Selected category: Health Science

Unfulfilled: EPA’s 2009 commitment to fix lead-based paint hazard standard

In 2009, EPA committed to fix its rule identifying dangerous levels of lead. The evidence since then has only gotten more compelling. EPA needs to fulfill its commitment and revise the rule consistent with the recommendations of its own Science Advisory Board.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama, supported by then-Senator Hillary Clinton, forced the Bush administration to issue a long-overdue rule to ensure contractors used lead-safe work practices when conducting renovations, repairs, and painting work at homes and child-occupied facilities. So when Senator Obama became President Obama, there was tremendous promise for advances in lead poisoning prevention.

By the second half of 2009, it appeared that promise was turning into reality. Under President Obama’s leadership, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made lead poisoning prevention a priority and undertook a series of important commitments to protect children. Despite that initial success, many of those prevention efforts were foundering by late 2010. Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Testing Methods, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation, Uncategorized| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

No Safe Level: Old pipes and paint threaten the health of America’s children

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

Since the crisis in Flint hit the national headlines, the problem of lead exposure from drinking water has come under greater scrutiny. And for good reason. Seven to ten million American homes have water delivered through service lines made of lead pipe – the primary source of lead in drinking water. But the events in Flint also highlight the fact that despite decades of decline in the levels of lead in the blood of American children, we still have a lead problem in this country. Given that there is no safe level of exposure to lead, we have a lot of work to do. The current crisis offers a new opportunity to make significant progress, and we have a record of past achievement to learn from and build upon.

Forty years ago over 13 million young children in American had blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). By 2000, that number had decreased to just under a half a million. The greatest reductions made were among low income and children of color who had the highest blood lead levels. As a result of such significant progress, many declared victory and organizations, including EDF, shifted their focus to other environmental health issues leaving considerable work still to be done on lead.

While blood lead levels were declining, scientific evidence was mounting to show there is no safe level of exposure to lead in infants and young children. Studies showed that adverse neurological effects were happening at lower and lower levels of lead exposure. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the level of lead in blood used to identify those with elevated exposure to 5 µg/dL. Today, approximately 500,000 children have levels at or above 5 µg/dL.

Despite the major declines in children’s blood lead levels at or above 10 µg/dL and decreases in racial and income disparities since the mid-1970s, progress has stalled over the past decade. And still disparities persist. Children living in poverty remain at the greatest risk. Indeed, children in poor households are three times more likely, and African-American children are twice as likely as white children, to have elevated blood lead levels. Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, Health Policy, lead, Regulation| Tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

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 »

Also posted in Emerging Science, FDA, Health Policy, Markets and Retail| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Household Action Level for Lead in Water: EPA Needs to Release Health-based Estimate

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

A new article in USA Today’s series on lead in drinking water shines a light on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) delays in releasing a health-based “household action level” for lead. EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) recommended that the agency develop this number to help parents, in consultation with their pediatrician and public health agency, decide whether to invest in a filter for the water they use to make up their child’s infant formula.

Without a health-based number, people are mistakenly using EPA’s current “lead action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) as the level below which no action is needed. The problem is that this level has no relation to the health risk. It is based on a provision in the drinking water rule that requires utilities to undertake corrosion control and, potentially, lead service line replacement when at least 10% of worst-case sample results exceed that level.

A year after committing to develop a household action level, it appears tied up in the agency’s long overdue overhaul of its broken 1991 regulation designed to protect people from lead in drinking water. Communities all across the country are raising legitimate concerns about the safety of their water and need proper public health guidance. They should not have to wait on rulemaking for this important information. I know EPA is a regulatory agency that thinks in terms of rulemaking. But first and foremost EPA is a public health agency with responsibility to consumers for the safety of drinking water. Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, Health Policy, lead| Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

“Big data” comes to chemical testing – How to ensure more is better

Jonathan Choi is a chemicals policy fellow.

EDF Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer McPartland contributed to this post.

The beginning of this century will no doubt be known for a lot of things. In the biological sciences, I predict it’ll be known for big data. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how far we’ve come already. For example, the data chips that sing “happy birthday” to your loved ones in those horrendously overpriced cards have more computing power than the Allies did in 1945. When I first started using computers, the 5.4” floppy disk was being replaced by the new 256Kb 3.5” disk. Now in Korea, you can get 1 GB per second internet speeds for $20 a month. That’s around 4000 floppy disks of data per second for about as much as I spend every week at the burrito place down the street.

In the biological sciences, we’ve seen an explosion of new ways to generate, collect, analyze, and store data. We’re photographing the world’s biodiversity and sharing it with crowdsourced taxonomists. We’re creating a database of the genomes of the world’s organisms. We’re mapping chemical exposures (our exposome), inventorying the microbes that live in our guts (our microbiome), ripping apart cells and sequencing every bit of messenger RNA that floats around inside (our transcriptome), and much more.

So, it’s not too surprising that regulatory agencies like EPA are pushing their own efforts to amass large quantities of data to help meet their missions. EPA has the unenviable task of reviewing tens of thousands of chemicals currently on the market with little health and safety data, on top of hundreds of new chemicals banging at its door each year. As we have written on numerous occasions, the agency clearly needs a better law that gives it greater authority to get the data it needs to effectively evaluate and manage chemical risks. But, given the information abyss in which we operate, we could definitely stand to adopt new testing approaches that generate at least screening level data on chemicals faster.   Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, Emerging Testing Methods| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

FDA decides 3 PFCs are unsafe: Detailed look at the decision

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

FDA’s decision to remove its approval of three long-chain perfluorinated compounds sets important precedents on the assessment of food ingredients, food contact substances, and chemicals used to make food.

FDA concluded:

  • Class: All long-chain chemicals with at least one linear, perfluorinated chain of eight or more carbon atoms should be considered a class.
  • Data gaps: Where reproductive and developmental toxicity data are lacking for any chemical in this class, the data available for perfluorinated octanoic acid (PFOA) should be used to fill the gaps.
  • Study methods: If a chemical is biopersistent in the body, standard toxicology methods used to evaluate food additives need to be upgraded.

On Jan. 4, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it changed its regulations to remove the agency's approval of three specific long-chain perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) as food additives. The agency approved use of these chemicals between 1967 and 1997, allowing them to be added to paper and paperboard that comes in contact with aqueous and fatty foods. Until the late 2000s, they were commonly used in pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers, and paper in frozen food packaging – virtually anywhere a food manufacturer wanted to use paper packaging that would repel oil and water.

Domestic PFC manufacturers report that these food contact substance (FCS) uses have been abandoned, although others report trace levels still appearing in paper products used for food, most likely as a result of contamination. There are reports, however, that foreign companies have begun producing PFCs. As long as these additives are officially allowed by FDA, there is a possibility that food manufacturers who are not diligent could resume their use without knowing it. The agency’s decision makes it less likely that will happen.

FDA’s decision marks the first time it has used a food additive petition to remove an approval based on safety concerns; a few years ago, it removed approvals for use of bisphenol A in infant formula packaging and baby bottles and sippy cups – but those removals were based on market abandonment, not safety. This safety-driven decision sets a precedent and serves as a roadmap for how safety decisions should be made for all additives including those considered by industry to be ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS).

No longer safe – unpacking the agency’s reasoning for a class of chemicals and safety concerns Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, Emerging Testing Methods, FDA, Food, Health Policy, Regulation| Comments are closed
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