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How to replace, reduce and refine the use of fish in aquatic toxicity and bioaccumulation testing: EURL ECVAM releases its strategy

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Jan 22, 2015
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A set of strategic aims and related objectives

The European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM) of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre has just released its Strategy on how to replace, reduce and refine the use of fish in aquatic toxicity and bioaccumulation testing (downloadable below).

The assessment of aquatic toxicity* and bioaccumulation** are important components of the environmental hazard and risk assessment of all types of chemicals and are therefore information requirements in several pieces of European Union and international legislation.

The document outlines a set of strategic aims and related objectives. Successful implementation of the strategy will deliver alternative approaches that address standard information requirements in many sectors while ensuring that animal testing is only conducted as a last resort. One important near-term impact could be the reduction of animal testing necessary for the implementation of REACH and the 2018 registration deadline.

With regard to aquatic toxicity, the strategy proposes the further development of mechanistically-based replacement alternatives for acute and chronic fish toxicity, as well as the need to revise existing test guidelines to reduce and refine fish testing, Furthermore, the development of guidance on the application of integrated approaches is recommended. This includes the use of data-driven approaches such as interspecies extrapolations, acute-to-chronic relationships and the threshold of toxicological concern approach. Concerning bioaccumulation, efforts are encouraged for the development and application of in silico models such as quantitative structure-activity relationships and physiologically based toxicokinetic models, as well as the standardisation of in vitro methods for hepatic metabolism in fish.

EURL ECVAM is focusing its current in-house activities on promoting the use of available alternative methods for fish acute toxicity testing, on exploring the usefulness of scientific approaches (e.g. acute-to-chronic relationships) to facilitate the waiving of chronic fish tests, and on supporting activities at OECD level. However, the intention is continually review the EURL ECVAM work programme as the implementation of the overall strategy progresses and in order to complement the work of important European and international actors. EURL ECVAM will also continue evaluating alternative test methods submitted for validation in light of their potential value to contribute to aspects of this strategy. 

The ultimate achievement of the aims and objectives comprising this strategy will depend on the proactive and coordinated engagement of multiple stakeholders.

*Aquatic toxicity refers to the effects of chemicals on organisms living in the water and is usually determined by testing on organisms representing the three trophic levels, i.e. plants (or algae), invertebrates (crustaceans) and vertebrates (fish). Whereas acute aquatic toxicity testing is a basic requirement in most pieces of EU chemicals legislation, chronic aquatic toxicity data may be required when the outcome of the acute testing indicates a risk or when long term exposure is expected.

**Information on bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms is important for understanding the behaviour of a compound in the environment. Experimental determination of bioaccumulation may not be necessary if it can be deduced by other means (e.g. consideration of physicochemical properties) that a chemical has a low potential to bioaccumulate.

Photo by M.L. Paracchini. Copyright EU 2014.