DO WE KNOW WHICH CHEMICALS ARE TOXIC?
After 30 years of laws aimed at controlling toxic chemicals, government must at least have a good idea of which chemicals are toxic - or so most Americans assume. But that assumption turns out to be wrong.
To tell whether a chemical has the potential to damage human health or the environment, there needs to be basic, screening-level information about its toxicity. But that information is simply not available for most of the top-selling chemicals in U.S. commerce today - as recent studies have proven (see below). This means that, for those chemicals, we have no way of knowing whether releasing them or being exposed to them could hurt people or the environment.
CRITICAL DATA NEEDED TO ASSESS HEALTH HAZARDS IS MISSING FOR MOST CHEMICALS
Basic screening-level toxicity information is essential to be able to identify potential health and environmental hazards of individual chemicals.
However, recent studies by Environmental Defense and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have found that the vast majority of chemicals in widespread commercial use lack basic toxicity data in the public record. There are close to 3,000 chemicals (excluding polymers and inorganic chemicals) that the U.S. either produces or imports in quantities of over 1 million pounds per year. EPA has reviewed the publicly available data on these chemicals and has concluded that most of them may have never been tested to determine how toxic they are to humans or the environment. EPA evaluated all 2,863 of these "high production volume" chemicals and found that only 7% (just 202 chemicals) had publicly available results for all eight of the standard, basic screening tests. Almost half of these chemicals (43%) had no data in any test category.
EPA's findings confirm and extend the findings of Environmental Defense's landmark 1997 report
Toxic Ignorance, which used a random sample of 100 U.S. high production volume chemicals to demonstrate that nearly 75% of these chemicals lack the basic data required for human health hazard identification.
HOW TO FIND OUT IF A CHEMICAL HAS BEEN TESTED
Go to Scorecard's About the Chemicals section and search for the chemical you are interested in. Every chemical profile has a section titled "Basic Testing to Identify Chemical Hazards," which indicates whether a chemical has been tested for specific human health endpoints like carcinogenicity or acute toxicity.
WINNING A COMMITMENT FROM THE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY TO TEST CHEMICALS
In October 1998, EPA, Environmental Defense and the chemical industry announced a major new program to accelerate the testing of high production volume chemicals. The Chemical Right-to-Know Initiative is an ambitious effort to tackle the "toxic ignorance" problem by rapidly testing chemicals and making this important data available to scientists, policy makers, industry, and the public.
By early 2000, more than 400 chemical manufacturers had agreed to provide accelerated hazard screening for more than 2,000 high production volume chemicals that they manufacture, in what U.S. EPA has named its HPV Challenge Program.
INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO IMPROVE CHEMICAL TESTING
EPA's evaluation of hazard data on high production volume chemicals is
part of an
international effort to identify data poor chemicals
being conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD has established an internationally agreed upon set of basic tests that should be conducted on chemicals, the Screening Information Data Set (SIDS). Environmental Defense utilized the human health components of SIDS in Toxic
Ignorance. EPA utilized a modified version of SIDS in
its evaluation of chemical hazard data availability (EPA credited a chemical with SIDS data if any study relevant to an endpoint could be found, although completing the SIDS set for these endpoints requires multiple studies).
The OECD uses its set of screening tests to identify chemicals that require additional testing, and then member countries volunteer to fill these data gaps. An overview of OECD's SIDS program is available at
Once basic testing is completed, an initial assessment of
chemical hazards is prepared, which may then lead to further
toxicity studies or to actions that reduce risks. OECD has
published assessments on a number of chemicals, available at
EPA HPV Challenge Program at
EPA Chemical Right-to-Know Initiative at
Index of Websites related to HPV Challege Program at
Chemical Manufacturers Association's HPV Chemicals Testing Commitment Tracker at
http://www.hpvchallenge.com/. Note: Due to design and performance problems, it can be difficult or impossible to get information about specific chemicals or companies from this website.