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Toxic mix: A&M scientists take hybrid approach to analyzing hazardous chemicals with support from EPA


Weihsueh Chiu and Ivan Rusyn, professors at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, have received one of 11 new research grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of an initiative to find novel ways to assess the toxicity of chemical mixtures.

While toxicology studies have traditionally focused on the effects of single chemicals, chemicals in the air, water, soil, food, and commercial products are often present as mixtures that can be released into the environment through activities like burning coal or through disaster events in areas with extreme pollution.

Many of these mixtures are well-characterized, but others can contain up to thousands of unknown components. Understanding how the overall mixtures affect human, animal, and environmental health is important for those who come into contact with them.

“Mixtures are the most difficult challenge in toxicology because they can have an infinite number of components,” Rusyn said. “You can try to figure each one out but still not solve the overall problem because every sample will be a different mixture.”

Rusyn and Chiu aim to develop a new approach for analyzing chemical mixtures that will look at both mixtures as a whole and the major individual components, rather than using the traditional method of determining every component present.

Their three-year project will use the $750,000 EPA grant to develop a new, hybrid approach—combining toxicological, analytical, and modeling methods—for analyzing chemical mixtures found in the environment and determining their potential hazard. By delivering rapid results, this new method will support decision making by first responders and community leaders working to clean up chemical mixtures.