Selected category: Emerging Testing Methods

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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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, 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 »

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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, 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, FDA, Food, Health Policy, Health Science, Regulation| Comments are closed

New Wristband Technology Illuminates Chemical Asthmagens in our Environment

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Asthma presents a huge public health challenge.  Over the past few decades, asthma rates in the U.S. have nearly tripled – increasing from 3.1% in 1980 to 8.4% in 2010. Today, more than 25 million people suffer from this chronic respiratory illness.

While air pollution and allergens like pet dander are clearly big triggers for asthma, we know that certain chemical exposures play an important role as well.  A number of chemicals used in everyday consumer products – from household cleaners and building materials to shampoos and cosmetics – are known or suspected "asthmagens"– environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma.  Unfortunately, such chemicals are poorly regulated and we, as individuals, rarely have any way of knowing which ones are lurking in our environment.

EDF recently conducted a pilot project to explore which chemicals we are exposed to in our day-to-day lives.  The project employed simple chemical-detecting wristbands that absorb certain chemicals present in the environment.  We enlisted 28 volunteers to become “environmental sensors” for a week by wearing the wristbands.

Among the results:  Over the course of that week, the participants came into contact with a total of 57 potentially hazardous chemicals, 16 of which are linked to respiratory health effects such as asthma.   Read More »

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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 »

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