EDF Health

Mapping lead service lines: DC Water offers a model for utilities across the nation

Washington, DC’s water utility launched a helpful interactive map allowing residents to see whether water pipes are lead, non-lead, or if there’s no available information for nearly every building and public water source across DC – including residences, restaurants, retailers, schools, drinking water fountains, and even the White House and Smithsonian.

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

When I moved to Washington, DC four years ago the phrase “lead service lines” did not roll off my tongue. That began to change as I became aware of DC’s historical lead problems – and dramatically so in the wake of the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

But I’m not alone.  Even though experts estimate that up to 10 million homes across the U.S. have lead service lines – lead pipes connecting the drinking water main in the street to the home – it’s an issue that is not well understood by most Americans.

And that should come as no surprise given that few water utilities across the U.S. can even say with confidence where the lead services lines are in their systems, and fewer still proactively share what information they have with customers.  Lead service lines are an aging infrastructure, typically found in communities with older housing.  Local recordkeeping over the years has been inconsistent, leaving many utilities today to rely on incomplete, difficult to access, or non-electronic historical records. Many communities appear to have no documentation of when they ceased installing lead service lines altogether.

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Posted in EPA, lead, States / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Wearable wristbands detect flame retardants

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) recently featured an article on simple, silicone wristbands used to detect chemicals in the everyday environment. Developed by researchers from Oregon State University, these wearable wristbands act like sponges to absorb chemicals in the air, water and everyday consumer products. EDF sees exciting promise in this technology, and has begun using this tool to make the invisible world of chemicals, visible.

The C&EN article highlighted two new studies which used the wristbands to characterize flame retardant exposure – the first two published studies to demonstrate that the wristband technology can be effectively used for this purpose.

There is good reason to explore flame retardant exposure. A 1975 California flammability standard resulted in the addition of flame retardant chemicals to hundreds of millions of foam products in the U.S. including couches and foam baby products. As furniture and other products get old and breakdown, flame retardants are released into surrounding air and settle in the dust in our homes. Evidence from the CDC’s National Biomonitoring Program demonstrates that 99% of people tested have polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in their body, and other studies indicate that children are more highly exposed to flame retardants than adults. Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, Emerging Testing Methods, Health Science / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

EPA moves one step closer to managing risks from TCE

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

It’s no secret that trichloroethylene (TCE) is a nasty chemical.  A 2013 review of thousands of scientific studies by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists concluded that TCE is carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure and poses additional hazards, including immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and adverse effects on the developing heart.  TCE’s link to cancer has been confirmed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS),  the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).

With such a track record, one would expect that the U.S. government has restricted its use, right?  Wrong.  The current annual U.S. production of TCE is 250 million pounds – so, not surprisingly, human and environmental exposure is widespread.  While most TCE is used in industrial and commercial settings as a chemical intermediate in the production of other chemicals, it’s also commonly used as a metal degreasing agent and spot cleaner in commercial dry cleaning, and can be found in certain consumer products. Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Regulation / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Making "safer" accessible to all

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

I find purchasing shampoo and other common personal care products to be a surprisingly stressful experience – I pace the aisles at the drugstore for a good 10-15 minutes, read every product ingredient list, contemplate the legitimacy of claims like “paraben-free” or “no artificial colors or fragrances,” and weigh the impact on my wallet. In the end, I usually choose a moderately priced product with some sort of ingredient safety claim brightly printed on the front label, and hope the extra $2 I spent will actually reduce my exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Many consumers are hungry for information and solutions that help reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals.  As more research links exposures to common ingredients in personal care products and health impacts – like certain parabens to reduced fertility; certain phthalates to asthma, reproductive disorders, and neurological effects; and triclosan to obesity – many consumers want to feel empowered to take action. That’s why the results of a recent intervention study are so intriguing: researchers found that exposures to certain chemicals fell in a population of low-income Latina girls after using personal care products labeled as being free of such chemicals for three days.

The implications of this study raise several interesting questions that I’ll explore in this post. Specifically, are personal shopping choices an effective way to avoid chemical exposures?  And, is this strategy equally available to everyone in our society?   Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, FDA, Health Policy, Health Science, Markets and Retail / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in EPA, Food, Health Policy, Health Science / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed