A new research method has been developed to determine the risks to humans of the 80,000 chemicals in products and in the environment. This method will be significantly faster and less expensive than previous methods and will also reduce the need for animal testing. It will help the EPA determine which chemicals should be top priority for further testing. Chemicals with the potential to enter human lungs and organs will be prioritized for further scrutiny.
The new method uses quantitative high throughput screening technologies (qHTS), which are used in the pharmaceutical industry to quickly analyze large amounts of data. qHTS will facilitate a much faster, more structured and focused approach to data analysis of the risk of a large number of chemicals. As data is accumulated, scientists will be able to integrate a variety of related data sets, creating a better understanding of what constitutes safe exposure to chemicals.
The EPA is required to keep a list of all chemicals manufactured or processed in the US through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA requires companies to submit a pre-manufacturing notice (PMN) before manufacturing a new chemical. But the law, which has not been updated since its inception in 1979, does not prohibit chemicals from going on the market before being tested for toxicity. Instead, the burden falls on the EPA to do toxicity testing within 90 days after submission of a PMN. If the EPA is silent on the issue of toxicity after that period, the new chemical may be legally used in products. This has had the effect of leaving most chemicals untested, and, with no notice to the public, legally entering the marketplace with possible, but unknown, toxins.
New legislation to amend the TSCA is making its way through Congress. If passed it will require, for the first time, that the EPA make an affirmative safety finding as a condition for market entry. The EPA would also be able to review a chemical at any time based on new information that it develops or obtains after the chemical is on the market.
With such a huge number of chemicals being used, this new screening is critical to prioritize chemicals for testing. The American Chemistry Council is also in support of the new methodology for screening because of the cost and time savings in the process. This new method could bring significant changes to chemical management and safety. The researchers believe it lays the groundwork for far-reaching advances in managing chemical risks in the United States and worldwide.
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