In an article published on November 2, 2015 by the magazine In These Times, journalists Valerie Brown and Elizabeth Grossman report on the links between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the chemical industry, and how industry funded research halts EPA’s action on toxic chemicals. First off, Brown and Grossman introduce two groups of scientists studying the effects of chemical exposures in humans: health effects researchers and regulatory toxicologists. The former group – among which are endocrinologists, developmental biologists and epidemiologists – conduct observational studies and laboratory experiments to determine how chemicals affect human health. The latter group relies on computational, physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modeling to simulate how chemicals move through the body.
Regulatory toxicology was shaped by the chemical industry and its research is also largely funded by it, Brown and Grossman write. Further, PBPK modeling relies on assumptions and the quality of the input data, which allows for manipulation to “minimize the appearance of risk”, Brown and Grossman explain. “In other words, PBPK models can be customized to provide results that work to industry’s advantage,” the authors state. Thus far, EPA’s decisions have mainly been and continue to be informed by regulatory toxicology and PBPK modeling. Consequently, harmful chemicals remain mostly unregulated and face no market restrictions.
The inertia in chemicals regulation has led many scientists to become active and raise their voice, Brown and Grossman write. Health effects researchers point out the limitations of PBPK modeling: “It tells you nothing about effects,” stated Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). Further, “models can offer a means of avoiding the conclusions derived from actual experiments,” noted Kristin Shrader-Frechett, biologist at the University of Notre Dame, U.S.. “These are the kinds of tactics used to manufacture doubt,” added Laura Vandenberg, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, U.S.. The concerned scientists also recognize that consumer pressure on both industry and regulators has proven to be effective in demanding reduction of chemical exposures. “I think we need to take the fight to the people,” stated Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine, U.S..
Valerie Brown & Elizabeth Grossman (November 2, 2015). “Why the United States leaves deadly chemicals on the market.” In These Times
ASAP Science (October 8, 2015). “The war on science.” YouTube