Interview: RIFM Scientist Talks Environmental Safety

Chaitra Deodhar, Ph.D., contributor to RIFM’s environmental safety assessment of fragrance ingredients.
Chaitra Deodhar, Ph.D., contributor to RIFM’s environmental safety assessment of fragrance ingredients.

Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) spoke with Chaitra Deodhar, Ph.D., to talk about fragrance safety.

Related: Ipsy Introduces Ingredient Ban List

Deodhar contributes to RIFM’s environmental safety assessment of fragrance ingredients and supports related research projects.

RIFM: Why does RIFM study the environmental impact of fragrance ingredients?

Chaitra Deodhar [CD]: Globally, fragrance ingredients make up a tiny fraction of the volume of chemicals produced by human activity. But it is critical that the fragrance ingredients we use, no matter how small the amount, place no burden on ecological health.

RIFM: What parts of the environment do you study?

CD: The most significant route of exposure for a fragrance ingredient is down the drain to primary and secondary wastewater treatment plants. Water naturally “treats” impurities by dilution and via microorganisms that break them down to simpler matter. Treatment plants speed up these natural processes of purification. But some small amount of a fragrance material may remain after this process.

We might think of fragrance as something that concentrates in the air because we can smell it; however, fragrance ingredients exist in personal care products like soaps and shampoos, as well as laundry detergents and cleaning products—most of which goes down the drain.

RIFM: What does the environmental safety assessment process look like?

CD: RIFM’s science-based approach follows the RIFM Framework, which is also covered in the RIFM Criteria Document that outlines RIFM’s approach to the fragrance ingredient safety assessment process.

Our first step is to study the ingredient’s potential for risk. To gauge risk, we need to know how much of the ingredient is used in fragranced products every year. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) compiles this information every four years in their Volume of Use Survey. We also need to evaluate the ingredient’s physical-chemical properties. Those properties tell us how big or small the ingredient is and how it behaves—for instance, if it dissolves in water.

RIFM: What do you do with that information?

CD: Following the RIFM Framework, we conservatively predict how much of the ingredient could potentially wind up in the freshwater environment. Scientists call that amount “PEC,” which stands for Predicted Environmental Concentration. At the same time, we predict the concentration below which the ingredient is not expected to cause an effect. Scientists call that level “PNEC,” which stands for Predicted No-Effect Concentration—in other words, the amount of an ingredient in the aquatic environment below which adverse effects will most likely not occur during short or long term exposure. At RIFM, we express this as a ratio: PEC/PNEC.

RIFM: What do PEC (how much) and PNEC (how much will not cause an adverse effect) tell you?

CD: When the PEC is lower than the PNEC (expressed as PEC/PNEC <1), we can assume that there is no potential for the material to cause any adverse effects to the aquatic environment at the current volume of use.

RIFM: What if the PEC is greater than the PNEC?

CD: Fortunately, this is very rare. In general, it requires very little of a fragrance ingredient for our nose to detect it; consequently, most fragrance ingredients from customer products end up in the environment at very low, scientifically predicted safe concentrations.

But, if an ingredient’s predicted concentration is higher than its predicted no-effect level (PEC/PNEC >1), we need to improve our understanding.

To improve our understanding, we may use the US EPA’s Ecological Structure Activity Relationships Program (ECOSAR), look for available experimental data or data on a structurally related ingredient (a so-called “read-across,” or stand-in for the ingredient of interest) or conduct additional studies as needed.

RIFM: What else goes into an environmental safety assessment?

CD: In addition to the risk assessment, RIFM also performs an environmental hazard assessment for completion. (Hazard generally refers to the potential of an ingredient to cause harm; risk is the specific chance, high or low, that any hazard will actually cause harm).

To complete the hazard assessment, RIFM follows the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Guidance on Information Requirements and Chemical Safety Assessment.

RIFM’s robust, conservative, science-based environmental assessment process helps to ensure that we can continue to safely enjoy our favorite fragranced products.

Want to know everything going on in flavor & fragrance? Sign up for P&F+'s newsletter. You can also follow along on Instagram and LinkedIn.

More in Regulatory & Research