Innovating Alternative Specialty Chemicals to Prevent Developmental Toxicity

Chemical Inventory Management, ELN

developmental toxicity
Many specialty chemicals are not tested for possible developmental toxicity. Specialized software can help address this.
Image source: Flickr user Morten Liebach

In May 2015, Brazilian authorities first noticed that a virus native to Africa, the Zika virus, was spreading in their country. What happened next, however, could not be predicted: the Zika virus was linked to thousands of children being born with microcephaly.1 What has authorities especially worried is many believe the outbreak will spread throughout the Americas and some countries have advised women to avoid pregnancy until 2017. The Zika virus provides an example of a virus-induced developmental toxicity, defined as any alteration in child development due to an environmental insult.

However, manmade specialty chemicals and pollutants can similarly affect child development. Because specialty chemicals used in common items such as water bottles or chairs are not often tested in pregnant and breastfeeding women to determine their ability to cross the placenta, specialty chemical companies can still do more to determine the extent to which their chemicals may expose women and their fetuses to negative side effects. In order to make such progress, new laboratories and research efforts must be undertaken by specialty chemical companies, while new technologies and software can assist in the organization of this information.

Identifying the Links to Potential Toxicity

The industries that make use of specialty chemicals are vast and include the construction, agriculture, fragrance, flavor, manufacturing and textile industries, among many others. Given the great variety of the industries that use specialty chemicals, at some point, pregnant and breastfeeding women may come into contact with these chemicals. As seen with the controversies over bisphenol A exposure, scientists can defer over the potential harm a specialty chemical may have.2 Regardless, negative publicity for specialty chemicals and associated companies can negatively impact a company’s ability to obtain business and ultimately their profit margins. Thus, if there is a way to test for pregnancy toxicity, it is in the best interests of companies that specialize in specialty chemicals to do so.

  • Redevelopment of therapies that comprise the mammalian fetus: If certain specialty chemicals are screened for their effects on mammalian fetuses and are discovered to adversely affect the fetus, companies might then have the necessary information to discard the chemical or more likely, reformulate its contents. This is not an uncommon practice and California’s 29-year-old Act, Proposition 65 (Prop 65) did just that in requiring certain consumer products to be reformulated.3 Before being sued (what induced changes in the California law), companies can preemptively begin the process of making specialty chemicals safer when necessary. In this case, electronic laboratory notebooks also serve an important function in enabling researchers to easily retrieve experimental profiles and ingredients. By providing password-protected access to members across the company, people can come together to put together safer alternatives to toxic specialty chemicals.
  • Animal testing: Using specialized software can confer organization and clarity to data collection efforts. Whereas paper notebooks can be disorganized, difficult to locate and impossible to intelligently search, software like electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are searchable and provide a sense of order within data fields. This organization can be especially useful when specialty chemical companies conduct animal testing to determine the extent to which their products cross the mammalian placenta. An electronic laboratory notebook, thus provides order in terms of monitoring the results from such mouse studies, determining the types of chemicals most susceptible to crossing the placental membranes and organizing alternatives that can be tested.
  • Triaging problems before they start: Even before one tests specialty chemicals on pregnant animals or reformulates the contents of its chemicals, companies can use electronic laboratory notebooks to triage problems before they start. For example, many researchers in non-industry labs have tested the safety of a variety of chemicals, information that can be quickly found in a literature search, which itself can be stored in an electronic laboratory notebook. Thus, performing extensive literature searches before using a specific chemical or formulation, might be very helpful in preventing problems subsequently down the pipeline.
  • Chemical management: Specialty chemical companies have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their additives. As discussed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the “unexpected releases of toxic…liquids and gasses in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals” is a serious concern and the proper management of these hazards, in particular their disposal, is essential for ensuring that the workplace environment is safe.4 Similarly, ensuring the safe disposal of toxic chemicals prevents them from undergoing potentially dangerous degradation processes that could release liquids or gasses that can result in severe neurodevelopmental disorders, preterm birth and structural congenital abnormalities. It is essential that researchers use chemical management software such as BIOVIA CISPro, to ensure the proper and safe storage and subsequent disposal of potentially hazardous materials.

A mother’s ability to maintain a healthy pregnancy is essential for the health of a fetus, but not knowing what to avoid can be especially detrimental to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. When companies are at fault, this can negatively affect their reputations given that they are often seen as negligent in such cases. In order for specialty chemical companies to protect consumers as well as themselves, the steps outlined above can decrease the chances for adverse effects and the use of electronic laboratory notebooks, such as the BIOVIA Notebook, can go a long way toward supporting these efforts. To determine how else our software can support the work of your company, please contact us today.

  1. ”Zika virus: Outbreak ‘likely to spread across Americans’ says WHO,” January 25, 2016,
  2. “Scientists clash over BPA: Do low doses really harm people,” February 16, 2013,
  3. “California Proposition 65 Reformulation of Chemicals in Consumer Products Update,” January 6, 2016,
  4. “Process Safety Management,”

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