EDF Health

FDA finds surprisingly high levels of PFAS in certain foods – including chocolate cake

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

As reported by the Associated Press today, at a conference last week in Helsinki, Finland, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presented the results of three studies it conducted of 16 per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in various foods. A friend who attended the conference sent us photos of the poster. The results for samples of meat and chocolate cake purchased by the agency in October 2017 as part of its ongoing Total Diet Study (TDS) jumped out at us as surprisingly high and worth further investigation:

  • 17,640 parts per trillion (ppt) of perfluoro-n-pentanoic acid (PFPeA) in chocolate cake with icing. These levels suggest that the cake was contaminated from the intentional use of the chemical to greaseproof paper that contacted the cake rather than from an environmental source. We cannot find any evidence that FDA ever reviewed the safety of PFPeA as a food contact substance – meaning the manufacturer may have secretly designated it as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). We also found little evidence – good or bad – of the health risks posed by this PFAS. We have reached out to FDA to learn more, but as of this blog posting the agency has not yet responded. This chemical was also found in chocolate milk at 154 ppt.
  • Nearly half (10 of 21) meat samples had quantifiable levels of perfluoroctanesulfonate (PFOS) with concentrations ranging from 134 ppt in a frankfurter to 865 ppt in tilapia. Unlike the chemical in chocolate cake, PFOS has been extensively studied because of widespread environmental contamination, especially around the facilities in Alabama and Minnesota where it was previously produced. It is associated with increased cholesterol, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and decreased birth weight. While comparisons are complicated, the PFOS levels found in some of these meats were far greater than the 70 ppt health advisory set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water in May 2016. Two years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposed limits that are almost 7 times more protective than EPA’s, partly because more recent studies indicate the chemical may undermine the effectiveness of vaccines. Production of PFOS in the United States reportedly ended in 2002, though it is still made overseas and may have been imported paper. In 2016, FDA removed its approval to greaseproof paper with PFOS.

FDA’s poster also showed testing results from food produced around two PFAS contaminated areas. FDA found most of the 16 PFAS at varying levels measured in produce sold in farmer’s markets downstream of a PFAS production facility in the Eastern U.S. – presumably Chemours’ plant in North Carolina. The highest produce sample had 1,200 ppt and was purchased within 10 miles downstream of the production plant and short-chain PFAS were prevalent.

The other contaminated area was a dairy farm near an air force base in New Mexico. FDA found many of the 16 PFAS in the water and silage used to feed the cows but PFOS was the most prevalent among a few PFAS measured in the milk with levels higher than 5000 ppt. The agency also detected several PFAS in cheese produced by the farm in lower amounts than the milk. Many of the PFAS are likely from aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) used to fight fire and conduct firefighting training at the Air Force base.

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Also posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, PFAS / Tagged , , , | 2 Responses

What dense sensor networks can teach us about air pollution

Maria Harris is an Environmental Epidemiologist.

It all started with a challenge in 2013: how to engineer pollution-sensing balloons. Thomas Kirchstetter, Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the Director of the Energy Analysis and Environmental Impacts Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, wanted to attach pollution sensors to high altitude weather balloons to measure how black carbon moves throughout the atmosphere.

Black carbon “soot” is emitted from diesel engines on trucks, locomotives, and ships, as well as from wildfires and the combustion of solid fuels for cooking and heating. But available technology to measure this air pollutant wasn’t well suited to handle the changes in temperature and humidity experienced during its ascent through the atmosphere or affordable enough to scale. So, he and Berkeley graduate students Danny Wilson and Julien Caubel researched what it would take to create their own.

Meanwhile, Kirchstetter had been in touch with Joshua Apte, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, about his work leading Environmental Defense Fund’s mobile pollution monitoring study using Google Street View cars to measure air quality in Oakland. Apte asked Kirchstetter to support the team’s analysis as they examined how pollution concentrations varied from block to block—including black carbon. That’s when a lightbulb went off for Kirchstetter.

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Also posted in Air Pollution, Hyperlocal mapping / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Traffic pollution causes 1 in 5 new cases of kids’ asthma in major cities: How data can help

Dr. Ananya Roy is a Senior Health Scientist

City leadership can ill afford to ignore this issue and must strive for opportunities to prevent new cases of asthma.

landmark new study shines a light on the massive impact of vehicular air pollution on the health of our children. The study estimates that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a key traffic air pollutant – leads to approximately 4 million new asthma cases in children across the globe, or 1 in 10 new cases.

To address this pervasive threat, leaders need local data to create targeted approaches and policies. That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is leveraging sensor technology to develop novel methods to measure and map air pollution – including NO2 concentrations – block by block in cities across the world, from Oakland to Houston to London.

Cities bear the worst burden

The study, released this month in The Lancet Planetary Health, finds that children living in cities are most at risk of asthma due to NO2 pollution. A staggering 90% of all new cases due to traffic were in urban and adjoining suburban areas.

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Also posted in Air Pollution, Health Science, Hyperlocal mapping / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

How toxic is oilfield wastewater? New paper highlights gaps in our understanding.

This post originally was published on the Energy Exchange Blog.

By Cloelle Danforth and Nichole Saunders.

Jennifer McPartland contributed to this post.

Collaborative research is a critical element for identifying unforeseen risks associated with using the oil industry’s wastewater outside the oilfield. That’s the recommendation of a new peer-reviewed paper accepted this week in the Journal of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM).

The paper comes at a crucial moment for the oil and gas industry, which generates some 900 billion gallons of salty, chemical-filled water (also called produced water) each year. Traditionally, companies dispose of this wastewater deep underground where it is less likely to cause contamination. But economics and water scarcity are forcing questions about other ways to treat, reuse and even repurpose this wastewater. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release a report very soon that could make it more common for companies to discharge their wastewater into rivers and streams.

The IEAM paper outlines the conclusions of a multi-day toxicity workshop where experts from the oil and gas industry, academia, government and the environmental community collectively identified key knowledge gaps associated with this waste stream and determined tools, technologies and methods needed to help close those gaps.

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Also posted in Environment, Health Science / Tagged | Comments are closed

EDF analysis: Lead service lines in Illinois communities

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Building statewide, comprehensive inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) in community water systems (CWSs) is a critical part of any effort to eliminate lead pipes. With a solid inventory, states can conduct a credible needs assessment and engage the public in supporting community efforts to replace LSLs.

In January 2017, the Illinois legislature passed a law designed to reduce children’s exposure to lead in drinking water. It included a requirement that CWSs submit annual reports to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) regarding a “water distribution system material inventory” by April of each year. EDF sees Illinois’s approach to developing an inventory as a model to be considered by other states because it:

  • Requires all CWS to report (unlike Indiana which had a well-designed one-time voluntary survey but only a 57% response);
  • Covers the entire service line (unlike California which ignored the portion of the service line on private property); and
  • Requires annual updates to track progress, especially in reducing the number of service lines with unknown materials (unlike Michigan which requires updates only every five-years).

In August 2018, IEPA released a summary of the first year submissions and has updated it several times. IEPA indicated that 95% of CWSs submitted reports and provided totals of each type of piping material reported with 414,895 LSLs and 1,504,748 of unknown material. At the time, the agency did not provide information on what each CWS reported.

Making totals public is important but does little to engage the public in understanding what the information means for their community. But earlier this week, IEPA published an online tool, which allows residents to search for their water system and download the data for individual reports of the types of materials currently reported by their water system.  EDF also received the information pursuant to a Freedom of Information request. Click here to see the data for all the CWSs in a spreadsheet. We also used an EPA database to identify the 84 CWSs that did not comply with the law.

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Also posted in Drinking Water, lead / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Laws in states with the most lead service lines support using rates to fund replacement on private property: New analysis

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

We found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property in the 13 we focused on. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total

Lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the water main under the street – are a significant source of lead in drinking water for those homes that have them. In light of the well-documented benefits to society from reducing children’s exposure to lead, there is a consensus that we need to replace the estimated six million LSLs remaining in the country. It will take time, but it needs to be done.

One challenge to this goal is how to fund replacement of the portion of the service line on private property. Because LSLs extend from under the street to a building, typically about half of the line is on public property and half is on private property. The perception among utilities has been that they do not have the legal authority to use rates paid by customers to cover the cost of replacing the portion on private property because it provides a benefit only to that property owner. This view was reinforced when the Wisconsin Public Service Commission blocked Madison from doing it, forcing the city to use other funds to complete the work. That decision from the early 2000s came before the risks of even low-level exposure to lead were well understood.

Many utilities have therefore taken to replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property when the property owner is unwilling or unable to pay to replace the portion on private property. The practice, often called “partial replacement,” is not only inefficient but can actually exacerbate residents’ exposure to lead. As evidence of the risks of even low-level exposure to lead—and of the society-wide benefits of reducing lead exposure—have mounted and the tragedy in Flint, Michigan made clear the need to replace LSLs, states like Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Wisconsin, have adopted new laws or policies that have allowed funds from rates, with some limitations, to be used to replace the side on private property. Michigan has gone further and adopted rules mandating the practice, although some utilities have challenged the rule in court.

Given the funding challenge and the trends in the states, EDF partnered with the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School to review the state laws and policies in the 13 states with the most LSLs. Clinic Deputy Director Shaun Goho and law student Marcello Saenz conducted a state-by-state review of the laws, court decisions, and policies. The authors:

Found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total. In these states, publicly-owned utilities can act pursuant to existing state legislation by determining that the practice serves a public purpose—protecting public health. Investor-owned utilities can do the same, but typically need approval of the state’s utility commission. While we have not reviewed the remaining states, we anticipate that the state laws and policies are similar to the ones we evaluated.

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Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, lead, States / Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed