Author Archives: Tom Neltner

EPA’s latest analysis shows perchlorate risks to fetal brain development

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Pursuant to a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing drinking water regulations to protect fetuses and young children from perchlorate, a toxic chemical that inhibits the thyroid’s ability to make the hormone T4 essential to brain development. The rulemaking is part of a long process that began in 2011 when the agency made a formal determination that Safe Drinking Water Act standards for perchlorate were needed. Under the consent decree, EPA should propose a standard by October 2018.

In the latest step in that process, EPA’s scientists released a draft report in September that, at long last, answers questions posed by its Science Advisory Board in 2013: does perchlorate exposure during the first trimester reduce production of T4 in pregnant women with low iodine consumption? Does reduction in maternal T4 levels in these women adversely affect fetal brain development? According to EPA’s scientists, the answers are Yes and Yes.

For several years, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have developed and refined a model that would predict the effect of different doses of perchlorate on levels of T4 in pregnant women. The latest version of the model addresses women during the first trimester, especially those with low iodine intake. This is important because iodine is essential to make T4 (the number four indicates the number of iodine atoms present in the hormone); perchlorate inhibits its transport from the blood into the thyroid. The risk of perchlorate exposure to fetuses in the first trimester is greatest because brain development starts very early and is fully dependent on maternal T4. If the mother gets insufficient iodine to offset the perchlorate inhibition, she will not produce enough T4 for the fetal brain to develop properly. When free T4 (fT4) levels are low but without increase in thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the condition is known as hypothyroxinemia. When T4 production is lowered further, the pituitary gland releases TSH to increase T4 production by a feedback loop mechanism.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EPA proposes limits on hypochlorite bleach to reduce degradation to perchlorate

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Every 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) reviews the safety of registered pesticides. The current cycle ends in 2022. As part of that process, the agency is evaluating the safety of hypochlorite bleaches. In January 2017, EPA decided it would consider the risks posed by degradation of the hypochlorite into perchlorate.

This is important for two reasons: 1) degraded bleach is less effective as a pesticide, and 2) perchlorate is a chemical that interferes with the production of thyroid hormone, a critical hormone for fetal and infant brain development.

On September 22, EPA proposed changes to the pesticide label to minimize the degradation for hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect drinking water, and the agency is accepting comments until November 21, 2017. The label would advise users to:

  • Minimize storage time;
  • Maintain pH of the solution between 11 to 13;
  • Minimize exposure to sunlight;
  • Store at lower temperatures; and
  • If practical, dilute with cool softened water upon delivery.

EDF submitted comments to EPA supporting EPA’s proposal and requesting specific changes to the proposed language, including making the advice to users mandatory. We also asked the agency to extend the label requirements to hypochlorite bleach used to treat produce and to disinfect food handling equipment. Bleach appears to be one of several significant sources of perchlorate contamination of food. Improving management conditions will reduce degradation and preserve effectiveness regardless of the whether the bleach is used in drinking water or to treat vegetables.

EPA’s proposal is an interim decision. We also were pleased to see that OPP is committed to continue working with EPA’s Office of Water (OW) in its assessment of the risks of perchlorate to pregnant women and young children. We asked OPP to incorporate the OW’s findings in additional interim registration decisions for all uses of hypochlorite bleaches.

 

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation| Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Historic court decision on lead-based paint in California court of appeals

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Yesterday, after three years of deliberations, California’s Appellate Court for the Sixth District held that three defendant companies – Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products[1]— created a public nuisance in ten plaintiff jurisdictions in the state by promoting the use of lead-based paint in the interior of residences built before 1951 even though they had actual knowledge of the harm the paint would pose to children. The case now goes back to the trial court to determine the amount that defendants must pay into a fund to remediate pre-1951 homes with lead-based paint in those jurisdictions and to appoint a suitable receiver to manage the fund.

The Court of Appeals’ decision requires remediation of the lead-based paint, but not its complete removal, in the ten California jurisdictions that were plaintiffs in the case. The jurisdictions are: seven counties, Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; two cities, Oakland and San Diego; and the city and county of San Francisco.

The case, which began in 2000, rests on public nuisance law in California. While all states prohibit public nuisances to protect the public from threats to their health and safety, the requirements vary significantly among the states and rely heavily on precedent set in prior state court decisions. In California, a public nuisance action requires proof that a defendant knowingly created or assisted in the creation of a substantial and unreasonable interference with a public right. The defendants must have actual knowledge of the public health hazard.

In 2010, the California Supreme Court overruled a previous decision by the trial court and provided key interpretations of public nuisance law that shaped yesterday’s court decision. While the paint companies are expected to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court, the decision is likely to stand because the Appellate Court hewed closely that court’s 2010 decision.

The Appellate Court for the Sixth District was reviewing a 2014 trial court’s decision that the Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products must pay $1.15 billion to remediate homes built before 1978 with lead-based paint in the plaintiff’s jurisdiction. The three judge panel of the Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of the trial court’s decision from homes built before 1978 to those built before 1951. The panel found that there was insufficient evidence that the three companies had promoted lead-based paint for interior residential use after 1950, even though they may have sold the paint after that date.

Similar cases had been brought in other states including Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In 2008, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a trial court decision finding paint companies liable for the state’s public nuisance law. The California court found its case was different because it involved an extensive assessment of voluminous evidence presented at trial. The other cases were decided on pleading and did not get to the merits of the evidence.

While lead-based paint is not the only source of lead exposure to children, it is the most significant for those children living in homes with lead-based paint, especially when the paint is deteriorated. Thousands of children still live in homes with lead-based paint hazards – with poor and minority children at greatest risk. This court decision is a first step that will hold companies responsible and result in the removal of toxic lead paint in homes across California and may serve as a roadmap for other states.

[1] ConAgra was a defendant because it had owned Fuller Paint Company’s liabilities through a series of mergers.

Posted in Health Policy, lead, Public Health| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Little follow-up when FDA finds high levels of perchlorate in food

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

FDA’s apparent lack of follow-up when faced with jaw-dropping levels of a toxic chemical in food is disturbing.

For more than 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted the Total Diet Study (TDS) to monitor levels of approximately 800 pesticides, metals, and other contaminants, as well as nutrients in food. The TDS’s purposes are to “track trends in the average American diet and inform the development of interventions to reduce or minimize risks, when needed.” By combining levels of chemicals in food with food consumption surveys, the TDS data serve a critical role in estimating consumers’ exposure to chemicals.

From 2004 to 2012 (except for 2007), FDA collects and tests about 280 food types for perchlorate, a chemical known to disrupt thyroid hormone production. This information is very important, because for the many pregnant women and children with low iodine intake, even transient exposure to high levels of perchlorate can impair brain development.

The agency published updates on food contamination and consumers’ exposure to perchlorate in 2008 (covering years 2004-2006) and in 2016 (covering 2008-2012). On its Perchlorate Questions and Answers webpage, FDA says it found “no overall change in perchlorate levels across foods” in samples collected between 2008 and 2012 compared to those collected between 2005 and 2006. It also notes that there were higher average levels in some food and lower in others between the time periods and suggests that a larger sampling size or variances in the region or season when the samples were collected may account for the differences.

FDA’s Q&A webpage masks the most disturbing part of the story

FDA’s attempt at providing consumers with information about the presence of a toxic chemical in food and what it means for their health falls short. By focusing on the similar average level of perchlorate across foods, FDA masks the disturbing fact that children are consuming increasing amounts of perchlorate: 35% for infants, 23% for toddlers and 12% for children between 2 and 6 from 2004-2006 to 2008-2012. The agency’s webpage notes the exposures in 2008-2012 but fails to mention the increase reported by its own scientists.

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Posted in FDA, Food, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, Public Health| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Eleven states support community lead pipe replacement with proactive policies

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Sam Lovell, Project Specialist

The largest source of lead in drinking water is lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes and other buildings. Across the country, three dozen communities, large and small, are taking steps to protect public health and respond to concerns by replacing LSLs.

States play an essential role in helping or hindering progress by communities to replace LSLs by administering EPA drinking water rules, distributing federal funded loans, and approving rates some utilities charge customers.

We identified 11 states with proactive policies supporting community efforts to replace LSLs. These states have almost 3 million LSLs based on a 2016 estimate by the American Water Works Association: just short of half the nation’s LSLs. The 11 states are making a positive difference by:

A cross section of lead pipes. Photo Credit: Georgia Health News

  • Empowering communities with grants like Wisconsin, Virginia, Vermont, and New York have done;
  • Providing options to use rate funds like Indiana and Pennsylvania have done;
  • Requiring inventories of LSLs like Illinois, California, Washington, Indiana, and Ohio have done;
  • Setting long-term goals of fully removing all LSLs like California, Washington, and Michigan have done; and
  • Helping prospective homebuyers know whether the home has an LSL.

These policies won’t ensure that all 3 million LSLs are replaced, but it takes the states one step closer to achieving the goal that in 20 years no one will be drinking water through a lead pipe.

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Posted in Drinking Water, lead, States| Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Cincinnati adopts an innovative plan to eliminate LSLs that is a model for other cities

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

The Cincinnati City Council enacted three ordinances in June 2017 that establish an innovative legal framework to replace the city’s 27,000 lead service lines (LSLs) over the next 15 years. The Council acted after finding that “high levels of lead in water create serious health risks to residents of the City, particularly young children, and using lead service lines between public water mains and properties increases the risk that the lead content of drinking water to the properties served will increase to a dangerous level” and that “replacing lead service lines is in the best interest of the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare.” Although the City stopped allowing new LSLs in 1927, an estimated 1 in 9 service connections still have a portion made of lead pipe.

A member of the GCWW Repair Services Team replaces an LSL. Photo credit: GCWW

Cincinnati’s program is based on Madison, Wisconsin’s successful effort, which began in 2000 and was completed in 2011. Cincinnati is roughly three times larger than Madison in terms of population, service connections, and LSLs.

Under the program, residential property owners within Greater Cincinnati Water Works’ (GCWW) service area can receive between 40 and 50% off of the cost of replacing the portion of the LSL on their property up to $1,500 if they agree to have GCWW arrange for the replacement. Owners within the limits of the City of Cincinnati may choose to have the remaining cost assessed semiannually on their property tax bill and repaid over 5 or 10 years. Property assessments must be approved by the political entity where the property resides. As of today the assessment option is only available for the residential properties in the City. However, GCWW is reaching out to the other jurisdictions it serves to discuss expanding the assessment program to those jurisdictions as well.

GCWW will also be replacing the portion of the LSL on public property so that the entire service line is replaced. The City is committed to fund its share of the work from GCWW’s Capital Budget.

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Posted in Drinking Water, lead, States| Tagged , , , | Comments are closed
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