EDF Health

Selected tag(s): risk assessment

Variety is the spice of … accurate chemical testing

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.  Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about the federal government’s new chemical testing initiatives, ToxCast and Tox21 (see, for example, these articles in Scientific American and the New York Times).  These programs are developing high-throughput (HT) in-vitro testing to evaluate—and ultimately predict—the biological effects of chemicals.  In contrast to the relatively slow pace of traditional animal testing, ToxCast and Tox21 use sophisticated robots to rapidly test thousands of chemicals at a time. As a result, they hold the potential to more efficiently fill enormous gaps in available health data, predict adverse effects, and shed light on exactly how chemicals interact and interfere with our biology. (For more on these potential benefits, see Section 5 of EDF’s Chemical Testing Primer).

Yet, among the key challenges that these new methods must address is one that traditional, animal-based methods have faced for decades: how can laboratory testing adequately account for the high degree of variability in the human population? The latest research suggests the exciting possibility that genetic diversity, at least, may be able to be incorporated into emerging HT in vitro approaches.   Read More »

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TERA’s Kids+Chemical Safety website: On non-profits, objectivity and independence

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

My recent post about the new American Chemistry Council (ACC)-sponsored website, Kids + Chemical Safety, engendered some comments that go directly to the issues of scientific objectivity and independence.

The website says “TERA [Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, manager of the site] was founded on the belief that an independent non-profit organization can provide a unique function to protect human health by conducting scientific research and development on risk issues in a transparent and collaborative fashion and communicating the results widely.”  The “non-profit” descriptor – which TERA uses to describe itself no fewer than eight times on the site, including four times on this one page alone – seems intended to convey that TERA provides information that is purely objective and that it operates in a manner that is independent of who pays it to do its work.

It’s critical to recognize that being a non-profit does not conflate to, or somehow confer the right to claim, objectivity or independence.  The National Rifle Association is a non-profit that clearly has strongly held and expressed opinions.  EDF is also a non-profit, but I don’t pretend, as does TERA, that we don’t have a particular perspective and position.

So putting the issue of non-profit status entirely aside, we should judge TERA’s claim that its website provides information that is objective and independent based on its content, and that’s where it becomes quite clear that the information is neither.  Read More »

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Chemicals R Us: New ACC-sponsored website says chemicals are safe and fun for kids!

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

[See also my more recent post on this topic here.]

I was alerted yesterday to a new website – kidschemicalsafety.org – funded by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and run by its right-hand “non-profit,” TERA (Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment).  The website and an accompanying Facebook page are a wonder to behold, replete with photos of happy kids.  For the most part, I’ll leave it to you to explore.  But here are a few highlights.  Read More »

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Scientists push back against a bill that would pervert the whole concept of conflict of interest

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

This week, two letters – one signed by 13 prominent public health scientists and the other signed by the heads of 8 major national environmental organizations – were sent to the House Science Committee voicing strong opposition to H.R. 6564, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2012.

The sponsors of this legislation claim that it is needed to “enhance transparency and limit conflicts of interest” on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its panels.  In fact, it would do the precise opposite.  Here’s how the scientists’ letter summarizes the impacts that would arise from passage of the bill:   

“This proposed legislation would only serve to reverse progress in bringing the best scientific advice and analysis to EPA.  The consequence would be to deprive EPA of needed scientific advice on the most complex and pressing environmental health problems of our day.” 

Among the most perverse provisions of this bill (and there are many) are two that would turn the very notion of conflict of interest on its head.  One would limit scientists that receive competitive grants through EPA’s extramural research program from serving on the SAB or its panels – claiming that such funding constitutes a conflict of interest.  The scientists’ letter goes directly at that provision:

“The underlying idea that scientists who obtain funding from EPA for any project have conflicts about all EPA matters is baseless and reflects a misunderstanding of who we are as scientists and our role in society.”

Another provision is even more perverse:  It would reverse longstanding conflict-of-interest policy and practice followed by virtually every authoritative scientific body in the world – including the National Academy of Sciences, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization – by allowing unfettered access of industry representatives with direct conflicts of interest to serve on the SAB and its panels, as long as their conflicts are disclosed.

Who’s behind this radical legislation?  Here’s a hint:  The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents the chemical manufacturing industry, couldn’t wait to express its unequivocal support, stating it “cannot overstate the importance of this bill to Americans” in a press release titled “House Science Committee Proposes Common Sense Reform To EPA Scientific Advisory Process:  Proposed Legislation Would Improve Expert Panel Selection, Limit Conflicts of Interest and Enhance Systematic Reviews.”  And ACC’s been singing the bill’s praises all over town ever since (see, e.g., slide 6 of this ACC presentation).  Read More »

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EDF comments at EPA’s public stakeholder meeting on its IRIS Program

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

I provide in this post the comments I delivered as a panelist at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) November 13, 2012 Public Stakeholder Meeting on its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program.  EPA describes IRIS as “a human health assessment program that evaluates information on health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants.”

 

The theme of my comments today is the critical need to restore balance to the IRIS program.  In my view, the program’s structure and practice have over time tilted badly toward allowing one set of interests and desirable attributes of chemical assessments to wholly dominate over another, equally critical set.  Let me explain.  Read More »

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Despite TSCA-like law, there is movement down under on chemical safety

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

Australia’s chemical law, dating back to 1989, in many ways resembles the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).   Australia, however, has begun taking steps to address tens of thousands of existing chemicals at a scale that has not been taken in the U.S.  These steps come in the wake of government and stakeholder recognition that Australia’s TSCA-like approach to chemicals management is inadequate and in need of revision.  Read More »

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