EPA’s New Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program

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In the Spotlight

EPA’s New Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program

Sherry Ward, Contributing Editor

Published: May 25, 2011

In February, the Obama Administration proposed a FY2012 budget of $8.973 billion for the US EPA, which represents an overall decrease from previous years, but an increase of $16.1 million for EPA programs related to ensuring chemical safety. The FY12 EPA Budget in Brief explains that the EPA “plans to make targeted investments to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency in protecting our health and environment.” Although only one of the EPA’s many goals, they are planning to make progress in ensuring chemical safety by integrating a diversity of scientific disciplines to develop new prediction techniques, pioneer the use of innovative technologies for chemical toxicity testing, and design tools to advance the management of chemical risks.

EPA’s new Chemical Safety for Sustainability (CSS) Research Program started last year and is part of this plan for progress. The Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), Dr. Paul Anastas, is aligning and integrating research into six priority program areas to meet these needs.
They are:

  • Air, Climate, and Energy
  • Safe and Sustainable Water Resources
  • Sustainable and Healthy Communities
  • Chemical Safety for Sustainability
  • Homeland Security
  • Human Health Risk Assessment

The working document describing the new CSS research program, Framework for an EPA Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program, has been released, and additional information on CSS is available on the EPA website. Dr. Robert Kavlock, Director of the National Center for Computational Toxicology, is the interim National Program Director for CSS.

The CSS research program will use a systems approach to implementing 21st century toxicology, similar to that described in the 2007 National Research Council report, based on identifying the links between chemical exposures and resulting toxicity pathways. Beyond that, the CSS research program will focus on developing scientific knowledge, tools, and models needed to improve chemical safety information that can be used in risk assessments and to make decisions about their use. The CSS Framework explains that “Although the CSS research program will advance several EPA priorities, it addresses one in particular, Assuring the Safety of Chemicals, and is EPA’s vanguard effort in the realignment of EPA research to address Agency priorities. EPA is applying a new approach, integrated transdisciplinary research, to ensure that the realigned research program provides innovative science and engages end users of its research products…”

Three CSS Research Areas have been proposed to achieve the goals of the CSS Research Program:

RA1: Provide Scientific Knowledge, Tools, and Models for Integrated Evaluation Strategies
RA2: Improve Assessment Approaches and Inform Management for Chemical Safety and Sustainability
RA3: Target High Priority Research Needs for Immediate and Focused Attention

The CSS Framework document also provides two examples of “how the application of the program’s research products will help move environmental decision making toward advancing environmental sustainability.”

The first example is nanotechnology life-cycle assessment for nanomaterial found in lithium-ion batteries. The example describes the types of information and outcomes that will result from the integrated, transdisciplinary research that will advance environmental sustainability. The essential role of partnering with companies and trade associations is also described.

The second example is improving the efficiency of the EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). The EDSP currently relies on a Tier 1 screening battery of 11 in vitro and short-term in vivo assays followed by Tier2 testing in multi-generation in vivo assays. A defined approach to analyzing the Tier 1 results is lacking, and Tier 2 testing is based on a case-by-case decision made by EPA regulators. The EPA admits that “Using this current process to continue to identify chemicals for screening, having them screened, and making decisions about more definitive testing, is not sustainable to evaluate the tens of thousands of chemicals that fall within the purview of EPA.” The CSS Framework briefly explains how the program will use innovative research to improve the efficiency of chemical prioritization, screening, and testing for potential endocrine disruption. High-throughput screening will be used to inform prioritization decisions and to refine Tier 1 screening assays. CSS will also identify how to better utilize high-throughput screening results in decision-making.

Dr. Kavlock explains that the next steps for the CSS research program are already in progress. Currently, CSS is working with the end users of its products to write a draft Research Action Plan. This plan will include eight overarching research themes with sub-elements describing the specific research outputs needed to transform the field of chemical safety assessment. An important aspect of the plan will be the incorporation of green chemistry concepts, life cycle considerations and sustainability. The draft CSS Research Action Plan will be available for partner feedback in August 2011. The CSS research program will be implemented by October 1, 2011.

The EPA is currently searching for a permanent CSS National Program Director. The position will be open for applicants until June 28 and more information is available at http://www.usajobs.gov.