Children are exposed to man-made chemicals even before they are born. While progress has been made to reduce toxic substance levels, new chemicals constantly enter the market. Many sectors of our society are involved in reducing chemical exposure. Citizens are increasingly concerned regarding their lifestyle choices; NGOs are working to provide the public with tools to make informed decisions; regulators are updating and setting new safety levels for each substance and; industry is adapting to a changing demand.
Risk assessment used as a scientific basis for new regulations tends to focus on one chemical at a time to reduce complexity. Still, scientists are convinced that it is necessary to tackle toxicant exposure at the level of mixtures of chemicals. The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability published in October 2020 stresses the need for EU legislation to address the combination effects of substances in order to achieve a “toxic-free” environment.
Professor Vinggaard, coordinator of Panoramix, explains: “We are constantly exposed to different substances coming from different sources: from the water we drink to the food we eat. Moreover, a single mixture can be composed of dozens of chemicals, both known and unknown. Finally, some harmful effects might take years to manifest in the population. With Panoramix, we aim to address these critical points with a specific focus on children”.
Samples of water, food and human cord blood will be studied to consider human exposure from different environmental sources. Thanks to the use of in vitro tests that are increasingly replacing classical animal testing, researchers will focus on a large number of samples for their adverse effects on fundamental biological processes. Samples suspected to contain harmful combinations of chemicals will then be analysed to identify which substances contribute most to these mixture effects.
This information will be compared with data obtained via the Odense Child Cohort, an ongoing project studying the impact of the environment on the development of the fetus and infant throughout their early life. By linking the results of the in vitro tests on the cord blood samples with the health conditions of the Odense Child Cohort, potential long-term effects induced by chronic chemical exposures will be uncovered. Thus, this research framework will pinpoint the co-occurring chemicals that are most likely associated to specific human health effects (“mixtures of concern”) and, importantly, their levels in water, food and the human body.
The data generated by the 11 European institutions involved in the Panoramix Consortium will make it possible to propose safety levels for chemical mixtures in water, food and even the human body to guide regulators in shaping safety policies.