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Concerns About Chemical Risks

January 6, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 1

Dec. 2, 2013, page 32: An article about wrinkle-free cotton incorrectly showed the structure of cellulose chains cross-linked by DMDHEU (red). The corrected structure is shown.

Dec. 9, 2013, page 32: “Analyzing Cannabis” incorrectly stated that Iron Labs is the only marijuana testing laboratory in Michigan. There are multiple marijuana testing labs in that state.

I enjoyed reading “Getting Real about Chemical Risks” and “Risk by Association” in the special report (C&EN, Oct. 14, 2013, pages 12 and 15). People assume if you can purchase a product in a store that the product must be safe.

I am concerned about animal testing on rats and mice not being duplicated via in vitro tests. It should not be assumed that the in vitro tests are incorrect. I always find it interesting when compounds that are known free radicals result in no findings or minimal findings in animal tests. The amount of inhibitors or antioxidants present in the animal feed provided on a daily basis during the study needs to be looked into.

I suspect that the animal feed is inhibiting the free-radical reactions, causing compounds to appear safe when they are not. The pathway of reaction of a given compound in laboratory animals could also be biased as a result of the inhibitors in the diet, making compounds that have competing reaction pathways predominantly appear to react in a nonradical manner. For toxicology studies, the amount of inhibitors in animal feed should be minimized and the dosing levels used in studies adjusted to account for the daily amount of inhibitor an animal is receiving. I really hope this is done when screening compounds for neurotoxicity because publications in this area indicate that free-radical pathways may be implicated.

With the rising number of mental disorders in young people today—depression, for example—it is important to address all possible causes.

Aris Martone
Cary, N.C.

The other day I had the pleasure of reading the most recent issues of C&EN and Wired magazine back-to-back. Wired had a short article about the Paul Allen Brain Atlas, a map of known protein expression patterns of more than 2,000 genes across multiple species imaged by brain region. It is a powerful resource that is readily searchable by anyone with a computer. Thus far, the project has reportedly cost $100 million.

Now compare that with the Environmental Protection Agency effort to generate a “risk” profile of known chemicals (page 12). Since 2005, at a cost of at least $6 million per year, agency personnel have managed to screen 700 compounds; that is a cost of $63 million, or $90,000 per compound. As a pharmaceutical researcher well versed in screening, I am flabbergasted at the astronomical cost; as a taxpayer, I am appalled.

The C&EN article states that “the public is skeptical because companies have a financial stake in showing their products are safe.” No doubt many chemical companies are not keen to have their products tested in these assays. However, spending millions of taxpayer dollars with a 700-compound pittance to show for it does not help the public perception of the value of science or scientists. How does one get a product on the market without first showing that it does no harm?

Brad Savall
San Diego


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