Not a rabbit
The New York Times reports today on the National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center’s Tox21, a robot that can assess the toxicity of thousands of different chemicals multiple times in a week. This is a great leap forward for those who deplore testing on animals and for the government, since the EPA currently tests only one chemical at a time and gets through just a couple dozen assessments a year. There are currently about 80,000 chemicals used in foods and consumer products in the U.S., and the vast majority of them have never been tested for human or environmental health impacts.
So Tox21, the brainchild of four government agencies, is progress, and I’m especially eager for it to tackle the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water “contaminant candidate list” (since we’re all drinking so much tap water, right?). But the Times story says that the compounds will be tested only for toxicity. What about these chemicals’ impact on the immune and reproductive systems, or their neurological, cognitive, and behavioral effects? The chemicals being tested might not cause cancer or birth defects, but they could have a slew of other negative effects – at very low doses or in combination with other compounds. Unfortunately, testing for these effects is an extremely complicated proposition.
You can read more about our continuous exposure to low doses of scores of chemicals in McKay Jenkins’ just published “What’s Gotten Into Us?” which I reviewed in this Sunday’s NewYork Times Book Review. Or check out John Wargo’s Green Intelligence, or Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie’s Slow Death by Rubber Duck, or Susan Freinkel’s delightful and literary Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. But steal yourself for the inevitable: it’s depressing stuff.