EDF Health Podcast: You Make Me Sick! Plasticizers, Fast Food, and Your Urine.

From the shores of the Puget Sound to the inside of your colon, EDF Health’s You Make Me Sick podcast has been bringing you the latest in environmental health science. In today’s episode, we’re excited to showcase the work of Dr. Ami Zota of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

We sat down with Dr. Zota to discuss her recent study where she looked at how certain chemicals associated with plastics show up in people’s urine after they eat fast food.

 

Want more? Subscribe to us on iTunes or Google Play, or check out our SoundCloud to listen via desktop!

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Progress takes vigilance to reduce children’s exposure to lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

The United States has made significant progress over the past fifteen years towards reducing children’s exposure to lead. While much more needs to be done to eliminate the more than $50 billion a year in societal costs from lead, the progress is good news for children since it is well known that there is no safe level of lead in children, and it can impair their brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Achieving this progress has required a diligent and ongoing commitment from all levels of government. If we expect to continue to make progress – and not backslide – the federal government needs to remain committed to reducing sources of lead exposure. So far what we’ve seen from the Trump Administration raises serious concerns about any real commitment to protecting children’s health, including from lead.

Lead has a toxic legacy from decades of extensive use in paint, gasoline, and water pipes. As long as lead is in the paint, pipes, and soil where we live, work and play, progress is far from inevitable. Protecting children from lead takes constant vigilance, especially when the paint or plumbing is disturbed. Flint provided a tragic example of what happens when we turn away. Without vigilance, the positive trends we have seen in blood lead levels could all too easily reverse course and go up. That is why the proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, which would eliminate the agency’s lead-based paint programs, are yet another indication that this Administration is turning its back on protecting children’s health.

Mean blood lead levels in young children dropped 56% from 1999 to 2014

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrates that from 1999 to 2014 the levels of lead in children’s blood or “blood lead levels” (BLL) dropped preciptiously. Average BLLs in young children declined by 56% during that period with the rate of decline increasing after 2010. For children with a BLL greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter (µg/dL), the reduction was an impressive 86%. Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Responses

Of foxes, henhouses and TSCA implementation: The chemical industry burrows into EPA’s toxics office

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

The lead article in this past Sunday’s New York Times is titled “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’.”  It features several prominent examples of recent political appointments of industry representatives and industry lobbyists to key policy positions where they are now charged with or involved in reviewing or crafting the very same agency regulations and policies that were the focus of their paid private sector work just prior to their appointments.

Add EPA’s implementation of the newly amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to the list.

Dr. Nancy Beck has just been appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and reportedly started in that position on Monday, April 17, 2017.  Dr. Beck is moving into her new position at EPA directly from her job as Senior Director, Regulatory Science Policy, Division of Regulatory & Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a position she has held since January, 2012.  ACC is the main trade association for the chemicals industry, with a membership of more than 150 chemical companies, including such behemoths as BASF, Dow, DuPont and ExxonMobil.

In her new job, Dr. Beck is expected to play a key role in implementing the new reforms made to TSCA, including in critical decisions that EPA will be making literally any day now, many of them driven by firm statutory deadlines.  These decisions will directly affect the financial interests of the companies represented by ACC.  And they will involve deciding whether or not the agency should take positions for which Dr. Beck has advocated on behalf of her former employer, as recently as last month.  Any reasonable person would see a conflict here, one sufficient to seriously question whose interests Dr. Beck will be representing in playing such a role in TSCA implementation.  But as the Times article indicates, this Administration appears to have little concern about the fox guarding the henhouse.

Nor does this situation bode well for the prospect of creating a credible federal system capable of restoring public and market confidence in the safety of chemicals – which was the key reason that such strong bipartisan and stakeholder support gelled behind the major reforms made to TSCA just last June.  Placing a key chemical industry player in a position where she will now have direct and major influence over the direction that reform will take raises serious new doubts about the industry’s claims that it supports providing EPA with stronger, independent authority and resources to vigorously establish the safety of chemicals in and entering commerce.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Leave a comment

EPA's Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee recommends four top priorities for EPA to protect kids from lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

For the past 20 years, the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), with its diverse members that include pediatricians and industry toxicologists, has been responding to requests for guidance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators. In December 2016, EPA’s Administrator asked CHPAC to provide the agency with its “highest priority advice” on lead. Citing the children’s health risks posed by lead, the economic and racial disparities and the demonstrated effectiveness of national leadership on the issue, on April 6, CHPAC sent the new administrator, Scott Pruitt, a letter with its four recommended priorities:

  1. Strengthen the Agency’s Lead-Based Paint Hazards Standard for lead in paint, dust, and soil. CHPAC stated that the “best evidence shows that a young child living in a home meeting the current lead dust standard still has a 50% chance of exceeding the CDC reference level for blood lead.” The EPA standard is so insufficient and outdated that on February 1, 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would require its lead hazard control grantees to meet a more protective level that is one-fourth of EPA’s standard.
  1. Revise the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water. CHPAC highlighted several high profile incidents of high levels of lead in drinking water and called for EPA to overhaul its 1991 Lead and Copper Rule to better protect children, especially infants dependent on formula for nutrition. CHPAC recommended the revisions be consistent with the recommendations from the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Committee and the lessons from recent water system lead contaminations.
  1. Improve risk communication efforts to provide clarity and consistency. CHPAC asked that EPA revise its “Protect Your Family from Lead In Your Home” booklet that is given to every family buying or renting a home built before 1978 so that it more effectively helps families make decisions regarding the risks posed by lead. The committee cited three problems with the booklet, it:
    • insufficiently describes other important lead sources including, but not limited to, drinking water faucets, plumbing, traditional and cultural products, and take-home exposures from work”;
    • treats all homes built before 1978 as equal and does not explain that the likelihood of having lead-based paint varies dramatically based on the age of the home”; and
    • “relies heavily on text rather than graphics making it less effective for some audiences.”
  1. Encourage the Administration’s infrastructure investment program to support healthy housing, childcare facilities, and schools, and safe drinking water. CHPAC recommended that EPA work closely with other federal partners on the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to help ensure that all Administration infrastructure investment programs make housing, childcare facilities, and schools healthier, and drinking water safer.

The letter was sent a day after the Washington Post reported on a leaked March 21, 2017 agency memo that details how EPA plans to execute the 31% cuts to its overall budget called for in the President’s proposed budget. The article’s headline says it all: “Trump’s EPA moves to dismantle programs that protect kids from lead paint.” If Congress goes along with these cuts, it is difficult to imagine how the agency could fulfill its basic responsibilities much less implement CHPAC’s recommendations to protect kids from lead.

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, lead, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lead service lines on private property – 3 states’ approaches to the challenge

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

After the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, there is broad agreement that lead service lines (LSLs) need to be replaced. While corrosion control is essential, it isn’t a fail-safe, long-term solution. With the risks posed by lead to children’s brain development, we must eliminate LSLs – which currently account for an estimated 50 to 75% of the lead in drinking water.

One of the most significant challenges is determining who pays for replacing the portion of a LSL on private property and how it can be done in a way that does not leave low-income residents behind. Most utilities consider service lines on private property to be the responsibility of the property owner. They see replacing customer-owned portions of LSLs as improvements to private property and are typically restricted from using funds collected from all customers to fund an upgrade that benefits only a few. States often impose restrictions as well.

The interpretation that customers are responsible for LSLs on their property is ironic in communities such as Chicago, which mandated the use of LSLs until Congress banned them in 1986.  Given that they had a hand in creating the problem, it seems that they have at least some responsibility in fixing it. The threat posed by lead was well known for decades before Congress acted. Cities such as Cincinnati banned the use of lead pipes in 1927 and Boston in the 1930s.

It is difficult to put responsibility solely on the homeowner since they are unlikely to have been told they have a LSL by the seller. Even if they were aware that their home is serviced by an LSL, the risk a LSL poses to their family’s health is only now becoming clear.

Without support, low-income residents often cannot afford to pay for their portion of the LSL replacement, even if they get zero- or low-interest loans. However, wealthy residents have more options to make the investment than their low-income neighbors and landlords should be making the investment as part of their business.

In December 2016, Congress weighed in and authorized EPA “to establish a $300 million grant program to replace lead service lines on residential property in disadvantaged communities.”[1] It is up to Congress to appropriate the funds as part of its infrastructure investments and ensure that the grant program will not be a hollow promise.

But many states are not waiting on Congress. Three states, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have been wrestling with whether to allow communities to use a portion of rates paid by customers to pay for LSL replacements. Collectively, these states have an estimated 690,000 LSLs, 11% of the national estimate. In this blog, we will explore these three state approaches. Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, Health Policy, lead, Regulation, States| Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

Where there’s smoke, there are mirrors: The Trump Administration’s claim to preserve TSCA implementation under its proposed EPA budget is pure illusion

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

As more details emerge about the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts, it’s becoming clearer that the public’s health could well take one of the worst hits.  Trump has proposed a 31% cut to the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paired with similarly deep reductions in staff.  The details are laid out in a March 21, 2017, internal memo from EPA’s Acting Chief Financial Officer.

Among the biggest cuts are to the Agency’s research, both research it conducts and that undertaken by labs and universities it helps fund.  EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) would see its funding cut nearly in half, from $483 million to $250 million in 2018. The axe would fall across the full spectrum of EPA’s research:  air, climate, and energy; human health risk assessment; safe and sustainable water; sustainable communities; homeland security; and chemical safety.  EPA’s extramural STAR grant program would be entirely eliminated.

Scroll through Attachment A of the memo and you’ll see program after program proposed to be eliminated or slashed.  But there is a notable exception, on p. 9 of the Attachment:  an apparent increase for an item labeled “OCSPP / EPM / Toxic Substances: Chemical Risk Review and Reduction,” accompanied by this explanation:  “This program change increases $13,834K in non-pay resources in support of the new work required under the updated TSCA law.”

On one level, this seems like a bright spot in an otherwise dismal document, though it appears that the increase is in anticipation of the fees that the new TSCA authorizes EPA to collect from industry to help offset up to 25% of program costs.  Still, unlike most of the rest of the Agency, the program’s base budget is proposed to remain essentially intact.

No doubt this reflects the strong bipartisan support that led to last year’s passage of the Lautenberg Act and the continuing need for the chemical industry to be able to point to a viable federal chemical safety program in order to restore public and market confidence and seek to temper state and market action to restrict dangerous chemicals.  (I’ve recently blogged, however, about the mixed signals being sent by the industry; see here and here.)

While this may seem like good news, the notion that EPA could somehow neatly carve out one program area and keep it functioning well when the carving knives are rampantly slashing everything around it is, well, preposterous.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged | Comments are closed
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