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Federal government tests potential health risks of 10,000 chemicals using high-speed robot

Much as been written about the potential health risks of bisphenol-A and other chemicals to which we're commonly exposed in our daily lives. But it may surprise you to learn that of the more than 80,000 chemicals used in the United States, only a few hundred have been tested (.pdf) for safety and possible health effects on humans.

To better protect the public against potentially toxic substances, several federal agencies are collaborating on a project involving a high-speed robot screening system that will test 10,000 chemicals for the first time. A story published today in the Scientific American offers more details:

On plastic plates filled with 1,536 tiny wells, the robot drops varying amounts of different chemicals onto human cells and human proteins. Essentially, each plate has 1,536 experiments underway at the same time. "In a stack of 100, we have 150,000 combinations of chemicals and targets," [David Dix, deputy director of EPA's National Center for Computational Toxicology] says.

The robot arm and its numerous five- to 10-microliter wells replace the old standby of toxicology — animal testing. In addition to being slow and controversial, animal tests do not reveal how a chemical might impact humans, nor do they deliver any insight into the mechanisms by which a given chemical produced toxic outcomes. Simply by running the robotic tests, the EPA and its partner agencies will generate more information on chemical toxicity in the next few years than has been created in the past century. The effort has already screened more than 2,500 chemicals, including the dispersants employed to clean up BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chemicals screened by the robot system include those found in industrial and consumer products, food additives and drugs.

Previously: Your sweet-smelling air freshener may have a dirty secret, Industrial pollutants find their way into the eggs of free-range hens, California bans BPA in baby bottles and cups, Cutting out canned, packaged foods can reduce exposure to BPA, and FDA expresses concern over BPA, but doesn’t ban it
Photo by eek the cat

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