Author Archives: EDF Blogs

Pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths globally: Two-thirds are due to air pollution

Dr. Ananya Roy is a Health Scientist

Over the last few weeks as forest fires engulfed large areas of California, air quality in the Bay area plummeted. Doctors and pediatricians were on high alert to deal with the health impacts felt most acutely by children and the elderly. Pediatrician’s offices had phone messages that said “If you are concerned about air pollution and calling to make an appointment for your child’s asthma please dial …” and advised citizens to use face masks and air purifiers and stay indoors. News outlets compared air pollution levels there to winter days in Beijing or New Delhi where air pollution is a more consistent threat. These fires drive home the reality of the effect of pollution on health.

Time and time again pollution related news from across the country and globe have made headlines, ranging from lead and PFOAS in water Flint and Hoosick Falls, benzene in Houston, to the “Airpocalypse” in Beijing and New Delhi. Though these articles highlight the disastrous effects of pollution from major pollution and weather events, the constant and ongoing silent impact of air pollution on the lives of children and communities remains underappreciated.

GAHP, The Lancet Report

Today, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, an initiative of The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), Pure Earth, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with additional coordination and input from United Nations Environment, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Bank, and others provide the first comprehensive global analysis of the health and economic impacts from all forms of pollution (air, water, soil, occupational). My colleague Elena Craft and I were contributors to this report.

The analysis carried out through the Global Burden of Disease framework estimated that pollution across air, water, soil, and occupational exposures costs the global economy $4.6 trillion per year, approximately 6.2% of global GDP, and resulted in 9 million deaths in 2015. This is equivalent to 16% of all deaths worldwide. Three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Health Policy, Health Science| Tagged , | Comments are closed

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Posted in Uncategorized| Comments are closed

What I Learned from Theo Colborn

Sarah Vogel, Ph.Dis Director of EDF's Health Program.

It was late September and we were driving up and over the Kebler Pass, which takes you from the dry desert environment of the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains near Paonia, Colorado to the high mountain town of Crested Butte. We traveled through green meadows up through groves of quaking aspens, bright gold at the higher altitudes, up towards the pass, already covered in snow, blindingly bright under a brilliant Colorado sun and clear blue sky.

These were the mountain ranges where Theo Colborn, scientist and environmental health advocate, began her studies; where she lived for much of her life; the mountains that she loved; where she recently passed away at 87 years of remarkable age; and, where I suspect her spirit now resides.

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Posted in Emerging Science, Health Policy, Health Science| Tagged , | Read 1 Response

EDF Statement on House TSCA Reform Discussion Draft

In the latest indication of continued engagement toward reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has publicly issued a new TSCA reform “discussion draft.”

The announcement of this proposal is a starting line in the House, not the finish.  Our preliminary review of the posted draft has identified very serious concerns that, if not addressed, would fail to fix key flaws in TSCA and would weaken current law.

The discussion draft has a very long way to go to yield a bill that ensures protection of public health.  We hope that Chairman Shimkus’ sharing of his proposed language in draft form – initially with committee Democrats and now with other stakeholders – portends a collaborative bipartisan process that leads to such a bill.

Significant progress has been made through ongoing bipartisan negotiations in the Senate to address key concerns voiced about the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA, S. 1009) since its introduction last May by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA).

EDF looks forward to engaging with both Republican and Democratic offices and intends to offer proposals to make needed improvements in the discussion draft and move meaningful and effective TSCA reform legislation forward.

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

Putting Words Into Action: Walmart releases detailed plans to implement its chemical policy

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.  Boma Brown-West is a Manager for Consumer Health.

Today, Walmart unveiled its sustainable chemicals policy Implementation Guide. The Guide details how the company will work with suppliers to bring safer products to millions of American shoppers, as announced last September when the policy was introduced.

Walmart’s chemicals policy affects formulated consumable products – the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in and around your home or car, from health and beauty aids to baby products to pet supplies. There are three main components of the policy:  transparency through expanded ingredient disclosure; advancement of safer product formulation through the reduction, restriction, and elimination  of priority chemicals and use of safer substitution practices; and a plan to take Walmart private brand consumables through the U.S. EPA Design for Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program — a rigorous product certification program that reviews the safety of product ingredients. Walmart’s policy is audacious in that it attempts to evolve from the common restricted substance list (RSL) approach to one that actively promotes usage of safer chemicals.  The release of the Implementation Guide makes public how this is expected to happen.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Markets and Retail| Tagged , , , | Read 2 Responses

CDC finally describes its derivation of “safe” level in WV spill – but erroneously claims it to be “highly conservative”

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.  Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Slowly but surely, like the movement downstream of the spill’s plume, we are learning more about how government officials derived the 1 ppm “safe” level in the drinking water for the chemical MCHM that was spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River late last week.

A few more slivers of light were cast today onto what has been a remarkably opaque procedure used by CDC and other officials to set the 1 ppm level, which got even more confused with last night’s issuance of a “Water Advisory for Pregnant Women” by the West Virginia State Department of Health. 

The slivers come from a story today in the Charleston Gazette by Ken Ward, Jr. and David Gutman reporting on their conversation with an official from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and a media call today with the same official. 

CDC finally gave a fuller description of their methodology, and while it appears to have more closely followed standard practice than the methodology they initially described, many questions remain about the study used as the starting point.  Release of these studies, therefore, is essential.  [UPDATE:  EVENING OF 1/16/14:  Late today, Eastman finally made its studies public:  they are available here.] 

We discuss the details further below.  But first:

CDC’s erroneous claim that its "safe" level is “highly conservative”

CDC’s claim that the 1 ppm level is “highly conservative” is not warranted on scientific grounds.  This claim is based on its use of three 10-fold adjustments, referred to by CDC as “uncertainty factors,” to extrapolate from a dose identified in an animal study to a level in drinking water consumed by people.

  1. An “interspecies extrapolation” uncertainty factor to account for the fact that humans may be much more sensitive to the effects of a chemical exposure than rats.
  2. An “intraspecies extrapolation” uncertainty factor to account for the fact that humans differ in their sensitivity to a chemical exposure (e.g., infants or the elderly vs. healthy adults).
  3. A third uncertainty factor to account for how few data are available on the chemical and hence the likelihood that its health effects that have not been identified may occur at doses much lower than the doses for the health effect that has been studied.

The CDC official referred to these adjustments as “safety factors” – implying they provide for a large margin of safety.  This is FALSE.  These are REALITY FACTORS.

Each of these accounts for known circumstances with regard to the effects of chemical exposures on people in the real world.  There are plenty of examples of chemicals where:

  1. humans are 10x (or more) more sensitive than rats to a chemical effect, and
  2. the most vulnerable/sensitive human is 10x (or more) more sensitive than the least vulnerable/sensitive, and
  3. an effect not considered in a given study occurs at a dose that is 10x (or more) lower than the effect looked at in the study.

Don’t take our word for it, but rather the National Academy of Sciences, in a seminal 2009 report titled Science and Decisions:  Advancing Risk Assessment (p. 132, emphases in original):

Another problem … is that the term uncertainty factors is applied to the adjustments made to calculate the RfD [reference dose, derived from, e.g., a no-effect level] to address species differences, human variability, data gaps, study duration, and other issues. The term engenders misunderstanding: groups unfamiliar with the underlying logic and science of RfD derivation can take it to mean that the factors are simply added on for safety or because of a lack of knowledge or confidence in the process. That may lead some to think that the true behavior of the phenomenon being described may be best reflected in the unadjusted value and that these factors create an RfD that is highly conservative. But the factors are used to adjust for differences in individual human sensitivities, for humans’ generally greater sensitivity than test animals’ on a milligrams-per-kilogram basis, for the fact that chemicals typically induce harm at lower doses with longer exposures, and so on. At times, the factors have been termed safety factors, which is especially problematic given that they cover variability and uncertainty and are not meant as a guarantee of safety.

CDC’s Methodology Revealed

Until yesterday, all indications were that the 1 ppm level was derived from a single oral lethality study in rats that is not publicly available but reported a median lethal dose value (LD50).  Yesterday, CDC referred to “additional animal studies” that were under review.  In today’s Charleston Gazette story and this afternoon’s call, the CDC official indicated for the first time that CDC used a second study – also not publicly available – as the starting point for the calculations.  This second study was stated as identifying a “No Observable Adverse Effects Level (NOAEL)” for MCHM of 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg/day). 

[UPDATE 1/17/14:  This study, finally made available late yesterday, was performed using "pure MCHM" (97.3%) rather than the "crude MCHM" mixture that was the material actually spilled.  This adds some additional uncertainty; if other components besides MCHM present in the crude mixture are more or less toxic than MCHM, the mixture's toxicity would differ from that found for the pure material.]

Numerous questions about this study remain unanswered that bear on its relevance for the purpose to which it has been put.  Just a couple key ones:

  • What health effect(s) were looked for?  and which ones were not considered?  [UPDATE 1/17/14It appears that the study looked for changes in standard blood chemistry and biochemistry parameters, and included histopathological examination of all major organs to look for abnormalities.] 
  • How long were the animals exposed – a day? a week?  a month?  [UPDATE 1/17/14:  The study report indicates the animals were exposed for 4 weeks.] 

But at least we now know how CDC made the calculation that led to the 1 ppm level:

  1. CDC started with the reported NOAEL of 100 mg/kg/day, and divided it by the three uncertainty factors (10 x 10 x10 = 1000) to arrive at a “reference dose” of 0.1 mg/kg of body weight/day.  This is the amount of the chemical that, under the assumptions made, could be presumed “safe” to ingest.
  2. It then assumed an “average child” weighing 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) was drinking water at an average rate of 1 liter per day (about 34 ounces).  These average values are typical assumptions for use in risk assessment.
  3. Then CDC multiplied the 0.1 mg/kg of body weight/day by the 10 kg average body weight, resulting in 1.0 mg/day for a child as the amount that could be ingested without seeing an effect, again under the assumptions used.
  4. That 1.0 mg/day was then divided by the average water consumption of 1 liter/day to yield 1.0 mg/liter as the concentration in the water consumed identified by CDC as the “safe” level.
  5. That 1.0 mg/liter is equivalent to 1 ppm.

Welcome to the wild and woolly world of risk assessment, folks.  More to come, we're sure.

Posted in Environment, Health Policy, Regulation| Tagged , | Read 2 Responses
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