Putting Chemicals on a Path To Better Risk Assessment

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Science  07 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5941, pp. 694-695
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_694

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As the U.S. Congress mulls legislation that might tighten regulations for chemicals (see p. 692), companies and government agencies are already seeking new approaches for testing them. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a 20-year strategic plan incorporating much of the advice of a major report issued in 2007 by the National Academies' National Research Council: Use computers to predict toxicity and gather data from high-throughput, rapid assays of human cells rather than animal tests. But the transition won't be quick or easy. Basic research to figure out how cellular assays indicate signs of human disease could cost $1 billion to $2 billion over a decade or two. There are significant questions, such as how to ensure that cellular tests truly reveal information about the risk of human disease. But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has made improving the assessment and management of chemicals a top priority. And that focus will likely end up affecting companies. Because EPA calls the shots on what kinds of data it requires, the agency's position determines what kinds of tests companies have to conduct.