PITTSBURGH—A group of scientists from North America and Europe, including Carnegie Mellon University’s Terry Collins, has developed a five-tiered testing system that manufacturers can use to ensure that the chemicals and consumer products they produce are free of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA or DDT. Their study, “Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Chemicals,” will be published in the January 2013 issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry, and is currently available online.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are commonly used in consumer products, can mimic hormones and lead to a host of modern-day health epidemics including cancers, learning disabilities and immune system disorders. The new testing system can help manufacturers avoid creating products that contain the harmful chemicals.
“Endocrine disrupting chemicals are a clear and present danger to the welfare of all living species,” said Collins, the Teresa Heinz Professor in Green Chemistry and director of the Institute for Green Science at CMU. “It is important for people everywhere and especially for future generations that we strive to design chemicals that are not endocrine disruptors themselves and materials that are inherently free of endocrine disruptors.”
Historically, chemists have endeavoured to create products that are both effective and economical, but rarely have they been asked to consider the product’s potential toxicity, particularly developmental toxicity. This has led to consumer products that unintentionally contain harmful chemicals like endocrine disruptors, and to the subsequent replacement of these products. One of the most recent examples is the discovery of BPA in popular baby products.
The 23 authors of the current study, who are chemists, biologists and environmental health scientists, say that recent product recalls and bans indicate that product manufacturers do not have adequate tools for avoiding the introduction of endocrine disrupting chemicals into their products. Furthermore, they feel that governments have not come up with adequate methods for regulating against endocrine disrupting chemicals. The researchers concluded that as the understanding of the threat of these chemicals to human health has grown, the need for an effective testing strategy for endocrine disrupting chemicals has become imperative. According to Collins, effective testing will help to protect health and the environment and will safeguard chemical manufacturers while reducing the need for future regulatory interventions.
The researchers used 20 years of research on endocrine disruptors to create a five-tiered testing system called the Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruption (TiPED). Manufacturers can use any of the tiers to test their products based on their needs. Each tier increases with complexity and cost, as well as with the reliability of results. As a proof of concept, the researchers tested six known endocrine disruptors using all five tests. Each disruptor was identified as being “endocrine active” by one or more of the tests.
The researchers hope that chemists and companies will incorporate these tests at the early stages of product development, allowing them to detect and avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals early on. By using the tests, manufacturers can create safer products and provide their consumers with peace of mind in knowing that the products tested are safe from endocrine disruption to the highest standards of science at any given time. The researchers plan to update the tests as new research on endocrine disruptors becomes available.