Scientists Call for "Swifter and Sounder" Chemical Testing


Image: The National Guard

In a letter to the journal Science (subscription only, or see the letter republished with permission at WSUnews), associations representing over 40,000 scientists have proposed a resourceful solution to the less-big-government versus protection-of-the-people problem: they have volunteered their vast expertise to help the federal agencies to get ahead of the curve on chemical testing. And they are calling for a better assessment of chemicals than the current testing regime allows. The experts are speaking; let's hope someone is listening. Noting that 12,000 new chemicals per day are registered by CAS, the Chemical Abstracts Service of the American Chemical Society which assigns a unique registry number to each chemical identified in reports published globally, scientists contend that federal agencies cannot safeguard the public from the exponential boom in new substances. They grant that only a few of these identified chemicals make it into marketable products, and therefore spread widely into the environment. But examples like bisphenol-a (BPA), the plasticizer that mimics female hormones and has increasingly been banned, have spurred scientists to call for a new model of testing chemicals.

It is no longer sufficient to understand if a chemical can cause death, shut down organs, or cause cancer. We must identify those chemicals that our bodies, or the bodies of the many species that are critical to a healthy environment, may mistake for chemical messengers. These chemicals have effects at very low exposure levels and are therefore not eligible for the usual dismissal of risks based on the small quantity of chemical added into products. Biomimicry may lead to better technology, but it is not a desirable trait in chemicals.

This implies that we need new expertise on the scene as well. The letter points out that understanding the consequences of chemical exposure, previously the regime of toxicologists, requires more input from specialists in biology, endocrinology, reproductive medicine, genetics, and developmental biology. Toxicology, like the name implies, focuses on toxic effects. But even chemicals which are known to be toxic in some animals are not clearly toxic in humans and vice-versa. Hence the need for a comprehensive understanding of the biological mechanisms.

And the fields that focus on the "chemical messenger" impacts (the stomping ground of endocrinologists), the impacts on reproduction, genetic damage, and the continuation of species via healthy offspring are essential to defining the safety of chemicals -- hopefully before they become widespread in the environment.

The letter is signed by The American Society of Human Genetics, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, The Endocrine Society, The Genetics Society of America, The Society for Developmental Biology, The Society for Pediatric Urology, The Society for the Study of Reproduction, and The Society for Gynecologic Investigation. That is a lot of expertise. Let's use it for safer chemistry.

More on Chemical Safety:
Nearly All Dollar Bills are Tainted with BPA
Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products
Toxic Oil Spill Chemicals Showing Up In Gulf Coast Residents' Blood
Shocking Report Reveals Secret Chemicals in Popular Perfumes, Is Yours One of them?
Preparing a Public Database of All Chemical Hazards in Europe
Study Finds Chemicals in Pregnant Women; What Can Be Done About It?

Tags: Biology | Biomimicry | Chemicals

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