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Unilever And EPA Join For Animal-Free Chemical Testing

Consumer products giant and U.S. agency seek to advance high-throughput methods for assessing safety

by Mike McCoy
September 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 36

The European consumer goods maker Unilever and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have formed a research collaboration aimed at assessing the safety of chemicals found in consumer products without using animal testing.

Under the program, the partners will choose five chemicals of mutual interest. EPA will use computer models and high-throughput screening to develop toxicity data on the chemicals. Unilever will use its consumer products knowledge to estimate human exposure to the chemicals.

“We can then marry these two—the dose and the exposure—to measure the health risks,” says Russell Thomas, director of EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology.

In 2012, EPA formed a similar program with the French firm L’Oréal that targeted 20 chemicals found in L’Oréal personal care products. With the Unilever collaboration, EPA seeks to introduce elements that have been missing from automated screening, such as incorporating information about how the chemicals being tested are metabolized.

Thomas says the collaborations aim to speed up testing of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in the U.S. for which safety information isn’t known. Unilever and L’Oréal hope the strategy will reduce use of animal testing in the development of their products.

Jessica Sandler, senior director of the regulatory testing department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an activist group, notes that EPA already used computation models in its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. Sandler says she believes the Unilever collaboration will provide “valuable experience with these methods that is needed in order to eventually end the use of animals in painful chemical toxicity tests.”


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