EDF Health

We are what we eat: New paper outlines how the regulatory gaps in the US threaten our health

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

In a new paper published in PLoS Biology today, Maricel Maffini, Tom Neltner and I detail the regulatory gaps in how the US manages chemicals in food. We explore how failures in our current regulatory system put the public’s health at risk as exemplified in the case of perchlorate, a chemical allowed in food and a well-known endocrine disrupting compound. Perchlorate’s ability to disrupt normal functioning of the thyroid means that even low levels of exposure, especially in those with inadequate iodine intake, can adversely impact the developing brains of infants and children. It is not a chemical that should be in the food of pregnant women, infants and children. And yet it is, and the levels children consume have increased in recent years.

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Good news and bad news for children: FDA’s 2014 to 2016 food testing for lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Consultant

In Environmental Defense Fund’s June 2017 “Lead in food: A hidden health threat” report, we evaluated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) publicly available data for 2003 to 2013 from its Total Diet Study (TDS). Since the 1970s, the TDS has tracked metals, pesticides, and nutrients in food. We found that 20% of baby food samples had detectable levels of lead compared to 14% for other foods. We also identified eight food types where more than 40% of samples had detectable lead. Finally, based on an analysis from EPA, we estimated that more than 1 million young children exceeded FDA’s limit for lead and that eliminating lead from food would save society an estimated $27 billion annually.

In November 2017, FDA publicly released TDS data for 2014 and 2015. And this December, the agency provided us with TDS data for 2016 in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. We evaluated the combined information[1] and have an update that is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the overall trends for detectable rates of lead in baby food and other food, especially in 2016, appear to be on the decline. There is a similar downward trend in apple and grape juice, especially the ones marketed as baby food. Unfortunately, there appeared to be stubbornly high rates of detectable lead in teething biscuits, arrowroot cookies, and baby food carrots and sweet potatoes.

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Also posted in FDA, Food, Health Policy, Health Science, lead, Regulation / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Children’s lead exposure: Relative contributions of various sources

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Dr. Ananya Roy is Health Scientist

Last week, we noted in our blog that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped the statement that paint, dust and soil are the most common sources of lead in its “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” booklet. Property owners provide this booklet to prospective homebuyers and tenants in housing built before 1978. The change implicitly recognizes that there is no safe level of lead in the children’s blood, and we must reduce all sources of lead exposure. It also acknowledges that the relative contribution of air, water, food, soil, dust, and paint to children’s blood lead levels is complicated. Exposure varies significantly based on age of the home, the child’s race and age, the family’s income-level, and region of the country. Any simplification obscures these important differences.

EPA’s scientists made this clear in a model published earlier this year that pulled together the available data, divided children into three age categories, and assigned children in each category into ten groups based on their overall lead exposure. For each group, they estimated the relative contribution of air, water, food, and soil/dust (from paint). Not surprisingly, children living in older homes with lead-based paint hazards by far have the most exposure to lead. For 1 to 6 year olds in the top 90-100 percentile, more than 70% of the lead in their blood is from soil and dust. The contribution from food is 20% and drinking water is 10%. For infants, soil and dust contributes to 50% of the lead in blood, while 40% is from water and 10% from food.

Since there is no known safe level of lead in blood, we must do even more to reduce children's exposure to lead-contaminated soil and dust.

However, to prioritize action at a national level, it is important to understand how different sources contribute to lead exposure in the average child as well as the most-exposed child. We used the underlying EPA data to calculate the average relative source contribution of different sources to blood lead levels for infants from birth to six months old, for toddlers 1 to 2 years old, and young children from 1 to 6 years old. The results indicate that infants have a much higher source contribution of lead from water in comparison to older children (Figure 1). For the average child 1 to 6 years old, food is the largest source of lead exposure, with 50%, followed by soil/dust then water.

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Also posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, lead / Tagged , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Pennsylvania empowers municipalities to replace lead service lines

Pennsylvania was already one of the 11 states taking proactive efforts to support LSL replacement since 2015. HB-674 expands that effort.  Check our website for what states and communities are doing.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In October 2017, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed and Governor Wolf signed HB-674 which implements the State’s 2017-18 budget. Section 1719-E of the law includes a provision empowering municipal authorities to replace or remediate private water and sewer laterals if the municipality determines the work “will benefit the public health.” Read More »

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CBS News covers a chemical's tragic impact; points to urgent need to ban high-risk uses of methylene chloride

Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.  

This morning, CBS News focused on the tragic story of Kevin Hartley—a young man who died at the age of 21 while working with a product that contains methylene chloride. Kevin’s story, powerfully relayed by his mother Wendy, illustrates the need to ban high-risk uses of this chemical.

As we have previously noted, in January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to ban methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products. The agency based its proposal on an extensive assessment of the scientific literature, which demonstrated not only lethal risks from acute exposures to methylene chloride but also a host of other acute and chronic health impacts, like harm to the central nervous system, liver toxicity, and cancer.

Products containing this chemical can be readily found in most hardware stores in America and more tragedies are all but certain, if EPA does not promptly finalize its proposed ban.

The ongoing debates in Washington over the implementation of a new chemical safety law passed just last year are often dense and dry. In sharing her son Kevin’s story, Wendy Hartley reminds us that how these policies are applied has a very real human impact. That is why EDF continues to demand EPA better protect American families from toxic chemicals like the one highlighted by CBS News today.

Please watch the story: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dangers-of-common-paint-stripper-chemical-methylene-chloride/

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Federal government updates real estate disclosure booklet to address lead in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In June 2017, the federal government updated the “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” booklet to expand the information provided on lead in drinking water from a few lines to a full page. Since 1996, when someone rents or buys a home built before 1978, the property owner or landlord is required to provide them with a copy of this booklet. The last update to the booklet was made in 2012.

What is removed?

  • Statement that paint, dust and soil are the most common sources of lead. The new version does not make the comparison. See our September 2017 blog for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest estimates on sources of lead exposure.
  • Running water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking. The new version is silent on length of time to flush water and instead highlights taking a shower, doing laundry, or doing a load of dishes as options to flush the line at the tap. The change was necessary because homes with lead service lines, the lead pipe that connects the main under the street to the home, often experience higher levels of lead after 30 seconds of flushing.

What background is added?

  • Lead pipes, faucets and fixtures are the most common sources of lead in drinking water.
  • Reminder that older homes with private wells can have lead plumbing materials too.
  • Some states or utilities offer programs that pay for water testing for residents.

What are the new recommendations?

  • Regularly clean your faucet screen (also known as an aerator).
  • If using a filter to remove lead, follow directions to learn when to change the cartridge.
  • Use only cold water to make baby formula.
  • Contact your water company to determine if your home has a lead service line and to learn about lead levels in the system’s drinking water and water testing for residents.
  • Call EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 for information about lead in drinking water and 1-800 424-LEAD for other questions about lead poisoning prevention.

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