New CompTox Approach Targets Thyroid

By Michaela Burns

We are exposed to chemicals everyday— either through chemicals in the environment, in our food or water, or by using consumer products such as shampoos, colognes, and perfumes.  Chemicals help these products to do their jobs—whether cleaning your body or making you smell good. Soap / lotion / shampoo against whiteWorking with industry and other interest groups, EPA evaluates these chemicals and, if necessary, regulates their presence in the environment to help protect our health. Because traditional testing approaches are time-intensive, only a small fraction of chemicals have been evaluated fully for potential human health effects. New methods are needed to rapidly address chemical safety.

To help address this problem, EPA has been developing new computational toxicology methods to prioritize chemicals for testing. One example of this effort is the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program in the 21st century (EDSP21) which uses the latest computational toxicology methods to evaluate chemicals for potential endocrine disruption.  Recent EPA research in this area is focused on evaluating chemicals for thyroid disruption.

Why is EPA interested in the thyroid? Well, the thyroid, an organ that is located at the front of your neck, is responsible for producing thyroid hormone, a process called thyroid synthesis. Exposure to certain chemicals can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis, resulting in less thyroid hormone in blood and tissues. In adults, thyroid hormone helps regulate key functions, including metabolism rate and the amount of blood pumped into our heart per minute. When thyroid synthesis is disturbed in the adult body, it can cause reversible symptoms such as depression, fatigue, weight gain, and constipation. Thyroid hormones also help regulate brain development in utero, which means that pregnant mothers and children are populations of concern for thyroid hormone changes. A decrease in thyroid hormone availability during development of a fetus can result in irreversible changes to intelligence, cognitive ability, and motor skills. These potential health effects make it critical that we identify chemicals that may alter thyroid hormone levels.

One of the ways that thyroid hormone synthesis can be decreased is by inhibition of an enzyme called thyroperoxidase. EPA researchers have developed and are using a high-throughput screening assay to detect inhibitors of thyroperoxidase. This high-throughput screening assay can be used to screen thousands of chemicals at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional in vitro and/or whole animal studies.

In 2016 researchers published a scientific paper, Tiered High-Throughput Screening Approach to Identify Thyroperoxidase Inhibitors Within the ToxCast Phase I and II Chemical Libraries (Paul Friedman et al.). This paper describes the results and analysis from screening 1074 chemical samples for potential thyroperoxidase inhibition.

This the largest screening effort to date to identify chemicals that inhibit thyroperoxidase, and it’s only the beginning! This work is part of a larger EPA effort to develop a set of new high-throughput screening assays and other faster computational toxicology approaches to evaluate how chemicals might change thyroid hormone homeostasis. The ultimate goal is to screen chemicals as efficiently as possible in order to make a prediction about whether a chemical may affect thyroid hormones.

And all of EPA’s computational toxicology data, including the data from this paper on screening for thyroperoxidase inhibition, are publicly accessible. You can find and interact with the data through the EPA ToxCast Dashboard and all of the data can be downloaded from the ToxCast data download website.

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Indoor Chemical Exposure: Novel Research for the 21st Century

By Meridith M. Fry, Ph.D.

While it is widely known that nearly every consumer product contains chemicals, have you ever wondered what chemicals lurk inside your home or office building?  Semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) are chemicals found indoors in the air and on surfaces that come from cleaning products, personal care products, pesticides, furnishings, and electronics. They are released slowly into the air and can attach to surfaces or airborne particles, allowing them to enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through the skin.  Because SVOCs can persist indoors for weeks to years, they also may contribute to prolonged human exposure. In fact, individuals in the US have measureable levels of more than 100 SVOCs in their body at any given time.

cleaning equipment isolated on white backgroundThe health effects from exposure to SVOCs vary depending on the particular SVOC, the length of exposure, and personal susceptibility. SVOCs have been associated with allergies, asthma, endocrine and thyroid disruption, reproductive toxicity, and fetal and child development delays. Given the significance of these health effects, we’re funding research to learn more about SVOC exposure and how we can reduce it.

Through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Grants for New Methods in 21st Century Exposure Science, researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the University of Michigan are making great strides in developing new methods for measuring indoor exposure to SVOCs:

  • A new, simple method has been developed by researchers from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to determine vapor pressure, an important yet uncertain chemical property of SVOCs. Vapor pressure is a measure of the tendency of these chemicals to escape (from a liquid or solid) into the air.  With better vapor pressure estimates, our understanding of how SVOCs move indoors will greatly improve.
  • Researchers from the University of Michigan are also developing a novel, portable device to rapidly measure hundreds of SVOCs indoors. This research has already spurred applications for three new patents and resulted in four peer-reviewed publications.  Milestones include the development of a micro-photoionization detector (PID) to identify which chemicals are present in the air, a miniaturized helium discharge PID that also offers rapid measurement, low power consumption, and a fast warm-up time, and an automated, portable gas chromatography system to measure chemicals in water.  These new instruments can be easily carried in the field and used on-site, revolutionizing current measurement technology which tends to be bulky and non-portable.

The research and findings from these STAR grants will continue to shape exposure science in the 21st Century, and increase our knowledge about SVOCs and how they affect our everyday lives.  STAR grantees from the University of California Davis, Duke University, and University of California San Francisco also are making substantial contributions to our understanding of SVOC exposure such as developing new methods to measure SVOCs in indoor dust, exposures in children, and exposures in pregnant women.  We are eager to continue sharing these groundbreaking achievements as they become available.

References:

Weschler, C.J. and W.W. Nazaroff, Semivolatile organic compounds in indoor environments. Atmospheric Environment, 2008. 42(40): p. 9018-9040.

Xu, Y. and J. Zhang, Understanding SVOCs. ASHRAE Journal, 2011. 53(12): p. 121-125.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Indoor Environment Group, SVOCs and Health, 2016. Available: https://iaqscience.lbl.gov/voc-svocs

About the Author:  Meridith Fry is an Environmental Engineer and Project Officer in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Sunscreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story

By Susanna Blair

Blue towel and sunscreen lotion near the poolIt’s the end of summer, and you know what that means: it is hot and sunny! (And if you’re in DC like me, it also feels like a swamp.) Going to the pool is one of my favorite things to do to help beat the heat, and because UV radiation is a known carcinogen, I make sure to bring the items CDC recommends for sun protection:  protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and loads of sunscreen.

But where does all of that sunscreen go? It’s not surprising that sunscreens are detected in pool water (after all, some is bound to wash off when we take a dip), but certain sunscreens have also been widely detected in our ecosystems and in our wastewater. So how is our sunscreen ending up in our environment and what are the impacts?

Well, EPA researchers are working to better understand this issue, specifically investigating sunscreens that contain engineered nanomaterials and how they might change when exposed to the chemicals in pool water. But before I delve into that, let’s talk a bit about sunscreen chemistry and nanomaterials….

The best protection from UV radiation is a physical block, such as titanium dioxide, which is a common ingredient in sunscreen. This type of physical sunblock is often in the form of engineered nanomaterials , which are materials with dimensions between 1 and 100 nanometers engineered with unique properties for specific uses.  (To put a nanomaterial’s size into perspective, just take a look at the hair on your head – a single strand is between 80,000-100,000 nanometers thick.)

Many sunscreens contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) because it absorbs UV radiation, preventing it from damaging our skin. But titanium dioxide decomposes into other molecules when in the presence of water and UV radiation. This is important because one of the new molecules produced is called a singlet oxygen reactive oxygen species. These reactive oxygen species have been shown to cause extensive cell damage and even cell death in plants and animals. To shield skin from reactive oxygen species, titanium dioxide engineered nanomaterials are often coated with other materials such as aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3).

EPA researchers are testing to see whether swimming pool water degrades the aluminum hydroxide coating, and if the extent of this degradation is enough to allow the production of potentially harmful reactive oxygen species. In this study, the coated titanium dioxide engineered nanomaterials were exposed to pool water for time intervals ranging from 45 minutes to 14 days, followed by imaging using an electron microscope.  Results show that after 3 days, pool water caused the aluminum hydroxide coating to degrade, which can reduce the coating’s protective properties and increase the potential toxicity.  To be clear, even with degraded coating, the toxicity measured from the coated titanium dioxide, was significantly less than the uncoated material. So in the short-term – in the amount of time one might wear sunscreen before bathing and washing it off — these sunscreens still provide life-saving protection against UV radiation. However, the sunscreen chemicals will remain in the environment considerably longer, and continue to degrade as they are exposed to other things.

This study provides evidence that when released into the environment, nanomaterials undergo physical and/or chemical transformations – an important consideration when measuring the impact of these materials on public health and the environment. EPA researchers continue to do work to better understand the life cycle of engineered nanomaterials and the potential transformation of these products when they are no longer working to protect our skin.

 

About the author: Susanna Blair is a physical scientist in the Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program in the Office of Research in Development. Her primary role is to translate and disseminate EPA’s chemical safety research.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The iCSS Chemistry Dashboard – The First Step in Building a Strong Chemistry Foundation for 21st Century Toxicology

By Antony Williams

photo of antony williams

Computational Chemist Antony Williams is the project lead for the iCSS Chemistry Dashboard

EPA has released the Interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability Chemistry Dashboard—or the iCSS Chemistry Dashboard—a new web application to support scientists in chemical research.

The dashboard is a new app in the armory of computational toxicologists everywhere. It provides data on over 700,000 chemicals including access to nearly 10,000,000 experimental and predicted chemical properties via a website search.  The data are downloadable at the click of a button and are even viewable on your smartphone or tablet. The data and an associated collection of additional resources have been brought together in one application.

The dashboard provides access to the rich and highly curated content that is contained within the Distributed Structure-Searchable Toxicity Database (DSSTox) which was first released in 2002.  The data contained within the DSSTox database has been expanded over the years and now is available via an intuitive website for searching.

For this project, we focused our efforts on building a web application that allows the public to easily search our chemistry data. A number of dashboards and web applications have been built over the years including the Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource, the ToxCast dashboard, and the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program dashboard. We were able to take advantage of this previous work and improve the user experience for navigating the data. The resulting web application was released on April 1st, no joke, for beta testing in the real world and to gather initial feedback from the community.

The new chemistry dashboard has been available for only a couple of months and is already garnering positive feedback from its users. New data, functionality, and capabilities are in development to provide regular updates to the application. Much like with Wikipedia’s “crowdsourced feedback”, the application’s users are able to inform us of any issues they see in the data at the individual chemical level to improve the data for all users. As crowdsourced collaboration is increasingly used in the curation of chemistry data, we expect the iCSS Chemistry Dashboard to become one of the primary platforms for environmental chemists and computational toxicologists around the world and form the chemistry foundation for EPA’s efforts in 21st century toxicology.

About the Author: Antony (Tony) Williams is a computational chemist in the National Center for Computational Toxicology and the project leader for the iCSS Chemistry Dashboard. He is an analytical scientist and cheminformatician by training and was one of the original founders for the ChemSpider website. He is widely published with over 150 publications and books/book chapters.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

When Robots and Metabolism Collide: EPA and Partners Announce Transform Tox Testing Challenge Semi-Finalists

By Kevin Kuhn

When I tell my friends about chemical high-throughput screening and the Transform Tox Testing Challenge, I always start with the robot. Why? Because people love robots.

Tox 21 robot at work

Robot in action at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) where it is housed.

The Robot, i.e. the ultra-high-throughput robotic screening system (pictured) is just one example of a suite of automated systems designed to test and screen chemicals. The system identifies chemicals’ potential for trouble faster and cheaper than ever before, and without the need to test on animals.

Thanks to these automated systems and Tox21 (a cooperative effort uniting EPA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration), we have run thousands and thousands of experiments to see how chemicals affect cells, their processes, and the proteins that do the work. It truly is some amazing research.

Of course, it wouldn’t be research if the system was perfect. Here’s the rub: cells used in EPA’s current lab tests do not typically break down or metabolize chemicals like they would in the body. This means that these tests may overlook chemicals that could be metabolized into a more toxic form. We need a robot-friendly way of making our lab tests act more like the human body when evaluating chemicals’ toxicity.

To find a solution, EPA, NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and the National Toxicology Program, headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, launched the Transform Tox Testing Challenge in January.

Now we are thrilled to announce that we are awarding a total of $100,000 to ten semi-finalists for their amazing ideas. Descriptions of these promising proposals are available here. The semi-finalists have brought the best of modern technological approaches to bear on the problem, and we couldn’t be more excited about the ideas.

Right now these proposals are simply ideas on paper, but thanks to the challenge prize money, these solvers will have the opportunity to develop their plans into working prototypes and enter Stage 2 of the competition. EPA will host a workshop for the semi-finalists in July so that they can meet one another, learn more about our great set of screening systems, and potentially combine their talents to strengthen their Stage 2 entries.

With the possibility of solving this problem on the horizon, we’re one step closer to improving toxicity testing and protecting human health better than ever before. And, to be honest, that is even cooler than the robot.
For more information: transformtoxtesting.com

 

About the Author: Kevin Kuhn, Ph.D. is an advisor to the Chief Innovation Officer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development and  manages the Pathfinder Innovation Projects – a competition that provides seed funding for EPA research scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. Learn more about EPA Innovation at: https://www.epa.gov/innovation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Stage One of $1 Million Toxicity Testing Challenge Closes Soon!

By Rachel McMonagle

Close-up of medicine dropper and liquid

Hurry!  Stage one of the three-phased Transform Tox Testing Challenge closes on April 8, 2016!

The challenge is part of EPA’s commitment to advancing chemical safety science, ushering in a new generation of faster, more efficient, and far less costly ways to screen chemicals for toxicity. For example, our ToxCast program uses advances in high-throughput screening technology to rank and prioritize thousands of chemicals with the end goal of identifying chemicals that may have potential health effects. A limitation is that cells used in high-throughput screening sometimes act differently than cells in a moving, breathing human body. Why?  Cells used in current high-throughput screening assays do not typically possess metabolic competence, or ability to perform all life-sustaining chemical transformations that occur within cells of living things. This means that these assays may miss chemicals that are metabolized to a more toxic form.

Striving for the most accurate toxicity testing possible, EPA scientists want to add “metabolic competence” to a broad array of high-throughput screening assays, closing the gap between what they reveal and how the body actually responds to chemicals.

To incentivize innovation and drive the field to a commercial solution, EPA partnered with other federal organizations, equally as excited about tackling the issue – the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Toxicology Program headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Together, on January 8, 2016, this partnership challenged the world to add metabolic competence to high-throughput screening assays by offering up to $1,000,000 for the best solutions.  The deadline for that challenge closes this Friday, so if you want a chance to innovate while making the world a safer place, please hurry!

 

About the author: Rachel McMonagle works as part of the Innovation Team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

One Fish, Two Fish, Test Fish, Control Fish: Award-Winning High-Throughput Research on Flame Retardants in Zebrafish

By Ben Zukowski

“Look closer,” says Dr. Pamela Noyes.  “Where…?” I ask.

I entered the lab in search of a zebrafish aquarium, but now my attention is drawn to a thin plastic plate, about the size of a postcard.

“There’s a zebrafish there?” I squint my eyes tighter.  “Ninety-six of them!” exclaims Dr. Noyes. Sure enough, nearly a hundred little black specks are swimming in a matrix of tiny circles – each organism no bigger than a ground up peppercorn.  I have been given the opportunity to check out a recent innovation: zebrafish and high-throughput testing.

How much can this inconspicuous fish really tell us about chemical reactions in our body?  Well, paired with state-of-the-art robotics, zebrafish can provide insight into a series of complicated human health responses and abnormal development due to chemical interactions.

By using the cutting-edge technology of high-throughput testing (a combination of advanced robotic automation techniques and data processing software), scientists can take advantage of the zebrafish’s small size to study a large number of chemicals all at once.  Additionally, these fish have two other vital characteristics: 1) rapid development and 2) many shared genes with humans.

zebrafishEach zebrafish is exposed to a chemical of interest and studied from the embryonic to larval stage, by which time most of their organs are fully developed and functioning.  While this kind of development would take years for humans, it only takes a matter of days for zebrafish.  During this timeframe, researchers can study anything from abnormal physical traits to erratic behavior of individual zebrafish to pinpoint how a chemical may alter normal development.

With so many chemicals in the world today and even more under development, scientists need a rapid, economical, and accurate way to screen for chemicals that may be harmful to humans and wildlife.  The use of zebrafish in high-throughput testing is increasingly important to chemical research initiatives at EPA.  In fact, zebrafish studies by Dr. Noyes (in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Tanguay at Oregon State University) recently received national acclaim for their contribution toward flame retardant research.

EPA researcher Dr. Pamela Noyes won the Best Postdoctoral Publication at the 2016 Society of Toxicology Conference for her paper titled, “Advanced morphological – behavioral test platform reveals neurodevelopmental defects in embryonic zebrafish exposed to comprehensive suite of halogenated and organophosphate flame retardants. 

Dr. Noyes’ study shows that exposure to certain flame retardants is potentially associated with various neurological changes in zebrafish.  Flame retardants are chemicals added to manufactured materials— such as plastics, textiles, and surface finishes and coatings— to suppress the spread of fire.  These chemicals include organophosphate flame retardants, as well as several polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and the heavily used bisphenol-A analog tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA).

Dr. Noyes’ research only begins to identify these complex health outcomes and stimulates further research on human health.  Perhaps even more importantly, it provides an opportunity to design safer chemicals.  Turns out this little fish is behind a lot of big ideas here at EPA!

Find out more information about EPA’s efforts to evaluate chemicals for adverse health effects – http://www.epa.gov/chemical-research.   Information on Dr. Noyes award and other conference events can also be found on the 2016 Society of Toxicology Conference website.

About the Author: Ben Zukowski is a student contractor at EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability National Research Program.  A graduate from the University of Michigan, he has worked with environmental issues across North, Central, and South America.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Protecting Children’s Health: Looking to the Future

By Thomas Burke, Ph.D, MPH

EPA's Thomas Burke, Ph.D.

EPA’s Thomas Burke, Ph.D., shares children’s environmental health research results.

Last week marked the closing of National Children’s Health month, and we took advantage of the occasion to join our partners from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to hear highlights and the latest research results from the network of Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers that both our organizations have supported over the past two decades.

Over that time, these Children’s Centers have delivered research results where they are needed most, and have come to exemplify how to study—and meet—environmentally related public health challenges through science, collaboration, and community outreach.

The list of direct, positive impacts is long. Examples include the work done by scientists from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health on the health effects of exposures to certain kinds of pesticides. Results from those studies sparked the adoption of integrated pest management techniques and neighborhood notification laws that have fundamentally changed how New York City addresses pest control. Another notable example is how evidence from studies conducted at the University of Washington Children’s Center informed EPA’s decision to phase out the use of the chemical azinphos-methyl in pesticides.

And those are just two of the many, many examples we can look back on to show the impact that Children’s Centers research have had on improving public health for some of our most vulnerable populations and lifestages. As a new granddad myself, I can tell you that what is equally exciting is to look to the future. By design, the work of the Children’s Centers unite scientists and other experts across a wide spectrum of disciplines. These teams are actively tapping into a wealth of new data streams in chemical screening and toxicology to bring fresh, innovative approaches to tackling the complex challenges that affect children’s health.

Those integrated approaches are increasing the pace of discovery at an amazing rate. But the Children’s Centers don’t stop there. Because of the urgent nature of the work, science translation and community outreach are high priorities. Children’s Center research is designed from the very beginning with the end user in mind. They partner with daycare providers, community leaders, pediatricians and nurses, caregivers, teachers, and parents to ensure that research results are accessible, easy to understand, and ready to support action as soon as possible.

The Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers will continue to help meet our highest priority in keeping kids healthy and safe. While we must remain vigilant to keep the science flowing to public health officials, the impact of that work proves that the future is looking brighter every day.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D, MPH, is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, Dr. Burke served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

NIEHS and EPA Partner to Improve Children’s Health

By Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Portrait of NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

A good start lasts a lifetime. That’s the philosophy that drives the children’s environmental health research supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, or NIEHS.

Key discoveries have emerged from this research. We know that children are more vulnerable than adults to certain chemicals, pollutants, foods, and activities. We know that there are periods of time, or windows of susceptibility, when developing minds and bodies are especially sensitive to disruption by environmental exposures. These times include the prenatal period and puberty. We are also finding that the health effects from childhood exposures may not appear until years later.

Over the past seventeen years, the NIEHS and the EPA have jointly funded 23 Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, or Children’s Centers, across the country. The Children’s Centers examine the effects of air pollution, metals, pesticides, and other environmental contaminants on a number of children’s health outcomes.

There are enormous benefits to our partnership with EPA. Together, our funding goes farther. This allows us to make sure that our research addresses the specific health concerns expressed by the public, and helps to speed the translation of research findings to treatment or prevention of disease.

Here are some examples of recent research findings from the Children’s Centers:

  • When pregnant mothers are exposed to common air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), their children are more likely to have lower IQs or symptoms of anxiety, depression, or attention deficit.
  • Some chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) or phthalates, may interfere with hormone function in the body. This can change the timing of puberty, have detrimental effects on behavior, or increase the risk of asthma.
  • Children may have increased risk of developing some types of leukemia when fathers are exposed to pesticides around the time of conception, or mothers are exposed during pregnancy.

The mission of NIEHS is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. For children’s environmental health, our partnership with EPA helps us to achieve that mission.

About the Author: Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). A board certified toxicologist, Birnbaum has served as a federal scientist for nearly 35 years. Prior to her appointment as NIEHS and NTP director in 2009, she spent 19 years at EPA, where she directed the largest division focusing on environmental health research.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA and Unilever: Teaming Up to Advance Chemical Safety

By Rusty Thomas

A researcher using EPA’s high-throughput screening lab

EPA researchers are using high-throughput screening methods to make chemical management safer.

There are somewhere around 80,000 chemicals listed or registered for use in the United States (plus an additional thousand more introduced every year), of which only a small percentage have been significantly tested for their relative safety.

That’s because we are still largely relying on methods for chemical testing that were developed 30 years ago that are expensive, time consuming, and rely heavily on the use of laboratory animals. I’m fortunate to work in a place filled with people trying to change that: EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. Our Computational Toxicology research (CompTox) is aimed at finding new, more efficient, ways to test and screen chemicals, developing new techniques such as computer-based models and even robots-assisted high-throughput screening programs to make chemical management safer and faster by several orders of magnitude.

The success of EPA’s CompTox research has opened the door to partnerships with industries who are the experts at knowing how much of a chemical people are exposed to through their different products. In the past, we collaborated with L’Oreal to explore the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics. This week, we’re happy to announce a new partnership, with Unilever, a global consumer products company. Together, we are kicking off a research collaboration to advance chemical safety for consumer products.

EPA researchers will work with our Unilever partners to develop a series of case studies based on five chemicals of mutual interest. A major component will include using EPA’s Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast), which uses automated chemical screening technologies to expose living cells or isolated proteins to chemicals, and then screening those cells or proteins for biological or structure changes that may suggest potential toxic effects.

While EPA uses the ToxCast program to develop and provide data, Unilever will use their expertise in consumer products to estimate exposures for each chemical. We can then marry these two, the dose and the exposure, to estimate the health risks.

If successful, research from this collaboration will result in better ways to evaluate the potential health effects of new ingredients and chemicals we currently know little about. These methods could be used by both industry and governmental agencies to reduce the costs associated with safety testing and ultimately address the thousands of untested chemicals in our environment. I am excited to be part of this partnership as we work to make  chemical safety testing faster, cheaper, and more relevant to people.

About the Author: Rusty Thomas is the director of the National Center for Computational Toxicology at the EPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.