NCEC led peer-reviewed paper captures the latest developments in environmental persistence assessment of chemicals

NCEC led peer-reviewed paper captures the latest developments in environmental persistence assessment of chemicals
15 December 2020

The National Chemical Emergency Centre (NCEC), part of Ricardo, is pleased to announce that its environmental scientists have contributed to a recently published peer-reviewed paper on the persistence assessment of phenanthrene. They have a proven track record of designing and carrying out persistence testing strategies, and conducting assessments in accordance with EU regulations.

Persistent chemicals are those that resist degradation processes in the environment. This results in the potential for their widespread distribution and exposure that may pose a risk to human health and the environment. NCEC’s experts carried out a study, in accordance with the framework of the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulation, to evaluate the persistence of phenanthrene in the environment. The REACH framework governs how the persistence of industrial chemicals, biocides and medicinal products is assessed in the European Union. 

Increasing societal interest in sustainability and tackling environmental pollution, as illustrated by the European Green Deal1, has led to the issue of chemical persistence moving up the priority list of regulators and the public. As a result, consumers and companies alike are showing an increasing appetite for biodegradable, environmentally benign products. The latest clear example of increased interest is the plan to introduce criteria for persistent, mobile and toxic chemicals into EU regulation as part of the recent Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability2

These developments will raise significant new challenges for industry and make the reliable assessment of persistence of chemicals of critical importance for chemical companies. 

How does persistence of a substance affect an organisation’s bottomline?

Persistence assessments are highly complex and must consider all relevant available information on the degradation of the substance in the environment in a weight-of-evidence approach. The study on phenanthrene considered 101 individual experimental results, and took important scientific and regulatory developments into account – including those on degradation metabolites, temperature and non-extractable residues (NER). Therefore, the paper was able to provide an exemplary case study of persistence assessments under European regulatory frameworks. The published peer-reviewed paper can be viewed here3.

At NCEC, our experts have extensive first-hand experience of supporting clients to properly assess the biodegradability and persistence of their chemical products under global regulatory frameworks. Our services include designing and carrying out the most appropriate ready biodegradability and simulation test strategies, addressing difficult test substance properties, and engaging with regulatory authorities in the subsequent evaluation and interpretation of assessments. You can find out more about our expertise and services in environmental chemistry and toxicology here.

Persistence assessment is highly complex, technically challenging and poorly predictable, and yet the outcomes of these assessments can make or break a product. NCEC’s specialists do not recommend leaving the outcome of your product’s persistence assessment to chance – irrespective of whether you are conducting proactive biodegradability testing to improve marketability, risk-proofing your portfolio or responding to a regulatory evaluation on your substance.  

NCEC’s experts are members of working groups in the European Chemical Agency (ECHA); the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). They also continue to help many businesses understand the implications of chemical regulations on their business. Our proven track record of designing and carrying out testing strategies and conducting assessments in accordance with EU regulations is recognised by the chemicals industry. We are working on a project with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) as part of its Long-range Research Initiative programme (Cefic-LRI) to assess and improve the guidance on persistence assessments. You can read more about the project called ‘ECO52: Expanding the conceptual principles and applicability domain of persistence screening and prioritization frameworks, including single constituents, polymers, and UVCBs’ here.

If you have any questions about persistence assessments of chemicals, biodegradability assessments or any other regulatory queries, please contact us at [email protected] or through the form on the right so that we can provide you with the expertise that you need to support your products and improve regulatory outcomes for your business. 


  1. European Green Deal:
  2. Chemicals Strategy for sustainability:
  3. Hughes, C.B., Brown, D.M., Camenzuli, L. et al. Can a chemical be both readily biodegradable AND very persistent (vP)? Weight-of-evidence determination demonstrates that phenanthrene is not persistent in the environment. Environ Sci Eur 32, 148 (2020). (Creative commons licence)