Water Waves Hitting Rocks while sewage is piped into the sea in Jakarta Indonesia

A new £2.6m investment in chemical safety research and education will tackle the rising problem of toxic chemicals and the harms they cause.

The Centre for Environmental Research and Justice, launched at the University of Birmingham with funding from its Dynamic Investment Fund (DIF), will combine expertise in science and law to offer solutions that will ultimately protect human health and the environment from exposure to hazardous chemical pollutants.

The need for chemical pollution intervention has never been greater. Globally, pollution kills three times as many people as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. This burden disproportionally affects low and middle-income countries, where pollution can account for one in four deaths. In terms of the impact of chemicals on the environment, the world has seen an average 69% drop in mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and amphibian populations since 1970.

University of Birmingham experts are well-placed to make an impact in this area, with a leading role in the €400 million 7-year European Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals (PARC).

The new investment brings together academic expertise from Life and Environmental Sciences, Arts and Law, and Medical and Dental Sciences, to undertake interdisciplinary research into the effective management of hazardous chemicals. The Centre is recruiting nine assistant and associate professors, bringing together a team of more than 20 academic staff specialising in research at the interface of Precision Toxicology and environmental governance.

Precision Toxicology is an emerging scientific approach to environmental justice and health protection which establishes causation between chemicals and their adverse health effects, while environmental governance attempts to address the societal costs of chemical pollution. By combining recent innovations in both science and governance, the new Centre aims to develop and implement new approaches to defend against chemical hazards.

CERJ brings the right people together

John Colbourne, founding Director of CERJ

In addition, CERJ will create and deliver new education modules, placement years, and digital and in-person courses for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, providing unique advanced opportunities for the next generation of toxicologists.

John Colbourne, the founding Director, is enthusiastic about the success of the new Centre: “The global burden of environmental pollution is of such magnitude and interdisciplinary complexity that few institutions could attempt to confront the issue in its entirety. Yet the University of Birmingham’s breadth of expertise across many disciplines offers an opportunity to propose and help implement modern solutions in collaboration with leaders within government, and non-government organisations. CERJ brings the right people together.”

Global environmental justice

The former executive director of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), Rachael Kupka, commented on the creation of the Centre.

She said: "The fact that more than 90% of the burden of disease of toxic pollution falls in low- and middle-income countries means this issue is one of global environmental justice.

"This Centre – and the research it will produce – will be incredibly useful for countless international initiatives to reduce the adverse impacts of pollution on vulnerable populations, including GAHP’s work, and efforts to establish a new science-policy panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention"

CERJ’s interdisciplinary approach will diverge from traditional research efforts and funding mechanisms, which artificially divide global problems into research silos. Instead, CERJ aims to proactively uncover – and ultimately break – the chains of cause and effect that link chemicals to human suffering and environmental depredations.

To strengthen its talent, CERJ is also now recruiting 6 new associate professor positions within the University of Birmingham, with each of its associated colleges recruiting two new staff members. To explore these vacancies further, please visit the University of Birmingham’s Career’s page and search for CERJ.