Category Archives: Health Science

Building Scientific Bridges to Support EPA’s New Chemical Testing Programs

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Readers of this blog are acutely aware of the dearth of data available for tens of thousands of chemicals in U.S. commerce today.  This state of ignorance reflects legal and resource constraints as well as the “challenge” of continuously integrating advancements in our scientific understanding of human health and disease into the way we assess chemical toxicity.

Fortunately, federal efforts to develop new chemical testing approaches, such as the high-throughput screening programs ToxCast and Tox21, offer a great opportunity to narrow the data gap while also helping to shine light on how environmental chemicals can impact our health.  But realizing the full potential of these new approaches will take a village.

Today in Environmental Health Perspectives we have published a commentary  that calls for greater and more diverse engagement of the basic research community in developing and using the new federal chemical testing data. We also provide recommendations that we believe would help facilitate and improve such engagement.  Read on to learn more.   Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Testing Methods, Health Policy| Tagged , | Leave a comment

More than skin-deep: Have we underestimated the role of dermal exposures to BPA?

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

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, and has been associated with health effects such as premature puberty and developmental neurotoxicity.  Massive quantities of BPA – about 10 billion pounds and rising – are produced each year, making it one of the highest volume chemicals in commerce.  For that reason alone, it may not be surprising that scientists find BPA in the urine of nearly all people they test. 

It has generally been thought that exposure to BPA primarily comes from dietary sources (see here and here) due to its use in food packaging products such as metal cans and polycarbonate bottles.  Based on these concerns and market pressure, FDA amended its regulations to no longer provide for the use of BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging, and France passed a law banning BPA in all food packaging containers as a precautionary measure. 

However, there is growing evidence that non-dietary sources of BPA exposure may be important.  One potentially overlooked but significant source of exposure is the use of BPA to make thermal receipts, which are commonly used in cash registers and ATMs.  Unlike BPA used to make food packaging, which uses polymerized or otherwise chemically bound BPA molecules, thermal receipts are coated with BPA in free form, only loosely attached to the paper.

A study just published by researchers at the University of Missouri and the Universite de Toulouse suggests that we may be underestimating the role of dermal exposure to BPA from handling of thermal receipts, especially in certain common settings.  The researchers tested the impact that use of a hand sanitizer immediately preceding handling a thermal paper receipt has on the transfer and absorption of BPA.  Hand sanitizers and other skin care products may contain chemicals called “dermal penetration enhancers,” which increase skin permeability, for example, to facilitate drug delivery.  Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, Health Policy, Regulation, Uncategorized| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Newly listed carcinogens are all chemicals deeply embedded in US commerce

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist. 

[CORRECTION 10/4/14:  The company identified at the bottom of the table in this post as importing pentachlorophenol has been corrected to be KMG CHEMICALS; the original post had erroneously identified the company as ALBEMARLE.]

Yesterday the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released its 13th Report on Carcinogens.  This periodic, Congressionally mandated report lists substances classified after a rigorous scientific review as either “known” or “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens.

The 13th report includes 4 new listings:

  • ortho-Toluidine, used to make rubber chemicals, pesticides, and dyes, was upgraded from its prior listing as “reasonably anticipated” to now be listed as a known human carcinogen, based on studies in humans showing it causes urinary bladder cancer.
  • Three chemicals are listed for the first time, each as reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens:
    • 1-bromopropane, used as a cleaning solvent and spray adhesive, inhalation of which has been shown in animal studies to produces tumors in the skin, lungs, and large intestine;
    • cumene, used to make phenol and acetone, inhalation of which has been shown in animal studies to produces tumors in the lungs and liver; and
    • pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative mixture, exposure to which increases risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in studies in humans and causes tumors in the liver and other organs in mice.

EDF used the latest available data on the production and import of industrial chemicals collected by EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ascertain the extent to which these four chemicals are manufactured and used in the U.S.  These data demonstrate that the four substances are all present in U.S. commerce in very large amounts, considered by EPA to be high production volume (HPV) chemicals because their manufacture exceeds one million pounds annually.  In fact, all four chemicals are present in amounts far higher than that level, as shown below.  Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , , | Comments closed

Missing the forest for the trees? Are we addressing the biggest risks from exposure to phthalates?

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

A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives is the first to demonstrate a link between childhood asthma and prenatal exposure to certain phthalates.  Phthalates are a group of chemical plasticizers used in hundreds of everyday products, including home construction materials, toys, food packaging, medical devices, and synthetic fragrances found in personal care products, cleaning products, cosmetics, and air fresheners.  For the most part, it is impossible for the average consumer to know what products are made with phthalates; however, if you see the word “fragrance” listed on your shampoo or sun screen, it may well contain a phthalate.  

Several studies have suggested that phthalate exposure may have an adverse impact on children’s respiratory health (for example, see here, here, and here).   However, none of these studies has considered the potential role of prenatal exposure – exposures to the fetus in the womb – to phthalates.

The prenatal period is a critical developmental window for lung and respiratory health.  Thus, researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) hypothesized that prenatal phthalate exposure would be associated with later development of asthma in childhood.  To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers measured phthalate metabolite levels in the urine of 300 women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and then followed the children of these women to assess the extent to which they developed asthma between the ages of 5 and 11.  Read More »

Also posted in Emerging Science, Health Policy, Regulation| Tagged , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Only a 2-month wait, down from 28 years: New EPA risk assessments find paint stripper chemicals pose significant health risks

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist. 

In June, I blogged about the first final risk assessment EPA had issued in 28 years using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), for the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).  Happily, we only had to wait two months for EPA’s TSCA office to issue final risk assessments for three more chemicals.

One of the three is dichloromethane (DCM), also known as methylene chloride.  DCM is a common ingredient of paint strippers, the use on which EPA’s risk assessment focused.  As with TCE, EPA found DCM-laden paint strippers pose significant health risks to workers, consumers and the general public.  Here’s what EPA said in its press release:

The risk assessment for Dichloromethane (DCM), which is widely used in paint stripping products, indicates health risks to both workers and consumers who use these products, and to bystanders in workplaces and residences where DCM is used.  EPA estimates that more than 230,000 workers nationwide are directly exposed to DCM from DCM-containing paint strippers.

Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged | Comments closed

Twice in 2 weeks: National Academy of Sciences again strongly affirms federal government’s science, agrees formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist. 

Just last week I blogged that a panel of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had fully backed the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) listing of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Today a separate NAS panel strongly endorsed NTP’s listing of formaldehyde as a “known human carcinogen” in its 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).  As with styrene, this second NAS panel both peer-reviewed the RoC listing and conducted its own independent review of the formaldehyde literature – and in both cases found strong evidence to support NTP’s listing.  See the NAS press release here, which links to the full report.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , , , | Comments closed

National Academy of Sciences strongly affirms science showing styrene is a human carcinogen

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist. 

It’s been a ridiculously long road to get here, because of the delay tactics of the chemical industry.  But yesterday a panel of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) fully backed the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) listing of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

We have blogged earlier about this saga.  In June 2011, after years of delay, the NTP released its Congressionally mandated 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC), in which it upgraded formaldehyde to the status of “known to be a human carcinogen,” and for the first time listed styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”  The chemical industry launched an all-out war to defend two of its biggest cash cows, filing a lawsuit to try to reverse the styrene listing (which it lost), and seeking to cut off funding for the RoC.  

In late 2011, the industry managed to get its allies in Congress to slip into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, without any debate, a rider that mandated NAS to review the styrene and formaldehyde listings in the 12th RoC.  Yesterday’s NAS report on styrene is the first installment, with the second one on formaldehyde expected shortly.

The NAS report could not be more supportive of the NTP’s listing of styrene, finding “that ‘compelling evidence’ exists in human, animal, and mechanistic studies to support listing styrene, at a minimum, as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” (emphasis added)  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

New bill puts BPA back in the spotlight

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

The hotly debated chemical BPA is back in the policy spotlight. This week Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass) joined Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) to announce the Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act.  The bill would ban the use of BPA or bisphenol A from food packaging and mandates extensive consideration of the hazardous properties of any BPA alternative, so as to avoid substituting chemicals that may pose just as many health risks (as increasingly it appears to be with the case of the common BPA replacement, BPS).

Low dose exposure to BPA has been associated with a wide range of health effects including behavioral problems, prostate, breast and liver cancer as well as obesity.  A study released just last week demonstrated how low dose exposure to BPA during fetal development can alter gene expression in the mammary gland of female rats, resulting in abnormal development of the breast and increased susceptibility to breast cancer later in life.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Imbalanced act: An EPA IRIS agenda that speaks 1000 words

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

[UPDATE 6/24/14:  Perhaps in response to this post of last week, an updated agenda for this week's IRIS meeting was posted by EPA today that reflects a somewhat more balanced set of speakers.  Industry interests appear to have consolidated their number of slots, down from a high of 8 to a high of 6 per issue, and down from a high of 6 to a high of 4 individuals per issue from the same consulting firm.  In addition, several additional slots are assigned to non-industry speakers.  If you wish to see the changes, here is the agenda we linked to that was current as of last week, and here's the updated agenda posted today.]

In comments EDF made at a November 2012 stakeholder meeting held by EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, we warned that the tendency of the IRIS program to respond to criticism by expanding opportunities for “public” input would serve to increase rather than decrease the imbalance in stakeholder input.

We noted that providing more opportunities for participation not only lengthens the timeline for completing assessments; it also virtually ensures the input received by EPA is imbalanced and badly skewed toward the regulated community. That’s because companies that produce and use each chemical to be assessed – and the trade associations and myriad hired consultants that represent them – have a clear vested financial interest in the outcome of the assessment.  They can and will take advantage of each and every opportunity for input, and they will be better represented than other stakeholders each and every time.

IRIS recently began holding bimonthly meetings focused on “key science issues” relating to upcoming assessments.  And guess what?  An army of industry representatives, including staff for trade associations and paid consultants, are overwhelming the agendas.

Exhibit A:  Have a quick look at the list of speakers in the agenda for this month’s bimonthly meeting.  A striking imbalance, no?  As many as 8 industry representatives are set to speak on a given issue, including 6 from the same consulting firm!  [UPDATE 6/24/14:  See the top of this post for a description of the updated, slightly more balanced agenda; here is the agenda we had linked to that was current as of last week, and here's the updated agenda posted today.] Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence| Tagged , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Flame retardants impair normal brain development: Even more evidence, still no action

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today a new study was published linking fetal exposure to certain flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) with cognitive and behavioral effects that develop later in childhood.  While the specific findings in this study are new, the link between these types of neurodevelopmental effects and exposure to PBDEs is not. 

Numerous scientific studies and governmental bodies across the globe have flagged the health effects of PBDEs.  At the same time, current proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to better understand the hazards and sources of certain PBDEs remain in limbo.  Read on to learn more about today’s new study on PBDEs and the stalling of EPA initiatives to help protect us from exposure to them.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation| Tagged , , , , | Comments closed
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