Author Archives: Jennifer McPartland

Building scientific bridges to support EPA’s new chemical testing programs

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Readers of this blog are acutely aware of the dearth of data available for tens of thousands of chemicals in U.S. commerce today.  This state of ignorance reflects legal and resource constraints as well as the “challenge” of continuously integrating advancements in our scientific understanding of human health and disease into the way we assess chemical toxicity.

Fortunately, federal efforts to develop new chemical testing approaches, such as the high-throughput screening programs ToxCast and Tox21, offer a great opportunity to narrow the data gap while also helping to shine light on how environmental chemicals can impact our health.  But realizing the full potential of these new approaches will take a village.

Today in Environmental Health Perspectives we have published a commentary  that calls for greater and more diverse engagement of the basic research community in developing and using the new federal chemical testing data. We also provide recommendations that we believe would help facilitate and improve such engagement.  Read on to learn more.   Read More »

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Flame retardants impair normal brain development: Even more evidence, still no action

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today a new study was published linking fetal exposure to certain flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) with cognitive and behavioral effects that develop later in childhood.  While the specific findings in this study are new, the link between these types of neurodevelopmental effects and exposure to PBDEs is not. 

Numerous scientific studies and governmental bodies across the globe have flagged the health effects of PBDEs.  At the same time, current proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to better understand the hazards and sources of certain PBDEs remain in limbo.  Read on to learn more about today’s new study on PBDEs and the stalling of EPA initiatives to help protect us from exposure to them.  Read More »

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No more just California Dreamin’: First three priority products proposed

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced its first three draft priority products—the next major milestone in the implementation of its Safer Consumer Product (SCP) regulations to address chemicals of concern in the marketplace.  While we’re still at the start of a long process, today’s announcement is the clearest indicator to date of the impact these regulations may have on consumer products.

The release of the draft priority products follows DTSC’s release last September of its candidate chemicals list and from within this list, the subset initial candidate chemicals list.  Together with the initial candidate chemical list, the identification of the draft priority products now defines the possible set of chemical-product combinations that may head toward alternatives assessment.  Read on for a description of the chemicals and products and of the next phase of regulatory actions.  Read More »

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Getting the data on chemicals is just the beginning

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Common sense tells us it’s impossible to evaluate the safety of a chemical without any data. We’ve repeatedly highlighted the scarcity of information available on the safety of chemicals found all around us (see for example, here and here).  Much of this problem can be attributed to our broken chemicals law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).

But even for those chemicals that have been studied, sometimes for decades, like formaldehyde and phthalates, debate persists about what the scientific data tell us about their specific hazards and risks.  Obtaining data on a chemical is clearly a necessary step for its evaluation, but interpreting and drawing conclusions from the data are equally critical steps – and arguably even more complicated and controversial. 

How should we evaluate the quality of data in a study? How should we compare data from one study relative to other studies? How should we handle discordant results across similar studies?  How should we integrate data across different study designs (e.g., a human epidemiological study and a fruit fly study)? These are just a few examples of key questions that must be grappled with when determining the toxicity or risks of a chemical.  And they lie at the heart of the controversy and criticism surrounding chemical assessment programs such as EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). 

Recently, a number of efforts have been made to systematize the process of study evaluation, with the goal of creating a standardized approach for unbiased and objective identification, evaluation, and integration of available data on a chemical.  These approaches go by the name of systematic review

Groups like the National Toxicology Program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT) and the UCSF-led Navigation Guide collaboration have been working to adapt systematic review methodologies from the medical field for application to environmental chemicals.  IRIS has also begun an effort to integrate systematic review into its human health assessments. 

Recently a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) by Krauth et al. systematically identified and reviewed tools currently in use to evaluate the quality of toxicology studies conducted in laboratory animals.  The authors found significant variability across the tools; this finding has significant consequences when reviewing the evidence for chemical hazard or risk, as we pointed out in our subsequent commentary (“A Valuable Contribution toward Adopting Systematic Review in Environmental Health,” Dec 2013). 

EDF applauds these and other efforts to adopt systematic review in the evaluation of chemical safety.  Further elaboration of EDF’s perspective on systematic review can be found here

 

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This SNUR is not a SNORE!

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Yesterday EPA finalized a significant new use rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that requires manufacturers and importers of certain perfluorinated chemicals to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing any “significant new use” of these chemicals.  (See below for what EPA has designated to be a “significant new use.”)

These notifications afford EPA an opportunity to evaluate the designated new uses before they start and address any risks the new uses may pose.  Read on to learn more about some novel aspects of this final rule, including the scope of what EPA has designated as significant new uses of these chemicals.  Read More »

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EDF launches website on EPA’s emerging chemical testing programs

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

New approaches for evaluating chemical hazard and risk are needed to help address substantial data gaps that exist for the thousands of chemicals currently in the marketplace as well as those yet to be introduced.   EPA has been investing significant resources to create research programs dedicated to advancing new types of chemical testing and assessment approaches.  But what exactly are these approaches?  How might they improve the practice of risk assessment?  Are they appropriate for decision-making, and if so, what kinds of decision making?  What role does the public interest community have to play? 

To explore these and other important issues, EDF’s Health Program has launched a website, “Chemical Testing in the 21st Century,” that provides an  introduction to these new approaches and the programs the EPA has built around them—including their potential uses, benefits and limitations.  The website includes the following informational resources: 

  1. Chemical Testing in the 21st Century: A Primer – An introduction to EPA’s Computational Toxicology (CompTox) research initiative and its component programs, such as ToxCast; a discussion of the opportunities and challenges of these new testing programs; and a discussion of issues and needs for greater engagement by the public interest community.  
  2. Chemical Testing in the 21st Century: Webinar Series – Linked audio and video recordings of each of EDF’s three webinars (held in October) featuring EDF and EPA scientists exploring the basics of EPA’s new testing programs and the promises and challenges they present. 

We will soon be adding a page with descriptions of and links to additional resources.

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