EDF Health

Very little, very late: EPA still lacks data on safety of widely used flame retardant chemicals

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.  Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[This is Part One of a two-part series.  Here is a link to Part Two.]

Last summer, EPA released a Problem Formulation and Data Needs Assessment describing the inadequacy of data available to conduct risk assessments on a group of brominated phthalate flame retardants – two of which are major components in widely used Firemaster products. 

This is the first of two blog posts on the comments EDF recently submitted to EPA on this document.  In this post, we discuss the growing public health and environmental concerns over use of Firemaster products and the recommendations we made to EPA on steps it needs to promptly take to address these concerns.  In our second post, we’ll lay out our serious concerns about the lack of transparency, limited data access, and allowance of unwarranted confidentiality claims that our review of EPA’s document brought to light.

 

First, a brief history

In the mid-2000s, Great Lakes Chemicals Corporation (now Chemtura) agreed to phase out production of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants due to mounting evidence of their health effects and their persistence and accumulation in people and the environment.  Soon after, the use of the company’s replacement Firemaster products skyrocketed.

The two main components of Firemaster products, 2-Ethylhexyl 2,3,4,5- tetrabromobenzoate (TBB) and bis(2-Ethylhexyl) -3,4,5,6- tetrabromophthalate (TBPH), are  high production volume (“HPV”) chemicals – each produced at more than one million pounds annually.

Unfortunately, use of these chemicals rose to such levels – replacing PBDEs in consumer products like polyurethane foam-based furniture and electronics – without sufficient data and review to establish their safety.   Read More »

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Advancing the ball while minding the gaps: EDF’s comments on EPA’s risk scoping documents for flame retardant chemicals

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Until June 2014, EPA had not completed a chemical risk assessment under its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authority in 28 years.  Since then, EPA seems to have been somewhat picking up the pace: Over the past year and a half EPA has completed four additional risk assessments through the TSCA Work Plan Chemical Program, which is designed to assess the risks of priority chemicals currently on the market.

Recently, EPA initiated its assessment process for the next set of Work Plan chemicals, including three “clusters” of flame retardant chemicals.  We fully support EPA’s current efforts to assess the risks of these flame retardants – with the end goal of managing identified risks – and have provided quite extensive comments on EPA’s initial scoping documents.  In this post, I’ll highlight some of our comments and recommendations; see the links at the end to access the comments themselves.   Read More »

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New Wristband Technology Illuminates Chemical Asthmagens in our Environment

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Asthma presents a huge public health challenge.  Over the past few decades, asthma rates in the U.S. have nearly tripled – increasing from 3.1% in 1980 to 8.4% in 2010. Today, more than 25 million people suffer from this chronic respiratory illness.

While air pollution and allergens like pet dander are clearly big triggers for asthma, we know that certain chemical exposures play an important role as well.  A number of chemicals used in everyday consumer products – from household cleaners and building materials to shampoos and cosmetics – are known or suspected "asthmagens"– environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma.  Unfortunately, such chemicals are poorly regulated and we, as individuals, rarely have any way of knowing which ones are lurking in our environment.

EDF recently conducted a pilot project to explore which chemicals we are exposed to in our day-to-day lives.  The project employed simple chemical-detecting wristbands that absorb certain chemicals present in the environment.  We enlisted 28 volunteers to become “environmental sensors” for a week by wearing the wristbands.

Among the results:  Over the course of that week, the participants came into contact with a total of 57 potentially hazardous chemicals, 16 of which are linked to respiratory health effects such as asthma.   Read More »

Posted in Emerging Testing Methods, Health Policy, Health Science / Tagged , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

Evidence grows linking DEHP exposure to reproductive toxicity: What is the state of regulation?

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Phthalates are chemical plasticizers found in a wide array of industrial and consumer products, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping and tubing, cosmetics, medical devices, plastic toys, and food contact materials.  Because phthalates are often not strongly chemically bound to these products, they can leach out of those products and into the environment around us. Given this, it may not be surprising that phthalates and their metabolites can be measured in the bodies of nearly all people tested.

This post reports on important new research on DEHP and summarizes the state of regulation of the chemical in the U.S. and abroad.   Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, EU REACH, Health Policy, Health Science, Regulation, States / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA identifies another risky chemical: Can it succeed in using TSCA to restrict it?

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Last week, EPA released a risk assessment on the chemical N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP).  NMP is produced and imported into the U.S. in huge quantities (184 million pounds reported in 2012), and has a variety of uses including petrochemical processing, making plastics, and paint stripping.

Experiments in laboratory animals demonstrate that exposure to NMP during pregnancy leads to adverse developmental outcomes in the offspring, such as low birth weight, skeletal malformations, and mortality (see here and here).

EPA’s assessment focused exclusively on NMP exposure from its presence in products used to remove paint and other coatings.  Because of NMP’s potential to disrupt fetal development, EPA assessed exposures in women of childbearing age.

EPA found that exposure to NMP-based paint strippers in women of childbearing age beyond four hours per day presents risks that cannot be mitigated from use of protective gear such as gloves and respirators.  Risks obviously could be greater, even for shorter exposure times, if protective equipment is not consistently used.   Read More »

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Evidence mounts on BPA’s adverse effects on human health

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a high production volume chemical that is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.  It is commonly found in food and beverage packaging, such as plastic bottles and the lining of food cans, as well as thermal paper receipts (see our previous blog).  BPA is widely-recognized as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it can alter the normal functioning of the body’s hormonal system.  Hundreds of studies have been published associating BPA exposure with health effects, ranging from cancer to obesity to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Data from the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) show that nearly all people tested have BPA in their bodies.

Despite a plethora of data, numerous calls for action (for example, see here, here and here), and comprehensive regulation in France, it does not seem that national regulation of BPA in food packaging in the U.S. will be happening any time soon.  The official position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is that, while BPA exhibits endocrine-disrupting properties at high doses, it is safe at the current levels occurring in food.  Although the FDA banned the use of BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging in 2012, FDA said it based this action on changes in the market, rather than safety concerns.

In the fall of 2014, FDA completed a four-year review of the literature, including more than 300 scientific studies, and concluded that the information does not “prompt a revision of FDA’s safety assessment of BPA in food packaging at this time.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently followed suit with their announcement that BPA does not pose a health risk to consumers, including children, at current exposure levels.  (This is in contrast to the action of several EU member states, which have banned BPA in food contact materials for children under 3 years of age over the past few years.)

Meanwhile, scientists continue to churn out studies linking low-level BPA exposure to a variety of health effects.  In this post, we discuss several new studies.   Read More »

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