How dangerous are chemicals that we use and come into contact with every day? The "PARC" initiative of the European Union (EU), launched in Paris on 11 May 2022, is breaking new ground in the assessment of chemical substances. "PARC" stands for "European Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals". The aim is to improve knowledge about chemical substances in order to better protect human health and the environment. The programme has a total funding volume of €400 million for the next seven years. For Germany, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the German Environment Agency (UBA) take on leading roles as work package leads.
"PARC is the largest project of its kind and a scientific and regulatory milestone in Europe," says Dr. Tewes Tralau, head of department for the "Safety of Pesticides" at BfR. "Together with its partners, BfR wants to raise the already high levels of protection for humans and the environment to a new level." Dr. Lilian Busse, Vice-President of UBA: "We hope this will bring us a big step closer to the EU goal of a pollutant-free environment, and thus make a significant contribution to sustainable development in Germany and Europe."
As multinational European project, PARC involves close to 200 institutions from 28 countries and three EU authorities. The partnership is coordinated by ANSES, the French authority for food safety, environmental protection and occupational health. It is designed to support the EU's chemicals strategy and the "European Green Deal", which aim to significantly reduce substances harmful to health or the environment. Half of PARC's funding is provided by the EU through Horizon Europe, the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The other half is provided by the respective partner countries. Within PARC BfR leads the work package “Toxicology” while UBA leads the work package "Monitoring and Exposure".
A key objective of PARC is to promote European cooperation, advance research, increase knowledge of chemical risk assessment and train relevant methodological skills. The results will help launch European and national strategies to reduce risks posed by hazardous chemicals to health and the environment. Further on they will help to reduce animal testing and implement strategies for next generation risk assessment.
As research partnership PARC builds on the structures and findings of previous projects, including the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU), the flagship action Mechanism-based Toxicity Testing and Risk Assessment for the 21st Century (EU-ToxRisk), the cluster for Animal-free Safety Assessment of Chemicals (ASPIS) and the European Cluster to Improve Identification of Endocrine Disruptors (EURION).
The PARC programme has three main objectives:
- Further development of an EU-wide, multidisciplinary network for promoting research and innovation in chemical assessment which will feed its findings into the regulation of chemicals
- Initiate joint EU research projects on urgent topics - this will support risk assessment and respond to new challenges
- Strengthening existing research capacities - at the same time, EU-wide, interdisciplinary platforms will be established with the aim to give new impetus to the risk assessment of chemicals
The work package for which BfR is responsible focuses on the following goals:
- Improve consumer health protection by closing data gaps for the risk assessment of potentially hazardous substances
- Develop and improve innovative and predictive methods that directly contribute to the identification of chemical hazards, risk assessment and regulation of these substances
- Improving risk assessment concepts to protect health and the environment
- Further development of methods that can be used as an alternative to animal experiments
- Establishment of a Europe-wide network of toxicologists as a contribution to a uniform approach to the risk assessment of chemicals in Europe
In addition, BfR is involved in the work package "A common science-policy agenda". This work package will be the basis to ensure that the results achieved in PARC find their way into the work of the regulating authorities in Europe.
The work package for which UBA is responsible focuses on the following objectives:
- Establishment of EU-wide, sustainable human biomonitoring in continuation of the HBM4EU work
- Integration of the consideration of environmental and health impacts according to the planetary health approach
- Further development of existing monitoring programmes to consider additional substance groups and mixtures
- Systematic establishment of monitoring results as an instrument for the initial or renewed authorisation of hazardous substances
- Development of innovative analytical methods to detect pollutants at low concentrations
In addition, UBA is actively involved in the work package "Innovation in Regulatory Risk Assessment". Here, new innovative concepts are to be developed to close existing assessment and knowledge gaps in order to further improve the regulation of chemicals.
About the UBA
The German Environment Agency is Germany's central environmental authority. Its task is to ensure that Germany’s citizens have a healthy environment with clean air and water, free of pollutants to the greatest extent possible. UBA’s work centers around gathering data concerning the state of the environment, investigating the relevant interrelationships and making projections – and then, based on these findings, providing federal bodies such as the Ministry of the Environment with policy advice. UBA also provides the general public with information and answer questions on all of the various issues it addresses. In addition, UBA implements environmental laws.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States (‘Laender’) on questions of food, chemicals and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks. The BfR employs around 1,150 staff at three locations in Berlin.