Interests in Emerging Chemicals

How to evaluate risk when chemical data is sparse?


Modern economies consume (and produce) tens of thousands of chemicals. In some countries, regulators would like to assess each new chemical before it enters into its nominated use. This could require laboratory testing to determine chemical properties, such as persistence and toxicity. Ideally, regulators would be able to anticipate “emerging chemicals” which will adverse effects on human and environmental health (more concisely, AEs), and impose appropriate regulatory actions.

However, as the case of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) shows, regulators may not have the resources to collect data on all chemicals. Further, a regulator’s resources may be further stretched by having to consider chemical interactions, or the need to re-assess chemicals as their usage changes, or new information becomes available.

As a result of limited resources and insufficient chemical data, chemicals can enter into widespread use, causing AEs, community concern, and a reduction in the public’s confidence in regulators.

My approach is to consider whether published scientific literature can provide clues on which chemicals are showing a pattern of proceeding towards requiring regulatory action. By recognising such “chemicals of interest”, a regulator may focus its limited resources on testing a relatively small number of chemicals. The intent is to recognise AE-causing chemicals more quickly, allowing a regulator to apply management in a more timely manner.

Recent publications or reports on emerging chemicals

Whyte, J. M., “On Using ‘Emerging Interest’ in Scientific Literature to Inform Chemical Risk Prioritisation”, accepted, to appear in the proceedings of the 10th International Environmental Modelling and Software Society Congress, Sept 14-18 2020, Brussels, Belgium. Pre-publication, post-review version here.
Summary: This conference paper laid the groundwork for a subsequent consultancy. The results showed that my approach could anticipate chemicals of concern earlier than a regulator could. This result has encouraged further research in this area.

Work in progress

Whyte, J. M., “Exploiting scientific publication trends for chemical risk management”
This paper will consider features of publication keywords over time.

Recent talks on emerging chemicals

“On Using ‘Emerging Interest’ in Scientific Publications to Inform Chemical Risk Prioritisation (with updates)”, invited oral presentation, The Australian Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants’ “Emerging Contaminants Workshop” (School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, online), Oct 27th 2020.