With RIFM we saved over 116,000 animal lives by bringing data science and exposure assessment together

As a kid, you have dreams of changing the world and doing something great for the globe we all inhabit (I did anyway - maybe I watched too much Captain Planet). As an adult, you sometimes have to come to terms with the crushing reality that your childhood ambitions don’t necessarily manifest in the world of work in the way you had envisaged. Or at all, for that matter. All that is simply preamble to say that in the modern working world, you don’t always feel like you’ve made a real difference at the end of each day.


Today however, I’m happy to report that work we have been carrying out in collaboration with the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) has made a massive impact on both the reduction of animal testing and consumer safety. Here’s how.

The fragrance industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Fragrance chemicals and oils are used everywhere, with over 3,000 unique materials and up to 80,000 unique blends currently in use in commerce. They are essential to nearly all consumer products to make them smell nice and make them appealing. They’re in cosmetics, personal care products, air care products, household cleaning products, and a lot more. In order for fragrances to stay on the market and continue to be of value, we need to make sure consumers are not exposed to unacceptably high levels of these fragrances. Traditionally, safe levels were assigned using animal testing, and consumer exposure was calculated using very crude methods. Animal testing is of course highly undesirable from an ethical perspective, and equally using crude calculations to determine human health and exposure is far from ideal.

In collaboration with RIFM, we have developed a consumer exposure model built on large volumes of market survey and scientific data from a wide variety of sources. The model (called the Creme RIFM model) estimates aggregate exposure to fragrances in consumer populations, i.e. the total exposure coming from all different sources. When consumer exposure is below a certain level for which there are no adverse health effects (call the Threshold of Toxicological Concern), no further animal testing is required. This is very hard to show using crude “worst-case” calculations. However, using large datasets and refined statistical models we can dramatically refine the estimates of consumer exposure, often successfully demonstrating they are below the level of concern.

So, by bringing advances in toxicology, data science and exposure assessment to bear on the challenge of fragrance safety we can:
1: Dramatically improve estimates of consumer exposure to fragrances
2: Reduce and even eliminate the need for animal testing
Since adopting this technique, RIFM estimate that they have saved over 116,000 animal lives, to say nothing of the associated costs. This is an outstanding result and a clear demonstration of the benefit of bringing traditional science, data science and exposure assessment together. Here’s to 100,000 more animals saved.

Written by Cian O'Mahony on August 3 2017

Signup for our newsletter