New spin out company offers solution for chemicals industry problem

A new company is helping to solve a 20-year problem in the chemicals industry.

Enviresearch, a Newcastle University ‘spin-out’, uses computer models to determine whether chemicals are environmentally friendly.

The British Government demands that chemicals undergo a rigorous testing programme, including an ‘environmental risk assessment’, before it is satisfied a substance is safe. Only then will it grant a sales licence for the UK and Europe.

Due to these strict regulations, however, which date back to 1981, there is a massive backlog of tens of thousands of chemicals which need checking.

Risk assessments can be based on laboratory tests, or performed using the cheaper, quicker method offered by Enviresearch. Computer modelling provides results in several days, as opposed to the several weeks needed for laboratory tests to be completed.

Company director James Garratt has been working on environmental modelling and research for the last decade.

He said: “We are currently able to test a wide range of chemicals, including pesticides, paints, detergents and wood preservatives for our clients using a wide range of mathematical models.”

“The models – sophisticated computer programmes – carry out a detailed analysis of information we have about particular chemicals and predicts what would happen if they enter the environment. The worst case scenario is that a harmful chemical could kill birds and fish and damage the ecosystem.”

Dr Garratt, a researcher with Newcastle University’s School of Biology, is targeting the international chemicals industry with this technology. One recent project involved helping a company to predict how the acidity
of soil would affect the risk that a pesticide would contaminate drinking
water.

“There is certainly plenty of work out there, with the backlog of chemicals needing to be environmentally risk assessed,” he added.

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