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Issues in biochemical applications to risk assessment: how do we predict toxicity of complex mixtures?

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • Chemistry
  • Economics
  • Political Science


Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 76, pp. 185-186, 1987 Issues in Biochemical Applications to Risk Assessment: How Do We Predict Toxicity of Complex Mixtures? by Roy E. Albert* Introduction Predicting the toxicity of mixtures is an important current problem, and I'll talk about my personal view of the matter. I think that there are two broad classes of mixtures, one of which is the disposal mixtures: things that go into dump sites. These are highly variable from one site to another, since they depend on specific industrial operations, and it's difficult to extrapolate from site to site. The other class is the complex mixture from defined processes, such as combustion processes: automobile emissions, emissions from power plants, cig- arette smoke, and so on. I think the current approach to predicting the toxicity of complex mixtures is thoroughly empirical, and I don't know of any ways of doing things other than the way they're actually being done. Namely, with disposal mix- tures, such as those occurring in dump sites, one sum- mates the risk from individual agents for which one has existing data and ignores the possibility of interactions. It is recognized that this approach may be inadequate, but the problem of doing bioassays on individual dump sites is so expensive as to be daunting. The situation which, in many respects, is easier is the case where the complex mixtures arise from defined processes of major economic importance, for example, the exhaust particulates from diesel engines. Here, it is economically feasible to mount large bioassay pro- grams. I suspect that probably 20 million dollars has been spent on bioassays for diesel engine exhaust par- ticulates by governmental and private sources. With mixtures like this, the approach is to identify the dom- inant effects, for example, with diesel particulates, can- cer; cigarette smoke, the same; TCDD, the same, or reproductive effects. The potency is quantitated for the mixtures using standard bioassays. Bioassays are also done

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