The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ToxCast chemical screening program has awarded contracts to four U.S.-based companies to test up to 10,000 chemicals for potential toxicity to people and the environment.

The contracted companies are Vala Sciences, Cee Tox, CellzDirect, and BioReliance.

The EPA says the companies will initially screen up to 1,000 chemicals currently in the ToxCast program using innovative technologies such as stem cell toxicity tests. These new technologies can quickly determine the potential for a chemical to cause harm to the human body, according to the EPA. Screening results from the new technologies will be combined with data already being generated by the other 500 rapid chemical tests used by the EPA’s ToxCast program.

The chemicals ToxCast is now screening are found in industrial and consumer products, food additives, and drugs. EPA says ToxCast’s goal is to reduce the EPA’s reliance on “slow and expensive” animal toxicity tests, enabling the agency to screen chemicals more quickly and to predict and identify potential risks to Americans.

The EPA points out that its scientific studies using ToxCast, which was launched in 2007, have already been published in peer-reviewed science journals, and demonstrate the ability of ToxCast to predict a chemical’s potential to cause several diseases.

The EPA predicts ToxCast, when fully implemented, will be able to screen thousands of chemicals in fast, cost-effective tests.