Editorial: Challenge EPA Toxicity Tests: An Urgent Call
Is there any question whether turpentine is unsafe? How about lead? Or rat poison? Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Agency claims we’re not quite sure, and it wants these and 2,800 other chemicals tested on animals.
Here’s what happened: the EPA looked at chemicals commonly used in manufacturing and, after checking four different testing databases, became concerned that many had apparently never been thoroughly tested for safety. On the list were turpentine, lead, rat poison, and carbon tetrachloride, among many others.
The advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund jumped in. It looked at EPA’s review and decided that now is time to see whether turpentine and rat poison are safe or not. Vice President Gore, responding to what he thought was the “environmental vote” then called for testing of all “high-production volume” chemicals by the year 2005. The program was dubbed the High Production Volume Challenge, and the EPA is now giving manufacturers until the end of 1999 to decide whether to join the program voluntarily or be forced to do so.
Enter the PCRM research team. We found that EPA’s reviewers had botched the job. We checked databases they had overlooked and found, not only had turpentine indeed been tested in animals for acute and chronic toxicity, but more importantly, there is abundant information on its effects on people. The EPA simply had not done a thorough enough search for previous tests, and had completely ignored all evidence from human exposures.
We also asked why the EPA wanted animal tests anyway. The EPA is calling for the archaic LD-50 test, which finds the chemical dose that kills half the test animals. It is hard to imagine a crueler exercise.
And the LD-50 is just plain lousy as a predictor of human risk. Researchers in the Multicenter Evaluation of In-Vitro Cytotoxicity (MEIC) trial based in Uppsala, Sweden, recently showed that rat and mouse LD-50 tests are only about 65 percent accurate in predicting human risk. On the other hand, new human cell tests are far better. A combination of three modern human cell tests predicted the toxicity of chemicals with 77 percent precision.
This is Gore’s second major environmental gaff, after having been caught on audiotape cooking a deal that would allow Norway to resume whaling without objection from the U.S. Not that Democrats are in any way better or worse than Republicans in their environmental or animal protection records. We have had friends and adversaries on both sides of the aisle. But those calling for the new massive animal poisoning test program are about as environmentally conscious as the pilot of the Exxon Valdez. We know perfectly well turpentine is not something we want in our rivers and streams. We know rat poison kills test rats. We know lead has innumerable toxic effects.
As it is, this program is not sensible. It is political. And the Vice President needs to know it is bad science and bad politics.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM