EDF Health

Fossil fuels don’t just change the climate, they impact our children’s health

Jonathan Choi, chemicals policy fellow, and Ananya Roy, health scientist, coauthored this post.

 

© Joel Pett, USA Today, Published December 2009

© Joel Pett, USA Today, Published December 2009

It was December 2009. The newly elected President Barack Obama was spending his first Christmas in the White House, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” was at the top of the Billboard year end charts, and the iPhone 3GS was the new kid on the block. Meanwhile, the environmental community’s eyes were turned towards Copenhagen, where climate negotiators were working to try to craft a lasting international agreement on emissions. In the middle of the negotiations, Joel Pett published a comic in USA Today (reposted here), which has stuck in the minds of a lot of us who spend time thinking about environmental issues.

So when a recent scientific review by Dr. Frederica Perera at Columbia University came to the scientists on our team, we couldn’t help but remember the point Joel made with his poignant graphic back in 2009. Namely, that by reducing fossil fuel combustion we can not only reduce our impact on climate change, but that we can have cleaner air and healthier children. The review draws our attention to the unique effect that fossil fuel combustion has on children’s health, both by accelerating climate change and by increasing their exposure to air pollutants. Read More »

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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 »

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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 »

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“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 »

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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 »

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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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