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Safety by design

“I have always been interested in the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment”, TMC Chemicals' Employeneur Thies Oosterwijk says. “After finishing my studies in biochemistry, I worked in Norway for a while, where my interest in this subject was really aroused. I regularly fished in a lake close to an old soap factory. The fish were full of parasites. I was also warned by local people to be careful with the consumption of mackerel. These fish had been poisoned by heavy metals from shipwrecks lying in the water. When I returned to The Netherlands, I started a follow-up study in toxicology and environmental health.”

In November 2011, Thies got the opportunity to work at TNO through TMC. Thies: “Although I had first applied for a job at TNO, I am pleased to work for TMC now. Its flexibility, vision and work culture fit me better.” At TNO Health, Thies works on the risk assessments of chemicals and nano materials. “I answer questions of companies about their products and production processes, like: ‘Are toxic substances released during the production process?’ and ‘What is the extent and the degree of health risks?’”.

The potential health effects of most innovative substances are yet unknown and it is still unclear what the effects of nano particles are. Which are released in the production processes? Thies continues: “As the famous sixteenth century doctor Paracelsus stated: ‘The dose makes the poison’. The dose of the substances determines the health effects. I investigate the health risks of nano particles and determine safe doses. Consequently, companies can manage the safety of their processes using these safe levels. I make models of the effects of similar substances and compare these with nano particles in collaboration with European consortia. Recently, I led a research project on ambulances. An ambulances owner wanted to coat the inside with an anti-bacterial coating on a basis of nano particles. He was concerned about the patients’ and personnel’s safety.”

When asked about his future targets, Thies gives an immediate response: “Companies should think about 'safety by design'. This means thinking about the safety of products during research and development. This is already done in the cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industry. I am looking for a project at a company that values safety at an early stage and is interested in somebody who can introduce 'safety by design'.”

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