DATABASE: The Scoop on Toxins

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Science  28 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5615, pp. 1957
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5615.1957b

This site from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an essential resource for anyone looking for authoritative safety information on hazardous chemicals. The Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) summarizes the human health effects of hundreds of potential toxins and carcinogens, from molecules such as ethylene glycol to pesticides to complex mixtures such as diesel exhaust. IRIS's target audience is risk assessors, who combine the toxicity information with their own data on exposures to determine, say, how clean a waste site needs to be, or how much chemical can be safely released into a river. To produce each account, EPA scientists evaluate and synthesize reams of studies on the toxicity and potential carcinogenicity of a substance. The information includes safe exposure levels for people, known as a reference dose, and an uncertainty factor—a safety margin that reflects complexities such as extrapolating from animal studies to humans and variability among individuals. The site also offers a glossary and in-depth reports on more than 30 recent additions to the database.

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