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Expert Calls For End to Animal Testing of Toxics

Efforts to modernize how chemicals are regulated have come up short on implementing a mandatory phase out of animal toxicity testing, an expert in the field said yesterday.

Paul Locke of the Center for Alternatives for Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University said more must be done to require agencies including U.S. EPA, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration along with the chemical industry to end animal testing.

Speaking at a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill, Locke said EPA "has the flexibility in the data it looks at" under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) -- which regulates pesticides -- and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- which covers chemicals.

However, he said, "most of the data EPA looks at is animal tests."

Because of how TSCA was originally drafted in 1976, Locke said, EPA lacks data on any chemical that was already in existence at the time. That creates a burden on EPA to screen chemicals and a "massive data gap" that could be filled by using some non-animal testing techniques to screen large quantities of chemicals, he said.

Asked about Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) TSCA reform bill being debated in the Senate, the "Safe Chemicals Act" (S. 847), Locke said it could be stronger on animal testing. "I think it's a good start," he said. "I would like to see the bill go farther."

Lautenberg's bill does include language to encourage alternatives to testing chemicals on animals. Locke, however, called for specifically mandating that those alternatives be required -- not just an option -- and for providing incentives to regulatory agencies and chemical companies for using those alternatives.

Locke highlighted the "3Rs" of animal testing alternatives -- replacement, reduction and refinement -- and said that the current regulatory framework emphasizes refinement and does not do enough in the other areas.

He touted the recommendations of a 2007 National Academy of Sciences report, "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and Strategy." The report called for developing new but ascertainable methods to phase out animal testing for the testing of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other substances.

Several agencies, including EPA and NIH, "have worked hard to implement" those recommendations, Locke noted. In particular, he pointed to the Tox21 and ToxCast programs that are experimenting with robots and high-throughput assays to test how chemicals may affect individual human cells -- as opposed to general testing on animals.

While the conclusion of the Tox21 project may still be decades away, those involved have compared it to the human genome project in terms of the effects it could have on how the environmental and health effects of chemicals are studied (Greenwire, May 12).
EPA's National Center for Computational Toxicology, Locked added, also should be commended for its work on coming up with complicated algorithms to help determine a substance's human toxicity without animal testing.

Locke's remarks were welcomed by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

"It has been shown that the technology is such today that animal testing is outdated," Moran said. "I do think that animal testing will one day be a dim memory."

Moran noted that one problem is that the current structure for toxicity testing relies on how the body would react to high doses of a chemical. In those instances, he said, the human immune system typically kicks into action and suppresses it.

"The problem," Moran said, "is trace chemicals" and the cumulative effects of many small exposures to multiple chemicals.

Moran said the computational and high-throughput testing is more effective at testing for those effects.

"We could never do that with animals," he said.

Notably, many chemical companies have said they support alternatives to animal testing and some have already switched to such methods.

Locke also said that he doesn't believe TSCA must be reformed by Congress in order to phase out animal testing. Efforts such a Tox21, he said, show that the NAS recommendations can be put into place without congressional action.

"We have leadership and vision that can take us into the 21st century," he said. "But a constant investment is needed."

Full article at Environment & Energy Daily (subscription)

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