A while ago EFSA produced a short video explaining what cumulative risk assessment is. This is a good idea: chemical mixtures are increasingly an issue of public concern, as awareness of the failure risk assessment process to take into account chemical mixtures becomes more widely known.
I think there are questions about how well this video communicates the issues, partly because it doesn’t really explain why cumulative risk assessment is necessary nor how it is done. Instead, after explaining how people are exposed to mixtures, it talks about “adding risks” and “interaction”, and then baldly states that if these are found, they are “taken into account”. The video closes out by listing the things EFSA is doing to address cumulative risk assessment.
The problem is, this would only be reassuring if you already believed EFSA was actually doing a good job. Since it is precisely the issue of whether or not cumulative risks are being satisfactorily taken into account, it won’t win a doubter’s trust.
Nor does the video show people how cumulative risk assessment is being managed, as it is very unlikely that the things EFSA is doing will mean much to them – they will only understand the video if they already have substantial expertise in what is going on in cumulative risk assessment (and if they have that, they won’t really need to watch it).
Try this instead?
Overall, although the effort is laudable, it is hard to see how EFSA’s film can work as a communication exercise. Instead (this is a back-of-a-napkin exercise) I might go about the issue like this:
- Why are mixtures are of concern? Because historically, RA has only taken account of chemicals having environmental and health effects in isolation, when in fact we are exposed to lots of chemical risks simultaneously.
- How do you measure cumulative risk? Currently, we think the best method is to add up similar, individual risks – you look at which chemicals cause the same environmental and health problems and treat them as a group. (Add more technical detail; explain this finding comes from Kortenkamp’s report on RA of mixtures)
- The ongoing challenge: Although we are pretty sure that we can anticipate mixture risk by adding up the individual risks of similar chemicals in the mixture, some chemicals can magnify the toxic effects of other chemicals in a process known as synergy (give an example). We also haven’t yet developed a procedure for doing cumulative risk assessment, which is what EFSA is working on now.
Explaining in layman’s terms the final Opinion on cumulative risk assessment of pesticides (which was published this month), explaining what it solves, why it seems to be the best proposal so far, and what remains to be done, would round out the communications package nicely.