Category Archives: Emerging Science

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 »

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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 »

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Is BPA a carcinogen?

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

Add liver cancer—a childhood cancer on the rise in the US—to the growing list of potential health effects associated with bisphenol A (BPA) exposure that are under scrutiny by researchers.  A recent study by scientists at the University of Michigan, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first ever to report a dose-dependent, statistically significant relationship between perinatal (before and just after birth) exposures to environmentally relevant levels of BPA and development of cancerous liver tumors later in life.

There are three particularly notable features of this study: first, the dose levels used; second, the timing of when those doses were delivered; and third, the age at which effects were observed.  Read More »

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Unnerving developments in the state of the evidence on developmental neurotoxicity

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

Seven years ago, leading children’s environmental health experts Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan published a groundbreaking review that identified five chemicals prevalent in the environment—lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, and toluene—as developmental neurotoxicants. In their follow-up review released last week, they have added six more chemicals—manganese, fluoride, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chlorpyrifos, DDT, and tetrachloroethylene (PERC)—to this list. The implications of early-life exposures to these common compounds, say the authors?  A “global silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity.”  Read More »

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It’s a generational thing: Evidence grows that environmentally induced epigenetic changes can be passed down from one generation to the next

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

We’ve blogged here before about the growing evidence that environmental exposures can cause changes in gene expression – not to be confused with mutations, which are changes in the DNA itself.  We’ve noted that these changes in how and when our genes are turned on and off may actually be heritable, along with any biological or behavioral changes they induce.  That is, not only might the individual who is directly exposed suffer effects, but – and here’s the kicker – so might descendants who never experienced the original exposure.

Now, several new studies add even more evidence that epigenetic changes may be transgenerational.  In the past 10 days, the Washington Post has run articles detailing three new studies in mice, each of which strongly indicate that dietary deficiencies and environmental exposures can reprogram DNA in ways that can be passed along to reside in the DNA of the offspring of the affected individuals.  Read More »

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April brings showers…and a flurry of new studies on the risks of perfluorinated chemicals

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

What do waterproof jackets, car wax, and non-stick pans have in common?

Aside from being great Father’s Day presents (Dad, I’m thinking ahead this year!), they also all are made with perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. There are hundreds of different PFCs, and their oil- and water-resistant properties make them useful in a variety of products, from cookware and carpets to food-packaging and electronics.  

Unfortunately, these chemicals have less desirable properties as well. Thanks to their strong molecular bonds, PFCs do not readily break down; they persist in the environment and in our bodies. And, widespread use has led to extensive human exposure. The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) human biomonitoring program, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), detected four types of PFCs in over 98% of samples representative of the U.S. population collected in 2003-2004.  

Two of the compounds detected in NHANES, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorootanoic acid (PFOA), are the focus of three new studies published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. These studies, one reporting an association with osteoarthritis in women, another an association with semen quality in men, and a third an association with asthma in children, add to a growing concern about the potential adverse effects of these ubiquitous chemicals.

What follows is a brief overview of the findings of these new studies.  Read More »

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