EPA Moving Away from Animal Testing to Assess Chemical Toxicity Risk

EPA Moving Away from Animal Testing to Assess Chemical Toxicity Risk

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reducing its reliance on animal testing to assess human risk of chemical toxicity and will instead focus more heavily on the tools made possible by advances in molecular biology, genomics and computational modeling.

The move is part of the EPA's effort to find better, cheaper and faster ways to screen thousands of chemicals for human risk, including the ways in which toxicity occurs, the impact of long-term exposure to various chemicals, and how chemicals effect genetic variations of the population.  

"Right now, there isn't enough capacity to test all the chemicals we want information on," Robert Kavlock, director of EPA's computational toxicology program, told GreenBiz.com Wednesday.

The agency asked its various departments about high-priority chemicals for which they'd most want information. After compiling the list of nearly 10,000 chemicals and consulting the public literature, the EPA discovered it didn't know whether two-thirds of the chemicals on this list caused cancer in animals; for 90 percent of the chemicals, it didn't know their effects on reproduction.

The "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals," (PDF) released today, will also enable the agency to study how toxicity impacts children.

It expects the new approach will yield significant savings. For example, companies may have to pay upwards of a half-million dollars to perform an endocrine disruption screening on individual chemicals, as may be required by the end of the year for chemicals that include food use pesticides, but the new approach may trim the cost to about $20,000.

"For people who are developing green chemistry, this may allow them to look for an alternative chemical and profile that chemical for $20,000," Kavlock said, adding the new approach may serve as a way to validate whether one chemical is greener than another.

The strategic plan builds upon the findings of a 2007 report from the National Research Council which advocates transforming the way human toxicity risk is determined by focusing on identifying and evaluating toxicity pathways.

The EPA will still use animal testing for the foreseeable future, but in smarter ways, Kavlock said. "For a long time there will be a need for animal testing," he said. "They've served their purpose well. The only way we can study some things is in animals."

Kavlock expects the testing strategy to be fully deployed within 10 years but believes useful applications will be released within two years.

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