Toxic Substances, Nontoxic Policy

Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including ingredients found in common household products in our homes. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats, and even dropped in their eyes. Some tests involve administering these chemicals over a prolonged period of time causing horrific deaths.

But now, there's good news in Congress for modern science-based alternatives to chemical testing that do not rely on animals.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), introduced by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 46 other lawmakers, would significantly improve the science behind chemical testing, resulting in better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health. The bill  language would lead to the use of  fewer animals in testing and, in some cases, could eliminate it.

Today, I want to call out Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, for his fierce determination in getting this language included to require the use of existing validated alternatives to animal testing where available, ensure that research and development of new methods is prioritized and create a host of procedures prior to any new testing, making animal testing the final procedure. Senators Udall and Vitter - both determined animal advocates - actively supported his efforts to insert that critical language to make animal testing a last resort.

The bill calls for quickly identifying chemicals that are most likely to pose health problems, and then focusing resources on testing those chemicals more thoroughly. Considering that we are surrounded by tens of thousands of chemicals, it is a practical and common-sense approach that would save time and money: a full battery of safety tests takes more than a decade, and can cost tens of millions of dollars and thousands of animal lives. Toxic chemicals also pose a significant threat to fish and wildlife populations, and science-based testing recommended by this new bill would help reduce that threat.

Traditional chemical safety assessments rely on overdosing animals and observing the results, like death, tremors or tumors. Most of these methods are even older than the current Toxic Substances Control Act, which this bill would replace. There is also a disconnect between the information we get from animal testing and the ability to apply it to human health; according to the Food and Drug Administration, 92 percent of prospective pharmaceuticals that passed animal testing still fail during clinical trials (the only situation where we have direct human information for comparison). This failure is due to many things, including lack of efficacy and unforeseen toxicity, even after testing in a wide range of animals.

In a seminal report in 2007: "Toxicity testing in the 21st century: a vision and a strategy," the National Academies of Science proposed capitalizing on the dramatic revolution that has occurred in our understanding of biology, in the 50 years since the traditional animal-based methods were developed. Innovations in computer and materials science now offer strong alternatives to animal testing, including  3-D printing, construction of artificial human tissues, and the generation of sophisticated computer programs that can make predictions based on complex information. The NAS recommended designing highly reliable tests that measure chemical effects on critical biological pathways without using animals.

Today, scientists and regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agree that this is the best way forward. We call on the Senate to pass the bill, and continue working to strengthen the ability of states to adopt even stronger animal welfare and public safety provisions, and then urge the House to accede to this Senate language. Please join me in supporting S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, and urge your senators to vote for this breakthrough bill that would help make chemical testing smarter for regulatory decision-making and protect animals' lives.

This entry was originally posted on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.