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Regulating Chemicals (letter to Chicago Tribune)

Every American household has a stake in how the chemicals in products are regulated, especially with regard to the information that is available concerning their hazards. The troubling findings in recent reports, including the Chicago Tribune's investigative series on flame retardants and other commonly used substances, create an atmosphere of distrust and frustrate parents who want to protect their children from toxic exposure. These reports are also frustrating to government agencies that lack the data to determine the safety of these chemicals and the authority to ban substances suspected of posing a human health risk.

Our current system for testing does not serve public health well because it is patchwork in nature, slow, expensive and time-consuming, and cannot keep pace with the testing needs of new products and chemicals.

In June 2007, a report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that recent advances in systems biology, cell- and tissue-based tests (also referred to as in-vitro testing), and other related scientific fields offer the potential to fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested. The report designed a new approach that would rely less heavily on animal studies and instead focus on methods that evaluate chemicals' effects on biological processes using cells, cell lines or cellular components. This new approach was embraced by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, and these agencies, and many in the private sector, are working to make this vision a reality

Congress is actively discussing amending the Toxic Substances Control Act, the law that governs chemical safety testing.

A better testing system, which would involve regulatory changes, will yield immediate benefits and help fill the information gap that concerns American families.

— Paul A. Locke, environmental health scientist, attorney and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Toxicology, Baltimore

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