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Matthew Martinez
Matthew Martinez

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Chemical pollution is a worldwide crisis that threatens global ecosystems, food security, and human health and reproduction [1,2,3,4]. However, the manufacture and production of industrial chemicals has continued to increase annually, with over 350,000 chemicals and chemical mixtures registered for production and use worldwide, and thousands of high production volume chemicals (1 million pounds/year) in widespread use in the United States (US) [1, 5,6,7,8,9,10]. Data demonstrate extensive population exposure to environmental pollutants, with low-wealth communities and communities of color often bearing disproportionate burdens of exposure [11,12,13]. Exposures to chemicals of concern increases the risk of a range of adverse health effects and chronic diseases such as cancer, neurodevelopmental dysfunction, asthma, diabetes and other metabolic diseases, immune system dysregulation, high cholesterol, and reproductive disorders, all of which have been increasing in prevalence over the last several decades [14,15,16,17]. Global concerns regarding chemical risks have continued to grow. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that chemical exposures resulted in two million lives and fifty-three million disability-adjusted-life-years lost in 2019 based on methods that do not fully capture complete risks [18]. Additionally, The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health reported that chemicals are responsible for at least 1.8 million deaths each year globally, the majority of which occur in the Global South [3]. Due to the advance in scientific methods, multiple authoritative bodies and scientific consensus groups have recognized the impacts of environmental pollution on health and have called for actions to prevent harmful exposures including improved policy approaches to more efficiently and effectively address the safety of widespread industrial chemical use [17, 19,20,21,22,23]. Grassroots organizers from affected communities have also played a significant role in collaborating with public health researchers and environmental health scientists to elevate these problems and influence policy change [24, 25].

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Multiple authoritative review bodies, including the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the WHO have called for improved risk assessment approaches to better account for population variability, estimation of non-cancer risk at environmentally-relevant exposure levels, and risks due to cumulative exposures to multiple chemical and non-chemical stressors [47,48,49,50]. Inadequate incorporation of current scientific understanding and principles in exposure, hazard, and risk assessment can lead to underestimation of risk and subsequent adverse consequences for public health. For example, lack of quantification of noncancer health effects results in their exclusion when agencies attempt to account for the benefits of reducing exposure to environmental chemicals, which in turn leads to inadequate public policies to protect health [51]. Regulatory agencies urgently need to improve the use of science in decision-making processes and ensure that populations are not exposed to harmful levels of chemicals, classes of chemicals, or chemical mixtures [15, 52, 53].

Given the impact of environmental chemical exposures on public health and the need to integrate contemporary science into decision-making in the US, we worked across multiple disciplines, including toxicology, occupational health, exposure science, epidemiology, community health, risk assessment, law, sociology, and philosophy to develop recommendations for health-protective approaches to reduce harmful chemical exposures and improving scientific methods to identify chemical harms and assess their risks. Our recommendations incorporate contemporary science, which can be applied to current policies governing industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants, specifically regarding improvements in how EPA conducts exposure, hazard, and risk assessment and risk management analyses.

These manuscripts are the culmination of a multi-year process involving meetings and workgroups attended by over 40 leaders (all coauthors in this series) from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and government agencies. To our knowledge, these manuscripts represent the most comprehensive assessments of their type, and the most diverse breadth of expertise across environmental health, social science, and public policy disciplines.

Evidence-based decision making in the US federal government regarding chemical risks is hampered by a frequent lack of fundamental descriptive data about the chemicals themselves. For example, there is not a uniform naming convention for chemicals, not every chemical has a Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number, some chemicals have multiple CAS numbers, and there is a lack of chemical standards (materials containing a known concentration of a chemical for use in analysis that would provide regulators with necessary scientific information) [5, 71, 72]. Timely generation of data regarding physical and chemical properties, health, exposure, manufacture, and use (or potential use) throughout the supply chain for chemicals is a necessary first component to identify hazards and effectively prevent human health risks posed by chemicals in commerce and to ensure that new chemicals are sufficiently evaluated (and their risks mitigated) prior to entry on the market. Without adequate and up-to-date monitoring, modeling, and toxicity data, critical exposures, hazards, and health effects will remain unknown to the public and unaddressed by the private sector, researchers, and government. Failure to generate data in a timely way results in regulatory agency decisions (e.g., on permit limits or risk evaluations) that are based on inadequate data that may understate risk. 041b061a72


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