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EPA To Test Chemical Risk on People

October 5, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Environmental Protection Agency outlined plans Monday to test thousands of chemicals to determine if they disrupt hormonal systems and lead to increases in cancer and infertility.

The screening process, which will be worked out over the next six months, is a major step in a project likely to take years to determine if certain chemicals cause risky hormonal changes in humans and animals.

The agency initially is targeting some 15,000 chemicals, including pesticides and ingredients found in thousands of products in homes and the workplace.

Environmentalists and some health experts have argued that there is growing evidence that a large number of synthetic chemicals affect estrogen levels and thus lead to cancers and neurologic and fertility problems. Such chemicals are called ``endocrine disruptors.″

While no conclusive link has been found, the concerns led Congress two years ago to require the EPA to develop a testing procedure that ultimately will determine the potential risks.

An EPA advisory panel that included industry representatives, environmentalists and health experts concluded as many as 62,000 chemicals eventually may have to be examined, but that the EPA should start with 15,000 that are produced in high volumes and, in most cases, are toxic.

``Testing chemicals on this scale for endocrine disruption has never been done before,″ said Lynn Goldman, the EPA’s assistant administrator for toxic substances. She called it a ``technological challenge,″ but one that also represents ``a major step forward in public health protection.″

First, scientists will prioritize which chemicals have the greatest potential risk. Then they’ll go through an initial screening, followed by more detailed testing of the chemicals or chemical mixtures that appear to pose the greatest concern.

Chemical manufacturers will conduct the actual tests. But the EPA must validate the screening procedures outlined by the advisory committee. Goldman said the agency hoped to have the procedures ready for scientific peer review by next March.

The actual testing of the thousands of chemicals could take three or four years, she said. Others called that timetable extremely optimistic.

The whole process could cost tens of millions of dollars, most paid by the manufacturers. The EPA estimated test validation alone will cost $30 million, about $4 million of which will be paid for by the EPA.

The chemical industry strongly endorsed development of a screening program, but said the tests’ validity must be assured. Unless the procedures are reliable and stand up to repeated tests ``there can be no public confidence in the results,″ said Sandra Tirey of the Chemical Manufacturers Association.

Theo Colborn, whose book ``Our Stolen Future″ focused public attention on endocrine disruptors several years ago, said the screening process was a major step forward.

But she called it only ``the tip of the iceberg″ in dealing with a problem. ``We have years and years ahead of us ... before we find that these tests are foolproof,″ said Colborn, a zoologist with the World Wildlife Fund and a member of the EPA advisory panel.

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