There is sufficient know-how to assess risks to human health and the environment resulting from combined exposure to multiple chemicals, a European Commission report argues.
Assessing the risk of certain chemical mixtures "is necessary in order to avoid underestimations of risks that might occur under the current paradigm of considering substances on a chemical-by-chemical basis," states the study, drafted by the University of London School of Pharmacy.
But transferring this scientific knowledge into appropriate regulatory approaches is "not at all trivial" and requires "considerable additional efforts," the authors underline.
The study was commissioned by the EU executive back in 2007 to review current scientific knowledge and regulatory approaches to dealing with 'chemical cocktails'.
EU guidelines for assessing chemical mixtures
According to the report, scientific research demonstrates that the effects of a mixture are considerably more pronounced than the effects of each of its individual components, and that "environmental pollution results from chemical mixtures," not individual chemicals.
As there is currently no guidance available for assessing chemical mixtures, the study concludes that EU guidelines on the matter would prove "extremely helpful".
EU to take lead in protecting the environment
Current mixture guidelines from the United States Environment Protection Agency or the World Health Organisation are limited to the assessment of potential human health risks from chemical mixtures, the authors note, suggesting that EU guidelines should extend the existing regulatory approach to environmental protection.
"Mixture assessment guidelines that integrate human health effects and ecosystem integrity are a novelty, and the EU is uniquely placed to become a world leader in this area," they continue.
Research on 'priority chemical mixtures'
The European Commission acknowledges that the number of chemical combinations is "potentially enormous and it is neither realistic nor useful to test every possible combination".
The report notes that more information is needed on "typical exposure situations with respect to chemical mixtures," to find out which priority mixtures are present in the environment and might have an impact on human health and ecosystems.
Better understanding of what makes chemicals react in relation to one another is also necessary, it concludes.