August 18, 2009

Toxins’ effects on embryos to be studied

The University of Houston says it has received a $3.2 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to study how toxins affect embryonic development.

Researchers, in collaboration with the Texas A&M Institute for Genomic Medicine and Indiana University, will explore how chemicals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, benzene and carbon monoxide affect human health.

The primary aim of the three-year grant is to contribute to a more reliable chemical risk assessment that will provide clues to how certain chemicals affect human health, researchers said.

There are so many industrial chemicals in the environment -- more than 80,000 -- but only a few are tested for their danger levels and, moreover, the synergies between them aren't being analyzed, University of Houston Assistant Professor Maria Bondesson said. One barrier to the current methods of testing such toxins has been that rats and mice are only exposed to one chemical at a time, which slows down the assessment of risks and does not address the fact that people are exposed to several chemicals at once in real life, many of which interact with each other.

The scientists say chemical regulations are insufficient, and the environmental and public health implications of toxin exposure have not been fully determined for the vast majority of chemicals.