The Future of Chemical Toxicity Testing in the U.S.

Posted by Pamela Hart, Director of ALDF's Animal Law Program on July 1, 2010

Three years after the National Research Council (NRC) issued its landmark vision and strategy for toxicity testing, what comes next? This was the question that was asked at the June 21, 2010 “The Future of Chemical Toxicity Testing in the U.S.: Creating a Roadmap to Implement the NRC’s Vision and Strategy” symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It was at this historical event that lawyers, regulators and policy makers converged to discuss the necessary steps to ensure that chemical testing protects public health, the environment, and animals–using twenty-first century toxicology.

Drawing on advances across a range of disciplines–such as genomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, and computational toxicology–the NRC envisions a new paradigm for chemical testing that is not only more predictive of adverse effects in humans, but also faster and cheaper than current models, and less dependent on whole-animal-based testing methodologies. This transformation will not happen overnight: the NRC recognized that implementation of its recommendations would require a substantial commitment of resources, would demand the involvement of multiple organizations in government, academia, industry, and the public, and could require a decade or two to achieve.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in particular, has played an important role. In addition to commissioning the efforts that culminated in the NRC vision report, EPA, through its Office of Research and Development, entered into a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with two National Institutes of Health in an effort to “guide the construction and governance of a detailed research strategy to make the NRC Committee’s vision a reality.” Last year, EPA issued its Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals, which the Agency characterized as “a blueprint for ensuring a leadership role for EPA in pursuing the directions and recommendations presented in the 2007 NRC report.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Environmental Law Institute were pleased to present the June 21 symposium, which featured a keynote presentation by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Stephen A. Owens and convened a range of legal, policy, and scientific experts to discuss:

  • The status of implementation of the vision for chemical toxicity testing three years after the NRC report was issued.
  • What the federal agencies are doing–and planning to do–to ensure implementation of the NRC vision.
  • Stakeholder perspectives on implementation across a range of viewpoints: industry, public health and environmental protection, the academy, and animal welfare.
  • Where implementation of the NRC vision fits into a landscape of potentially broad legislative reform for toxic substances, harmonization with Canadian requirements, and scarcity of financial resources.

While there is still monumental work to be done to protect animals in research, these types of coalition building meetings are a step in the right direction. As Joyce Tischler, ALDF’s founder and general counsel, explained in a previous article, “Our objective is to bring about a win-win for everyone–the animals, the scientist, the industries, environmentalists and public health advocates–by helping them work through the many questions of how to develop non-animal scientific techniques that are more cost-effective, faster and better predicators of toxicity. This project is complex and many layered, and the change will not come as quickly as we would like, but we are feeling very hopeful.”