New Toxicology Tools and the Emerging Paradigm Shift in Environmental Health Decision-Making

Environ Health Perspect. 2019 Dec;127(12):125002. doi: 10.1289/EHP4745. Epub 2019 Dec 13.


Background: Numerous types of rapid toxicity or exposure assays and platforms are providing information relevant to human hazard and exposure identification. They offer the promise of aiding decision-making in a variety of contexts including the regulatory management of chemicals, evaluation of products and environmental media, and emergency response. There is a need to consider both the scientific validity of the new methods and the values applied to a given decision using this new information to ensure that the new methods are employed in ways that enhance public health and environmental protection. In 2018, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) workshop examined both the toxicological and societal aspects of this challenge.

Objectives: Our objectives were to explore the challenges of adopting new data streams into regulatory decision-making and highlight the need to align new methods with the information and confidence needs of the decision contexts in which the data may be applied.

Methods: We go beyond the NASEM workshop to further explore the requirements of different decision contexts. We also call for the new methods to be applied in a manner consistent with the core values of public health and environmental protection. We use the case examples presented in the NASEM workshop to illustrate a range of decision contexts that have applied or could benefit from these new data streams. Organizers of the NASEM workshop came together to further evaluate the main themes from the workshop and develop a joint assessment of the critical needs for improved use of emerging toxicology tools in decision-making. We have drawn from our own experience and individual decision or research contexts as well as from the case studies and panel discussions from the workshop to inform our assessment.

Discussion: Many of the statutes that regulate chemicals in the environment place a high priority on the protection of public health and the environment. Moving away from the sole reliance on traditional approaches and information sources used in hazard, exposure, and risk assessment, toward the more expansive use of rapidly acquired chemical information via in vitro, in silico, and targeted testing strategies will require careful consideration of the information needed and values considerations associated with a particular decision. In this commentary, we explore the ability and feasibility of using emerging data streams, particularly those that allow for the rapid testing of a large number of chemicals across numerous biological targets, to shift the chemical testing paradigm to one in which potentially harmful chemicals are more rapidly identified, prioritized, and addressed. Such a paradigm shift could ultimately save financial and natural resources while ensuring and preserving the protection of public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Decision Making
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Health*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Risk Assessment
  • Toxicology / methods*