Plenary session of the MAK Commission 2021

Members exchange views on achievements and define topics for 2022 / New working groups have commenced their work

On 25 February 2021, the virtual plenary session was held of the Permanent Senate Commission for the Investigation of Health Hazards of Chemical Compounds in the Work Area (MAK Commission). Having originally been planned as a face-to-face meeting, last year’s session had to be cancelled due to the pandemic situation, but the Commission has since been largely able to continue its work in full using virtual formats. The three new working groups “Inflammation”, “Epidemiology and Statistics” and “Neurotoxicity” were also able to start work despite the restrictions. In terms of organisation according to specific topics, the virtual format in fact made the meetings more efficient since it was possible to discuss complex issues on a phased basis and in small subgroups, enabling even better preparation. Another advantage here was that it was easier to involve experts from abroad. For example, it was possible to draw on the input provided by Prof. Dr. Bas Blaauboer and Dr. Nynke Kramer from the University of Utrecht, both internationally recognised specialists in the field of method development for transferring in vitro findings to in vivo situations. The Chair of the Commission, Prof. Dr. Hartwig, was highly impressed with the sheer quantity of work covered under these special circumstances and the high quality of cooperation within the Commission. “It really is a lot of fun right now and we’re making good progress,” says Andrea Hartwig, “though of course we do all really miss being able to meet face to face.”

The plenary session serves to collate the results of the Commission’s work as elaborated by the various working groups over the course of the preceding year. A total of 31 substances were evaluated, 17 MAK and BAT values were derived and potential carcinogenic, germ cell mutagenic, sensitising and skin-resorptive properties were marked. Derivation of these results was comprehensively documented and will be openly accessible to the academic community and the public at large after the comment period has been completed on the new platform set up with the support of ZB MED. In addition, 16 methods for detecting the substances were established, described and published.

Accompanying this substance-specific work done by the Commission, two overarching conceptual topics were explored in greater depth last year and the relevant recommendations were published.

One of these conceptual papers deals with guidelines regarding carcinogen classification or non-classification of substances which have given rise to positive tumour findings in animal studies. Another concerns a differentiated risk assessment of genotoxic carcinogens in the low-dose range in cooperation with the Permanent Senate Commission on Food Safety (SKLM). In this year’s plenary lecture, Ms. Hartwig examined the question of how the new conceptual approaches to risk assessment of genotoxic carcinogens might find their way into the practical work done by the Commission.

One particularly interesting opportunity for cooperation arose for the Commission last year after it was possible to organise a dialogue with Prof. Dr. Carsten Reinhardt, a historian at the University of Bielefeld. One of Mr. Reinhardt’s research focus areas is the historical significance of the MAK Commission in setting limit values at the interface between research, industry and politics.

This once again demonstrated impressively how many structural and process-oriented changes the Commission has undergone over the decades so as to optimise its contribution to statutory provisions in the field of occupational health and safety while at the same time maintaining its scientific freedom and independence.

For the Permanent Senate Commission for the Investigation of Health Hazards of Chemical Compounds in the Work Area, the plenary session marks the end of an unusual and diverse year.

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