Developing the science-policy panel on chemicals and pollution


From January 30 to February 3, 2023, national delegates, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders met in Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (Bangkok), Thailand for the UN Environmental Assembly working group meeting to create a science-policy panel dedicated to the management of chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention (hereafter: the Panel). The meeting focused on defining the role of the Panel, and its scope and function within existing chemical regulatory bodies.

Defining the scope of the Panel is a large task due to the hundreds of thousands of chemicals on the market, the variety of products they are used in in different combinations, and with wildly variable effects on humans and the environment (FPF reported also here and here). Stakeholders and delegates will also have to decide how to deal with data gaps, as there are many chemicals and chemical effects for which information is not publicly available (e.g., polymerized PFAS, FPF reported).

As discussions were beginning in Thailand, Marlene Ågerstrand of Stockholm University, Sweden, and 21 other scientists in the field of chemical pollution published an article in Environmental Science and Technology highlighting “ten critical aspects for consideration in determining the settings of the Panel.” The aspects include:

  • Paralysis by analysis – “the Panel must avoid repeatedly re-assessing the same topics and substances” where continued research may expand or deepen the understanding of the issue(s) but would simply confirm earlier insights “and where, accordingly, action could and should have been taken earlier.”
  • Scope – “the Panel’s work needs to be broad and inclusive to properly respond to the breadth and complexity of global chemical production, use, releases, and disposal, involving up to several hundred thousand chemicals, of which a substantial fraction is hazardous to humans and/or ecosystem health.”
  • Establish inclusive knowledge exchange – chemical use and regulation is globally diverse, and the Panel will need to integrate a diverse array of knowledge sources including natural and biomedical sciences, social sciences, humanities, traditional and local indigenous knowledge, and others. To get from knowledge to action, “the adequate involvement of experts in risk communication will be critical for the dissemination and contextualization of the Panel’s work.”

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Food Packaging Forum, 07-02-23