PETA photo of a rabbit said to be undergoing a Draize test. Image credit:Wikipedia
Environmental Leader has a well written report explaining how EPA is Changing the Way it Tests Chemical Toxicity "Using recent advances in molecular biology, genomics, and computational sciences, the new toxicity testing methods will allow the EPA to screen thousands of environmental chemicals quickly for potentially harmful effects." If the plan is successful, more of chemical hazard screening will be done with computer models instead of in biological laboratories.
It's not like thousands of "new" chemicals are going to be invented. However, there is a huge backlog of inadequately screened chemicals that can be tested with the new tools, once they are developed and validated. There is also much work to be done on formulations with partially reacted mixtures and 'mystery ingredients' at very low levels. Hopefully, all these issues will resolved if EPAs plan is successful.
Making PETA happy.
Philosophically, this means EPA is trying to move away from animal-based testing. No more caustic drops in the Bunny eye if it works out right. For background, see this Wiki entry on the Draize test (as pictured above). Implementation of the Plan will make animal rights organizations happy.
The improved understanding of chemical hazards also will help FDA do a better job of evaluating product suitability for personal care and food contact. Eye makeup, for example. Hence the choice of photos for this post. All to the good so far.
Model's eye with makeup. Image credit:Wikipedia
Two key points are easily overlooked in the enthusiasm for being nicer to lab animals.
First, it seems as if taxpayers would be funding development of the tools EPA has in mind. (The existing protocol is to depend on industry to submit animal test data: either voluntary or, occasionally, under enforcement order.)
Second, unless the planned approach will result in public domain computer models running with data available to both industry and NGO's, validation can not be performed by third parties. If the models are proprietary or only work well in concert with industry experts, there could be a kind of "black box" environment created around the regulatory process that is next to impossible for consumers to understand (unlike the Draize test, which is instantly meaningful to anyone).
Is the proposed EPA plan really worth it, then, without adjustments for these two points?
Final comment: this points to a complete change in the professional skill sets that toxicologists bring to their work. Academia will have some changing to do as well.