PARC: reforming chemical risk assessment in Europe

Joint interview with Sofie Norager, Deputy Head of the Industrial Transformation Unit in the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, and Pascal Sanders, coordinator of PARC at ANSES.

PARC, the Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals, was launched on 1 May 2022. How did it come about?

SOFIE NORAGER. It all started in 2018, with the preparation for "Horizon Europe", the European Commission's new research and innovation programme. Based on experience with projects under way at the time, in particular the HBM4EU human biomonitoring partnership, there was a need to imagine the next steps to be taken on chemical risks, as well as a desire to increase cooperation and connections between the worlds of research and risk assessment. This led to the idea of creating a stable reference structure to establish a vision, a course, a working agenda, in particular in order to share data and knowledge
generated by surveillance and research. ANSES, working with other risk assessment agencies, had suggested the concept of a European platform on toxicology, to collaborate and move forward together on chemicals. Discussions continued with Member States, health agencies and stakeholders, including industry, while Europe's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability was being prepared.

What role did ANSES play in the construction of PARC? 

PASCAL SANDERS. ANSES, together with its German, Belgian, Danish, Irish, Dutch and Swedish counterparts, had indeed suggested to the European Commission creating a toxicology programme, which laid the groundwork for PARC. The aim was to have an independent data generation tool to address health issues associated with chemicals. The Agency was already involved
in HBM4EU and other related European projects. With the One Health EJP, we also had experience coordinating large European
projects. When the principle of a major project financed under Horizon Europe began to take shape, our Director General, Roger Genet, wanted ANSES to be a player in this new partnership because of our cross-cutting position on health risk issues. At the
Agency, we are convinced of the need for a "one health" approach. We are interested in the different uses of chemicals in our daily lives and at work, and their transfer to the environment, food, etc. PARC aims to look at chemicals and their effects on health and the environment in a holistic way rather than by sectors or products. The building of this partnership is a strong
commitment by the Agency, which has invested significant human and financial resources for its launch and coordination, with the consent of our supervisory ministries. 

How does PARC support the European Union's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability?

SOFIE NORAGER. PARC is a research and innovation tool that will provide the scientific know-how needed for this strategy, mainly for implementing the "one substance, one assessment" approach. The principle is to conduct a risk assessment of a substance that can be reused in other areas. Indeed, if a substance is determined to be toxic in a food, why would it not be
toxic in another everyday product? In PARC, the aim is to pool resources and facilitate access to data and knowledge for national and European agencies. PARC will also lead to improved measurement of population contamination by different chemicals, which is necessary for public policies. There is also a part designed to support the development of safe and sustainable chemicals
from the design stage, another ambition of the EU's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. To create alternatives to hazardous substances, data on toxicity, exposure and uses in products are needed. All the actions undertaken in PARC are interconnected, in order to invent a new way of producing and using chemicals in the European Union. 

What is your ambition in coordinating PARC? 

PASCAL SANDERS. In order to more effectively deal with chemical risk, there is a need to break down regulatory silos and answer all the scientific questions: where are the chemicals, what are the routes of consumer exposure and what happens to these substances in the environment? To do this, PARC will need to bring together scientists from different countries specialising in different disciplines to work in networks. This partnership will act as an interface between European research institutions
and agencies, which will be able to specify the data they need and their expectations in terms of experimental methods or software, and also take better account of endocrine disruptors and the exposome concept in risk assessment. PARC will capitalise both on the new methods and knowledge developed, and on the networks of partners who have been working
together for several years. Ultimately, the aim is not only to eliminate hazardous substances but also to integrate risk assessment
into the chemical industry to support the development of innovative substances, materials and products that are not harmful to humans and the environment.