Chemical screening study

Europe is aggressively working to eliminate potentially dangerous chemicals from the environment, but new regulations could be costly and time consuming.

European officials have turned to Duane Huggett, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Texas, to develop a new, more-efficient screening process for potentially hazardous chemicals.

’Europe has gotten very serious about addressing and eliminating dangerous chemicals,’ Huggett said. ’But cost and time are major roadblocks. We want to see what can be done to address these problems.’

At issue is whether a chemical will move up a food chain. The pesticide DDT, used widely in the 1940s and 1950s, is a prime example of a chemical that magnified in the food chain, possibly poisoning wildlife and the environment and endangering human health. The pesticide was eventually banned in the US.

Scientists use fish and other aquatic organisms to research chemicals because many of the chemicals are released in waterways.

In the current chemical screening process, 200 to 400 fish are exposed to water containing a given chemical for 28 days and then moved to clean water for 14 days. Scientists then determine how long it takes for the fish to absorb the chemical and how long it takes to eliminate it from their bodies.

The experiment accurately predicts whether chemicals will move up the food chain, but it is expensive, time consuming and uses a lot of fish. Some 3,000 to 10,000 different chemicals will eventually need to be tested to meet European requirements.

Huggett will work with UNT graduate students to determine whether the test period or number of fish can be scaled back and whether computer modelling, rather than experimentation, could provide similar results.

This work is funded by two grants totalling $120,000 (£80,000) from the European Chemical Industry Council and the International Life Sciences Institute. A graduate student and a post-doctoral student are assisting Huggett in the research.

Although the funding comes from European sources, Huggett said it could also be valuable to the US.