Change in perspective for Scientists
Hi, I’m Flora and currently in my third semester studying ecotoxicology at the RWTH University in Aachen. During my studies, I have specialized in limnology and regulatory systems. This means I look at toxins and their impact on the living environment at all levels. Before completing my Master’s degree program, I wanted to gain valuable professional experience in my area, applying as well as expanding my scientific knowledge. An internship at Bayer as a bridging link between academia and the industry seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Having worked in a lab before, I chose, this time, some office and desk work.
In April this year, I started a three and a half-month internship at Bayer’s Corporate Health, Safety & Sustainability department, and, more precisely within the REACH Management team in Leverkusen. Here, I assisted my colleagues in their day-to-day work whilst gaining an insight into the multiple facets of the regulation of chemicals in Europe and across the world.
Environmental protection and chemicals regulation in Europe with REACH
The EU-regulation REACH on the “Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals” came into force in 2007 and helps ensure a more responsible, standardized regulation of industrial chemicals in Europe. A basic set of ecological/toxicological data, details of the production and the entire supply chain as well as a safety report including a risk assessment are required for any chemical substances according to its production volume. The acronym REACH has of course not been chosen randomly. The goal is to “reach” a transparent and uniform chemicals policy that offers optimal protection for consumers and ecosystems. Other countries, such as China, have now also introduced similar legislation as the awareness for environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important.
Chemicals management at Bayer
Environmental protection is key to Bayer. The REACH Management team is part of the central department that is responsible of environmental protection, health, safety and sustainability ensuring the respective legal requirements are put into practice. All substances that are needed either for the production of crop protection products or for the production of pharmaceuticals need to be registered, no matter if the company produces them itself or imports them from other laboratories. This is managed in close collaboration with all respective plants. That involves tasks such as contracting external laboratories to conduct studies into establishing a basic set of ecotoxicological data or describing the conditions under which a substance is produced and will be proceed.
For me, it was very exciting to experience the communicative and well-structured work culture here at Bayer. I was always included in ongoing processes and projects, and was allowed to participate in visits to business partners as well as meetings with production staff. Another responsibility of the REACH Management team is to ensure all legally required documents are complete for every single substance in the portfolio as well as maintaining an overview of all substances produced in-house or purchased.
I actively supported the team in this work. In the beginning, it was completely new for me to navigate the SAP system that is used to manage substance data and documents but as time passed by; I really got the hang of it and kept on learning new tricks. Although it was challenging, I very much enjoyed getting my head around complex documentation processes resulting from regulations without losing sight of the bigger picture.
Social challenges of our time
As the challenge of global plastic pollution has now reached a political level the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki is currently discussing whether there should be EU-wide restrictions on the intentional addition of micro plastic particles to products or applications. This makes it important to prepare and collect properly scientific findings and keeping them up to date. Here, I was able to profit from my experience and profound knowledge of micro plastic that I gained from writing my Bachelor thesis and supported the team by writing a report about the latest research and findings.
I was also responsible for assigning substances to water hazard classes based on national legislation. My ecotoxicological knowledge really came handy here. Using a combination of test results on toxicity for mammals and the environment, solubility in water and biodegradability, I made a classification by distributing points based on the rules of the “AwSV” (ordinance on facilities for handling substances that are hazardous to water) and classified the substances accordingly. In the following step, they could then be reported to the Federal Environmental Agency in Berlin. This was a highly responsible and varied task because the classification is not always that obvious. The work also required active discussion and collaboration with staff from the substance classification team, which made things even more exciting.
To sum it up, I can highly recommend an internship at Bayer, in particular for scientists dealing with environmental protection issues, wanting to gain an insight into chemical regulations whilst helping to shape the implementation of legislation from the perspective of the industry. Working with the respective authorities and putting into place their legislation is far more varied than you might think! ?
This post is also available in: German