In a commentary published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, John C. Warner and Jennifer K. Ludwig of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, U.S., propose three approaches on how to produce safer chemicals and products. Warner and Ludwig note that safety regulations are being revised and improved around the world to better protect human health and the environment form harmful chemicals. For example, the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA), providing for greater public transparency and giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more authority to assess the safety of chemicals (FPF reported). However, improved chemicals regulation “does little for inventors who face the perplexing task of creating safer chemicals and products,” Warner and Ludwig point out. The authors thus propose the following approaches to help inventors contribute to improved chemical safety.

1) Standardized chemical safety tests: When different stakeholders use different methods to test the safety of the same chemical, the results can consequently be contradicting, often leading to more confusion rather than clarity about the chemical’s safety. Creating a set of nationally or internationally standardized safety tests would minimize controversy on chemical safety, reduce the emergence of replacement chemicals equally problematic or worse than the original substance, and save inventors time and money because they know in advance which tests to carry out.

2) Testing finished products: “Ingredients entering a manufacturing process do not necessarily represent the chemical composition of the final product,” Warner and Ludwig highlight. Therefore, final products should be tested to better understand their impact on human health and the environment. Warner and Ludwig propose grading products on a scale of 1 to 10 (1: benign and 10: highly toxic) based on their performance in a series of standard tests in different categories.

3) Making test results public: Results of chemical and product tests “should be disclosed and presented in an unbiased way.” Therefore, policies and processes to interpret the test data need to be created. If all products in a commercial category provide the same set of product scores (e.g. for carcinogenicity, emissions, and endocrine-disrupting potential), consumers can make informed decisions by comparing the score numbers. However, “it is important to ensure consumers know that no product is without risk,” Warner and Ludwig note.

To put these approaches into action, a list of desired endpoints needs to be created (e.g. liver toxicity, ozone depletion, carcinogenicity) in a first step. Secondly, specific tests for each endpoint need to be identified. And third, protocols to define sample preparation and methods of analysis need to be developed. Lastly, Warner and Ludwig propose that “scientists should convene regularly to evaluate the current state of the art and science, and make decisions based on new knowledge that challenges existing tests or offers improvements.”

Read more

John C. Warner and Jennifer K. Ludwig (August 16, 2016). “Rethink how chemical hazards are tested.Nature