A consortium led by the University of Birmingham and backed by Indiana University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is using advanced technology and genome-based investigations to find out what makes some chemicals toxic to humans and the ecosystems we rely upon, and how we as a global society can promote healthier, sustainable alternatives.
Worldwide, people are exposed to more than 100,000 manufactured chemicals. The World Health Organization attributes 8% of all deaths to just 14 of these chemicals or groups of chemicals (e.g., metals, occupational lung carcinogens, outdoor air pollutants), yet chemical testing is so slow and costly that less than 5% of the chemical compounds used in consumer products have ever been evaluated for safety.
Among the current known health crises from chemical exposures are lead and chromium-6 in drinking water; links between cancer and talc, a common component of cosmetic and baby powders; and the widespread use of flame retardants now implicated in cancers, thyroid malfunction, and brain damage.
The Environment Care Consortium is focused on understanding exactly what happens when the human body encounters a toxic chemical, so that it can be determined, at a molecular level, what makes some chemicals toxic and others safe.
The members are bringing together experts from around the world to share massive amounts of information about how human biological systems react to different chemicals. Using genomic science and high-powered computing, they can reveal the patterns that will allow them to categorise tens of thousands of chemicals according to their toxicity. With this knowledge, citizens, industries, and governments can make informed decisions about the chemicals in their environments.