Lancaster Environment Centre and the Royal Society of Chemistry Toxicology Group convened a two-day expert international workshop on 1-2 December 2016. Outputs will include two publications, one describing how effective problem-formulation methods can yield efficient use of resources in conducting systematic reviews in chemical risk assessment, the second a “gold standard” for conduct of systematic reviews in environmental health research.
Systematic review methods, a technique widely used in medicine for making best use of existing evidence to determine the effectiveness of medical interventions, are of increasing interest in chemical risk assessment. The idea is that the transparency and robustness of systematic methods will present further opportunities for ensuring chemicals policy is made on a solid evidentiary footing.
However, there are a number of challenges to implementation of systematic review methods in chemical risk assessment. One is that systematic reviews can be very resource-intensive and time-consuming to conduct when the evidence base is as large and varied as it is for the environmental and health impacts of chemical substances.
Another is that while systematic reviews are perceived as a gold standard, there is in fact no formal mechanism for identifying when a so-called “systematic review” is a real systematic review. When developing policy, this can lead to decision-makers over-emphasising what may in fact be a poor-quality assessment.
To tackle these two problems, the Lancaster Environment Centre and the Royal Society of Chemistry Toxicology Group convened a two-day expert international workshop on 1-2 December 2016, bringing together leading researchers in risk assessment and evidence synthesis methods from around the world to develop a new approach to deciding how to target systematic reviews to make best use of resources in conducting risk assessments, and to begin the process of building consensus on a minimum standard a review must meet in order to be regarded as truly “systematic”.
The results of the workshop will be published as two manuscripts in leading toxicology and environmental health journals, which should in turn inform work on systematic review methods by groups such as the Navigation Guide, the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network, various European and US agencies, and also publishing standards at scientific journals.
Participants included representatives of the World Health Organisation, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the US National Toxicology Program, the European Food Safety Authority, and the Cochrane Collaboration, among others.