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California leads the way in modernizing aquatic toxicity testing

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Two goldfish

You can help end the suffering of fish

A recent article in Popular Science highlighted the complexity of a fish’s sensory system – and noted that we are only just beginning to understand how much they can suffer in captive environments.

Sadly, the wellbeing of fish is often overlooked, especially when used in laboratories. One way fish are used is in aquatic toxicity tests (“fish kill tests”) which involve giving different sized concentrations of a substance to several tanks of fish to determine the lethal concentration that will kill 50% of the fish in 96 hours (this is like the infamous Lethal Dose 50 test, but in this case is known as the Lethal Concentration 50 test). Each test requires a minimum of 40 fish for every substance tested and must be repeated if the test is deemed inconclusive.  

Unfortunately, regulatory agencies sometimes require fish kill tests even though humane alternatives are available. This has been the case in the state of California where the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) requires companies to perform a “fish kill test” to prove that a material is not toxic to the aquatic environment before disposal. If a company refuses to perform the test, it must consider the ingredient to be toxic - even if it isn’t.

It therefore comes as no surprise that many companies choose to designate their waste as hazardous rather than conduct tests on fish – and this has contributed to the over-classification of waste as hazardous in the state. When non-toxic ingredients are disposed of as “hazardous waste” they must be burned rather than disposed of in more environmentally-friendly ways such as recycling or donation.

This leaves those companies looking to fulfil their corporate social responsibility in a catch 22.

We were happy to help when, earlier this year, we were asked to provide information on existing and emerging humane alternatives for the “fish kill tests” for a bill in California. The bill (AB 1793), introduced by Assemblymember Dr. Bill Quirk and sponsored by the National Stewardship Action Council (a recycling advocacy group), will help to eliminate this dilemma by requiring the DTSC to evaluate alternative test methods and give companies  the option to identify hazardous waste without using live vertebrate fish.

The bill has now passed the Assembly and the Senate on its way to Governor Gavin Newsom to hopefully be signed into law.

Monica Engebretson, our North America Head of Public Affairs, said, “California has long been a leader in promoting modern alternatives to animal tests. In 2000, California became the first state to make it unlawful to use animals for testing when an appropriate validated alternative method is available. In 2014, the California Legislature passed the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Resolution that urged Congress to phase out the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, and in 2018 California became the first state to pass a law prohibiting the sale of new animal-tested cosmetics in the state.

“AB 1793 will help California lead again by modernizing its aquatic toxicity testing requirements in a way that will benefit animals, the environment, and business.”

You can email or call the Governor here. Simply say or write: “Please sign AB 1793 into law. This bill will help modernize aquatic toxicity testing requirements in California and will benefit animals, the environment, and businesses.”

If sending an email simply select “Have a comment”, then select “AB01793: Hazardous waste identification: acute aquatic toxicity criterion” in the drop-down subject menu. Next click “pro” as your position and write your comment.

If you are not a California resident but live in the United States, you can help too by taking action to support the federal Humane Cosmetics Act.

If you live in the UK, please urge the UK Government to end all animal testing by signing our Target Zero petition.