Ask a RIFM Scientist: What environmental research does RIFM conduct?


Our previous Ask a RIFM Scientist detailed the science-based process supporting the environmentally safe use of fragrance ingredients.

Because science is a constantly evolving understanding of our world, the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) conducts research to refine its environmental hazard and risk safety assessments.

Senior Scientist Aurelia Lapczynski leads RIFM’s Environmental Research and Safety Assessment programs.

Q: In addition to assessing environmental safety, RIFM conducts research. What is the purpose of this research?

A: All of RIFM’s research supports its Safety Assessment program. Rather than react later to refinements in technology or the pivot to science-based alternatives to animal testing, RIFM has continuously conducted research to anticipate where our evolving understanding of the world is taking us so that we can help lead the way there.

Q: What are some of the environmental research projects currently underway?

A: Our foundational project is to update RIFM’s Environmental Framework. The RIFM Environmental Framework is the backbone of our safety assessments and outlines the methods we currently use to assess environmental safety. It has been almost 20 years since the Framework was first peer-reviewed and published.
RIFM follows a conservative, three-tiered system designed to reduce animal testing and err on the side of caution. More than 90% of the fragrance materials screened at the first tier present negligible environmental risk.

(Read more about RIFM’s environmental safety approach.)

Q: Will RIFM change its approach to environmental safety assessment?

Our approach will stay the same—remaining cautiously conservative—while becoming more comprehensive and up-to-date. The goal of the refined version—what we refer to as the RIFM Environmental Framework 2.0—is to include new developments in computational modeling and updates in study guidelines and methodologies that became available after (and which we have been using since) the initial Framework was published.

First, we are working on expanding data collection beyond North America and Europe, which were part of the original Framework. Every four years, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) conducts a Volume of Use (VoU) survey, which compiles how much of each fragrance ingredient is produced annually by the fragrance industry. IFRA is now collecting data for regions that were not covered in the original Framework. Using that data, we plan to expand the Framework to include the Asia-Pacific region and South America.

Q: Can you give us an example of some critical tools and methods that became available after the first Framework was published?

A: Many environmental study guidelines have been developed or updated to reflect the evolving science, for instance, the use of EC10, which stands for Effect Concentration 10%. EC10 is the concentration at which 10% of the organisms tested exhibit a statistically significant effect, such as reproductive inhibition caused by the substance.

Another example: The Fish Embryo Acute Toxicity (FET) Test OECD 236 Study guidelines were developed as an alternative to testing on fish.

Q: What other environmental research projects are underway?

A: RIFM is conducting several environmental research projects. Let’s start with the Ecological TTC, or Eco-TTC, for short. The TTC, or Threshold of Toxicological Concern, refers to the level of exposure to a substance below which there is no appreciable risk for adverse effects. RIFM’s use of TTC is part of an overall strategy to assess the safe use of fragrance materials without reliance on new animal studies.

Currently, RIFM uses the TTC approach to assess human health safety. The Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) developed and maintains an ECO-TTC tool for substances, generally. HESI is a non-profit institute that works with scientists from other institutes, academia, government, and NGOs.

RIFM is now working to expand the Eco-TTC tool developed by HESI to a specifically fragrance materials Eco-TTC tool, leveraging data from the RIFM Database. Our collaboration with HESI will make their dataset more robust while providing us with a tool to add to our safety assessment program.

Q: What other research is in progress?

A: Because of RIFM’s longstanding commitment to avoid animal testing, we assess how fragrance materials are metabolized in fish using in vitro (e.g., test tube or Petri dish) studies instead of living adult fish.

As we do this, RIFM collects data that will allow a comparison between this newer in vitro methodology with historical in vivo (in living fish) studies. Compiling this data will help us evaluate and recalibrate our in vitro work and its potential to eliminate in vivo testing.

This will also allow us to minimize uncertainties in predicting the Bioconcentration Factor (BCF). BCF refers to the ratio of the concentration of a chemical in fish to the concentration in the surrounding environment and is an indicator of a fragrance ingredient’s tendency to accumulate in living organisms.

Finally, RIFM is researching and developing methods for evaluating Natural Complex Substances (NCSs). NCSs contain several (but not only) fragrance ingredients, with different physical–chemical properties, making the testing process more complicated and complex, especially with limited or lack of available methodology.

Publications for both research projects are forthcoming.

Related: Watch a video about RIFM’s commitment to human health and environmental safety.