UNT's Huggett Working on Chemical Screening Process

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.

This work is funded by two grants totaling $120,000 from the European Chemical Industry Council and the International Life Sciences Institute. One graduate student and one post-doctoral student are assisting Huggett in the research.

"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. In other words, will a contaminated fish lead to a contaminated bird, which could lead to a contaminated human?

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 United States eventually banned the pesticide.

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, then moved to clean water for 14 days. Scientists run these tests to determine how long it takes for the fish to absorb the chemicals and how long it takes to eliminate the chemicals from their bodies. The experiment accurately predicts whether the 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 reduced back and whether computer modeling, rather than experimentation, could provide similar results.

Although the funding comes from European sources, Huggett said it could be valuable to the United States as it evaluates chemicals in the environment, and Canada is also tightening its restrictions on chemicals.

This project extends Huggett's research into environmental toxicology, chemistry and risk assessment of chemicals and biological stressors, as well as bioconcentration and bioaccumulation of contaminants.

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