October 2, 2014
Photo: EPA/screen capture
This week, leaders in field of green chemistry gathered in RTP to discuss ways to use newly available data sets to move towards a greener economy. The summit, hosted by the EPA, brought together regulators, academic researchers and industry scientists to review the data emerging from the EPA's new Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast) and discuss the impact new screening techniques will have on the future of chemical safety regulation.
Until recently, screening chemicals for potential toxicity was costly and time consuming. Only chemicals used as food additives, drugs or pesticides and a few other special circumstances required rigorous testing. The EPA had no way of affordably testing whether a household cleaning product or a component in plastic tupperware might pose a threat to human or environmental health.
In the last few years, the EPA has brought together advances in computer science, biotechnology and chemistry to create a new, more affordable way of testing how chemicals interact with biological processes. In 2007, they launched their Toxicity Forecaster effort, which uses automated chemical screening technologies to expose living cells or isolated proteins to chemicals. Researchers then scan these cells and proteins for changes in biological activity, which could indicate that the chemical in question has potentially toxic effects in certain situations.
The EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program has already begun using ToxCast to predict which chemicals in consumer products are interacting with the human endocrine system. The ToxCast data is also helping the EPA prioritize which chemicals need more comprehensive testing, and expand the Safe Drinking Water Act's contaminant candidate list.
The RTP summit brought together key figures in green chemistry, like Lauren Heine, co-author of GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals and Paul Anastas, Director of The Center for Green Chemistry and Engineering at Yale, to discuss how the new screening technology can be used to improve human and ecological health. All of the data that the ToxCast effort has generated is available to the public. Regulators, industry officials and environmental certification organizations have already begun using the data to help steer us towards a greener economy.