts in the last two years, as the desire for transparency in the market grows.

Last year the LRI and US' Environmental Protection Agency held a combined meeting, which, he says, would have been impossible just five or six years ago.

With the biomonitoring issue under control, Duncan says the big task for LRI is to be clear on where the next big issues will come from.

“Our biggest concern at the moment is the quality of science and the decreasing standard of peer review of research.”

Even if the science is sound, he says, the interpretation of the results can be poor and is often taken out of context as scientists are becoming more provocative in their statements, following the same trend as reporting in the media.

“We need peer review to continue, and we need to be able to check data and see that results can be replicated.” Only then, he implies, can the science be relied on.

LRI spent $120m (€77m) financing research from 1999 to 2006 and now devotes around $34m/year to the task.

The research enables industry and regulators to make decisions about the environment, health and safety aspects of chemicals based on high-quality scientific information.

The goals of the LRI are to increase knowledge of the potential impacts that chemicals may have on the health of humans, wildlife and the environment, support informed decision making and improve public confidence with decisions based on a scientific understanding of risk.

Results are published and shared freely with the public, regulators, industry and academic and government communities.

($1 = €0.64)

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: John Baker
+44 20 8652 3214

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