Advancing the science on chemical classes
[Review of ]. ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, 21(SUPPL 1).
Hazard identification, risk assessment, regulatory, and policy activity are usually conducted on a chemical-by-chemical basis. Grouping chemicals into categories or classes is an underutilized approach that could make risk assessment and management of chemicals more efficient for regulators.While there are some available methods and regulatory frameworks that include the grouping of chemicals (e.g.,same molecular mechanism or similar chemical structure) there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of these different approaches nor a recommended course of action to better consider chemical classes in decision-making. This manuscript: 1) reviews current national and international approaches to grouping; 2) describes how groups could be defined based on the decision context (e.g., hazard/risk assessment, restrictions, prioritization, product development) and scientific considerations (e.g., intrinsic physical-chemical properties); 3) discusses advantages of developing a decision tree approach for grouping; 4) uses ortho-phthalates as a case study to identify and organize frameworks that could be used across agencies; and 5) discusses opportunities to advance the class concept within various regulatory decision-making scenarios.Structural similarity was the most common grouping approach for risk assessment among regulatory agencies (national and state level) and non-regulatory organizations, albeit with some variations in its definition. Toxicity to the same target organ or to the same biological function was also used in a few cases. The phthalates case study showed that a decision tree approach for grouping should include questions about uses regulated by other agencies to encourage more efficient, coherent, and protective chemical risk management.Our evaluation of how classes of chemicals are defined and used identified commonalities and differences based on regulatory frameworks, risk assessments, and business strategies. We also identified that using a class-based approach could result in a more efficient process to reduce exposures to multiple hazardous chemicals and, ultimately, reduce health risks. We concluded that, in the absence of a prescribed method, a decision tree approach could facilitate the selection of chemicals belonging to a pre-defined class (e.g., chemicals with endocrine-disrupting activity; organohalogen flame retardants [OFR]) based on the decision-making context (e.g., regulatory risk management).