2011 was the 40th anniversary of work on chemical safety at OECD. Since the establishment of the first chemicals safety work in 1971 the work has grown into the Environment, Health and Safety programme (EHS), which today includes work on chemicals, pesticides and biotechnology.
OECD held special event to mark this occasion on 15th June. It was a great opportunity to look back and reflect on those aspects of the work which have been a success over the years and those on which the programme can build on. At the same time, it was than an opportunity to look back. It also provided a context in which to address those opportunities and challenges which have yet to be met within the EHS programme of work and within the context of the wider directions and priorities of the OECD as a whole. With this in mind, the event covered two specific themes: i) New Approaches to Testing and Assessment - ensuring safety and efficiency; and ii) Challenges to the Substitution of Harmful Chemicals.
In 1980 a High Level Meeting of the OECD Chemicals Group, attended by a number of Ministers and high-level officials, agreed that the Test Guidelines and GLP Principles (Good Laboratory Practice), which had been developed, were of such a good quality that they could serve as the basis for a Mutual Acceptance of Data in the Assessment of Chemicals (MAD).
In 1981 the OECD Council confirmed this by incorporating this agreement in a legally binding Council Decision [C(81)30]. The Test Guidelines and GLP Principles are an integral part of this Decision.
In 1987 after major accidents with releases of hazardous chemicals from production sites in both Bhopal, India (December 1984) and Schweizerhalle, Switzerland (November 1986), member countries asked the OECD to start work related to chemicals in hazardous installations. The Chemicals Programme reacted quickly and the first results of this work were discussed at a High Level Conference on Accidents involving Hazardous Substances early 1988.
Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology
In 1994, a group was established on biotechnology to develop methods to assess the environmental risks of products derived from modern biotechnology, such as crop plants, and considering if risks are posed, which risk management actions would need to be taken based on the assessments.
In 1996 a Guidance Manual for Governments to help them set up PRTRs was developed at the OECD. A 1996 Council Recommendation on Implementing PRTRs, which was updated in 2003, recommended countries establish PRTRs and use the Manual in doing so.
Building on the useful results produced by the Pesticide Programme, member countries asked in 1996 that the OECD start similar work on biocides. Biocides are chemical products which are, like pesticides, designed to destroy unwanted organisms, but not in relation to crops; examples are disinfectants and sterilizers.
The OECD principles for the validation of (Q)SAR models were agreed in 2004. This meant that OECD could productively start work on facilitating the acceptance of (Q)SARs for regulatory uses. To this end the OECD (Q)SAR Toolbox was developed.
In order to address the regulatory aspects of dealing with the safety aspects of manufactured nanomaterials, member countries reacted, and OECD began work in 2005. Non-members and other stakeholders were also involved.
In 2010 there was a Focus Session devoted to “Current and Forthcoming Approaches for Chemical Safety and Animal Welfare”. The Joint Meeting confirmed that the OECD has a key and unique role to play in developing tools to evaluate chemical safety, thereby helping to protect human health and the environment. It also agreed that recently developed methods, such as the (Q)SAR (Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationships) Toolbox and in vitro tests, constitute considerable progress for regulatory use as well as for animal welfare.
In 2010 a report “Cutting Costs in Chemicals Management” was published. The conclusion of this report is that the overall net savings for government and industry resulting from the EHS (Environment, Health & Safety) Programme are €153 million/year. This includes €147 million/year of savings generated through MAD alone.