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Vol. 30 No. 1
January-February 2008

Proceedings of the World Chemistry Leadership Meeting

by Colin Humphris and Mark Cesa

Seventy-five delegates attended the World Chemistry Leadership Meeting (WCLM) on 10 August 2007 in Torino, Italy. The WCLM focused on the promising, yet challenging, global effort to meet the commitment that by 2020 chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. The 2020 commitment was made at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development* in Johannesburg and has led to new policy frameworks such as SAICM (UNEP/WHO) and regulations such as REACH (EU Commission).

The WCLM, held during the 44th General Assembly of IUPAC, attracted high-level representatives from industry, academia, and the UN. Speakers and panelists at the event included the following experts:

  • Rainer Koch (International Council of Chemical Associations, ICCA)
  • Carol Henry (American Chemistry Council, ACC)
  • Richard Phillips (ExxonMobil)
  • John Duffus (The Edinburgh Centre for Toxicology, Chair of the IUPAC Subcommittee on Toxicology and Risk Assessment)
  • Elsa Reichmanis (Alcatel-Lucent)
  • Alan Boobis (Imperial College School of Medicine)
    Matthew Gubb (UNEP)

WCLM attendees and speakers discussed the health and environmental safety of chemical products, emerging issues of societal concern, and the resulting regulatory trends, with the objective of identifying specific contributions IUPAC could make through projects or through working with others. Participants recognized environmental health as an important aspect of applied chemistry for IUPAC and agreed that there is a need for an ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, the industry, and UN on these matters. A consensus was also reached on the following important issues:

  • The bulk of the environmental health concerns arising from the industrial application of chemistry lie in the developing world. IUPAC has a key role to play in education and capacity building to bring product stewardship toward the levels practiced in the developed world. IUPAC should seek to collaborate with industry and the initiatives it is undertaking, and with the SAICM process and its Quick Start Programme.
  • Underlying many public concerns about the use of chemicals is a lack of understanding and appreciation of chemistry. This is a concern to both IUPAC and industry. The proposed UN/UNESCO International Year of Chemistry 2011 provides a strategic opportunity to celebrate both the contribution of chemistry to human development and the safe, responsible use of chemical products. IUPAC should invite industry to engage fully in the International Year of Chemistry.
  • There is a need to strengthen the contribution of science to chemicals policy to ensure that future policy is soundly based. IUPAC is invited to provide chemical science input to the forthcoming SAICM implementation conferences and should consider the most appropriate processes to do this. Value is seen in working more closely with both UNEP and WHO and seeking formal recognition with both as an NGO.
  • New health concerns are emerging from innovation (e.g., nanotechnologies) and our broader understanding of biochemistry and genetics, which cross the boundaries of chemistry, biology, toxicology, and medicine. It is important for IUPAC to remain alert to these concerns to ensure that it can contribute to questions of nomenclature, classification, and characterization and the development of appropriate methodologies (e.g., biomonitoring) to assess their toxicological, health, and environmental impacts.

Summaries of WCLM Lectures
Rainer Koch (International Council of Chemical Associations, ICCA)
Koch began his lecture by describing the history of SAICM, which originated with the Johannesburg declarations in 2002:

“. . . aiming to achieve by 2020 that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment using transparent science-based risk assessment procedures as well as science-based risk management

As Koch explained, this declaration has led to a high-level political commitment from governments and stakeholders (including industry) and a policy strategy that lays out the key elements and principles to be adopted. From this, a Global Plan of Action was adopted as part of the Dubai Declaration (International Conference on Chemicals Management, ICCM 2006) to provide guidance and tools to enable governments to set priorities for chemicals management and regulation. REACH is a European example of this; a new regulation for chemicals management encompassing all stages of the value chain from primary manufacture to eventual consumer use. It will require the eventual preparation of some 80 000 registration dossiers.
Koch discussed the question “What does minimization of significant adverse effects actually mean?” Then he talked about how the Johannesburg declaration has made the following necessary:

  • science-based risk assessment and management
  • extensive data on chemical hazards and
  • education and capacity building in chemicals use

Koch recommended a number of ways in which IUPAC could help with this process:

  1. improve knowledge/information on chemicals and chemical processes
  2. develop sound risk assessment methodologies (targeted and comparative assessments)
  3. contribute to the SAICM Quick Start Programme by proposing capacity building in developing countries
  4. establish a scientifically sound interpretation or definition of the meaning of “minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment,” the goal of the Johannesburg declaration
  5. perform outreach to developing countries of science-based approaches to chemicals management: capacity building, education, and training
  6. act as an active stakeholder in the SAICM implementation process, particularly in the upcoming international conferences
  7. organize scientific sessions on key topics of SAICM in conjunction with IUPAC conferences
  8. promote/support industry voluntary initiatives related to emerging science issues (e.g., ICCA Long-range Research Initiative [LRI] program)

Carol Henry (American Chemistry Council)
Henry began her talk by describing the realities for the chemical industry today. She noted that “Discourse and debate about chemical products and their usage is too often fuelled by misinformation and lack of relevant facts and scientific research—fact versus fear.”

Henry described how the new global charter for Responsible Care, an industry initiative announced at the ICCM in Dubai (where SAICM was launched) will counter the tendency toward fear with more balanced information. The goal of Responsible Care, she said, is to set a new vision for improved performance and strengthened engagement. It is designed to ensure consistency of approach across the world, with an increased focus on product stewardship (the Global Product Strategy [GPS]), and the management systems needed for its implementation. GPS sets out to improve the stewardship of chemicals from source to consumer through partnership, training, and dialogue and includes a commitment to participate in the necessary scientific enquiry to address health and environmental risk concerns through the industry’s LRI.

Henry appealed to IUPAC to engage with ICCA to develop a new paradigm of constructive engagement across the world of chemistry to replace “fact versus fear.” This would enhance discourse and partnership, promote engagement in the implementation of Responsible Care and GPS, encourage science and innovation (better products for a more sustainable future), and further chemistry education and capacity building.

Richard Phillips (ExxonMobil)
Phillips outlined why emerging science is so important to industry and policy makers when it is combined with societal change, encapsulated in the “right to know.” As he explained, when new questions emerge about the influence of people’s environments on their health, the debate rapidly moves to the need for action, which is often based on over-precaution and fear rather than thorough knowledge-based assessments. He noted that the European Union has set up an expert scientific committee to advise it on emerging risks.

Phillips provided examples of emerging science that will be helpful in assessing risks:

  • nanotechnology to provide arrays for assessing the effects of chemical stimuli on cells (lab on a chip)
  • biomonitoring as part of the assessment of an individual’s susceptibility to environmental chemicals and the need for new monitoring science for the environment, for the body intake, and for the assessment of pre-clinical responses (e.g., Gene-Environment Initiative, U.S. National Institutes of Health)
  • epi-genetics, which is the science of the factors that effect gene expression and provides evidence of inheritable changes in response to environmental factors (exposures that may affect future generations)

He outlined a number of ways to maintain focus and support for incorporating new, improved technology in our risk assessments. Following are some of his suggestions:

  • tools to link chemistry and biology in the new toxicology paradigms to be able to address the often subtle and more complex effects of real environments on health
  • systems to manage, interpret, and apply the explosion of data that will follow from the application of new technologies
  • education of the public to avoid policies that address “apparent problems,” but which could create greater adverse consequences
  • improved science support to policy through
    a renewed commitment to follow the scientific method
    testing hypotheses and validating methods
    confirming data and results clearly
    communicating data and results clearly
    considering alternative, biologically plausible and reasonable explanations for observations

John Duffus (The Edinburgh Centre for Toxicology, chair of the IUPAC Subcommittee on Toxicology and Risk Assessment)
Duffus emphasized the importance of an authoritative and informed chemistry basis for policy and regulation. He cited a number of examples where the science basis for policy is questionable or ambiguous:

  • the concept of no threshold for mutagenic activity
  • the extrapolation of high-dose effects in mice and rats to humans
  • the absence of real exposure data in epidemiological studies on which policy decisions have been based
  • the absence of consideration of chemical speciation for all elements except carbon
  • the need for new toxicological thinking when applied to nano-particles together with considerations of bio-availability for insoluble particles

Duffus concluded that “the assumptions inherent in regulatory toxicology should be reviewed regularly to bring them in line with current scientific thinking; this implies continuing revision of rodent (and other) test guidelines to ensure that the tests provide relevant data and that the data are correctly interpreted.” IUPAC should play its part in this work, he said.

Panel and Discussion
Moderated by Elsa Reichmanis (Alcatel-Lucent)

Alan Boobis reflected that there needs to be a chemical basis for concerns relating to chemicals and health. In some of the NGO activity that we see, this is missing; the focus is more on concerns of the unknown. Aside from well-known environmental toxicants and examples of environmental mismanagement, there is little evidence of human susceptibility to chemicals at the background environmental levels encountered in the developed world. Here, he said, current regulations are already precautionary and have served us well, providing adequate protection.

Boobis pointed out that policy makers do have a tough job however and many science gaps remain. Following are some of his ideas for how the scientific community and governments can fill these gaps:

  • develop mechanistic insights to show that thresholds of activity exist
  • ensure biomarker data is acceptable to regulators
  • confirm that current multigenerational studies can identify multigenerational effects
  • develop tiered approaches to risk assessment to enable a focus on priorities
  • understand the modes of action for different categories of chemicals

He agreed these were areas where chemistry needs to work with biology and medical science.

Speaking for UNEP, Matthew Gubb picked up on the theme that there is a need to strengthen the scientific base. This is a key component of SAICM, which he emphasised is a multistakeholder activity. As he explained, it is important to recognize that governments need to respond to societal concern and that authoritative science is needed to bridge that gap, improve understanding, and influence perceptions. He encouraged IUPAC to play an active role in the future SAICM conferences outlined by Koch, which will review progress and identify emerging issues. The conference in 2009 will include reports from science bodies which will recommend areas for action to provide a pathway to future regulation. It will be important that this is well grounded and that issues not yet addressed are highlighted. He foresaw IUPAC acting as a focal point is this regard.

The discussion continued with a fundamental question: What is a chemical? As Duffus noted, for the public the term “chemicals” has tended to mean products produced by the chemicals industry. Boobis stated that a chemical is a substance, natural or synthetic, that may interact with a biological system. Care is needed, he said, with the definitions and classifications in common use as toxicology is indifferent to the source of a chemical, which may be natural or synthetic. The feeling was that this is understood by regulators, but there is an educational question for the public. As a question of nomenclature, this may be something for IUPAC to consider, said Carol Henry.

The panellists and audience exchanged questions on a variety of topics. Are scientists part of the problem? Do they make it difficult to appreciate and objectively debate “chemicals” and “chemical issues” in public? What will be regarded as safe in 15 years and how can we continue to improve public health? Is the focus on chemicals fully justified, considering that many of the environmental problems come from human and mammalian waste? Don’t most of the problems exist in the developing world, how can the developing world cope with capacity building, and are sufficient funds and resources available?

One way IUPAC can play an important role is in providing objective and authoritative science to the policy debate on complex chemistry issues. Such authoritative “white books” have been prepared in the past and in response to the issues related to chlorine and endocrine disruption. Mapping emerging scientific issues of importance to industrial members would also be valuable, balancing the perspectives of the science, those of society, and those where IUPAC can have influence.

The relationship between regulation and public perceptions of chemistry was also raised. IUPAC is already seeking to address these public perceptions and felt this relationship could be addressed in the proposed UN/UNESCO International Year of Chemistry in 2011 which could serve to highlight both the benefits of chemistry and the effective management of hazards.

IUPAC President Bryan Henry concluded by summarizing points he had noted from the four presentations and the plenary discussion:

  1. Rainer Koch’s description of the industry response to the new regulatory environment and his recommendations for IUPAC to engage in SAICM
  2. Carol Henry’s description of the experience of Responsible Care, which highlighted the importance of public perceptions of both the industry and the application of chemistry
  3. Richard Phillips’ focus on key emerging issues such as nanotechnology, biomonitoring, and
    transgenerational effects in which chemistry needs to consider its contribution
  4. John Duffus’ identification of the ambiguity in the chemistry applied in many areas of regulation today

Henry noted that underlying many of the science and policy questions that were raised in the discussion was a lack of public understanding and appreciation of chemistry. The balance of science funding for cutting-edge and for applied research was important given the needs to develop practical public health methodologies such as biomonitoring. He said it was clear that many issues were raised where IUPAC can help and the dialogue (with industry and the UN agencies) should continue.

Colin Humphris <[email protected]> is a titular member on the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry and Industry (COCI). Until last year, he was executive director of research and science at CEFIC (The Chemical Industry Association in Europe). Mark Cesa <[email protected]> is chair of COCI; he is a process chemistry consultant for INEOS Nitriles in Naperville, Illinois, USA.

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