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Public Health

Health-EU newsletter 247 - Focus

The Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks takes part in the Environment Knowledge Community’s annual exercise

by Marco Vighi, member of the Scientific Committee on Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) and Chair of the SCHEER Working Group on the EU Environmental Foresight System (FORENV) - Emerging issues at the environment-social interface (2018-19 annual cycle), IMDEA Water Institute, Alcala’ de Henares (Madrid), Spain.

In addition to its regular work responding to mandates to produce scientific risk assessments for the European Commission, the SCHEER is participating in the EU Foresight System of the Environment (FORENV) annual exercise.

This first annual FORENV cycle was held in 2018-2019 (with a prior pilot study the year before), and was established by the Environment Knowledge Community in 2017 to identify, characterise and assess emerging issues that may represent risks or opportunities to the environment and to human health, and to then communicate these results to policy-makers and other stakeholders in order to encourage timely and appropriate action.

The Environmental Knowledge Community, led by the European Commission Directorate-General for the Environment, is a collaboration between different services of the European Commission formed to exploit new ways of creating and exchanging knowledge that is related to environmental policy-making.

The Community’s FORENV exercise aims to examine about ten emerging issues each year. It is a five-step process, running from one autumn to the next. The five steps are: information gathering and scoping; sense-making and selection; characterisation; validation; and outputs and communication.

The SCHEER is mainly involved in the validation part of the process involving the characterisation of around 10 prioritised issues. Specifically, the SCHEER is asked to answer three questions:

  • Are the identified emerging issues likely to have the risks and/or opportunities described, or others?
  • Is the described expected impact (positive or negative) on environment and human health plausible, including the expected time-frame?
  • Can you assess and rank the relevance of the identified emerging issues on the basis of environmental and human health impact?

The SCHEER answers these questions by producing an Opinion that includes a review of the characterisations and ranks the issues according to their potential impact on human health and the environment.

In addition to participating in this way in the validation part of the annual exercise, members of the SCHEER are invited to attend experts’ workshops during the sense-making and selection step, which focuses on reviewing and discussing emerging themes, cluster them and prioritise relevant emerging issues potentially important for EU policies.

In the first annual FORENV exercise, topics included emerging environmental issues related to new technologies in urban environments and emerging issues at the environment-social interface.

The second annual FORENV cycle continues through September 2020 and focuses on emerging issues related to innovations in the green economy of the future.

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The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety provides guidance on nanomaterials to help industry to comply with current legislation

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) recently published a Guidance intended to be used by public authorities and the cosmetic industry to help them comply with the current cosmetic EU legislation (EC No 1223/2009) in regard to safety assessment of nanomaterials intended for use as cosmetic ingredients. The use of nanomaterials in cosmetic products can be beneficial, for example when they are used as UV filters in sunscreens or as preservatives to keep cosmetic products from deteriorating. However, the same nano-scale features that might be useful in a cosmetic product might also pose a risk to the consumer. A thorough safety evaluation of any nanomaterial that is intended for use as a cosmetic ingredient, with special considerations to nano-features (e.g. extremely small size), must be conducted to keep consumers safe.

In 2012, the SCCS published a Guidance on safety assessment of nanomaterials in cosmetics, but since then, there have been new developments in the field of nanomaterial safety research and the SCCS has assessed several safety dossiers on nanomaterials. An updated Guidance was therefore needed to provide an overview of the key issues and data requirements relating to the safety assessment of nanomaterials in cosmetics.

The new Guidance highlights the need for special considerations in relation to the safety of nanomaterials, in view of the distinct properties at the nanoscale, interactions, and/or effects that may differ from conventional form of the same materials. It also provides information and a list of non-animal methods that could be used for nanomaterials while considering nano-specific aspects.

A checklist has also been provided to enable both the applicant and the SCCS to quickly assess if the dossiers are complete and to prevent submissions that are incomplete or contain inadequate/irrelevant data. This should streamline the safety evaluation process and save time and resources for both the applicants and the SCCS.

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