EDF Health

Why do we know so little about chemical exposures? Emerging technology could disrupt the status quo.

Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

EDF report identifies emerging market for personal chemical exposure monitoring technologies through a first-of-its-kind analysis.

When I first started working at EDF in 2014, I learned a statistic that shocked me: We have human exposure data on less than 4% of the roughly half-million chemicals in commerce.[1] In other words, we know next to nothing about the vast majority of chemical exposures that people were experiencing on a daily basis.

Chemicals are found in nearly all commercial products and serve a foundational role in our economy. Yet this ubiquity comes with its downsides, as some chemicals are hazardous and can find their way into our environment and ultimately end up in our water, land, and air—and in our bodies. Exposure to certain chemi­cal substances have been linked to a variety of adverse health impacts, including reproductive harm, disruption of normal hormone activity, and impaired neurological development in children.

The lack of knowledge about chemical exposures poses a major problem: Without better information on exactly which chemicals individuals are exposed to every day, it is challenging to develop effective policies and interventions to reduce harmful exposures and protect health.

Disrupting the status quo

But what if anyone could use a simple home-delivered kit or wearable device to reveal the chemicals in their environment—and in their body? Such technologies could make the invisible visible—providing individuals, as well as policy makers, businesses, health professionals, and others, with critical information needed to accelerate reductions in the public’s exposure to hazardous chemicals.

In 2017, EDF pursued a Year of Innovation to better understand opportunities to advance the market for personal chemical exposure monitors (PCEMs) – with the ultimate goal of improving public health. As part of this effort, we conducted interviews and convened an expert workshop to identify bottlenecks in the development and use of such technologies.

We learned that a significant gap exists between the demand and promise of PCEM technologies and the current cost or scalability of many of the available technologies today. Experts noted that while there is significant qualitative or anecdotal evidence of demand, a quantitative understanding of the potential market for these technologies is needed to drive a robust market.

EDF took that lesson and embarked on a two-part study to fill this gap.

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Posted in Emerging Science, Emerging Testing Methods, Health Science, Innovation, Public Health / Tagged , | Read 1 Response

ACC and 1,4-dioxane: Its “late hit” tactics are just more of the same

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

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) was up to all of its old tricks yesterday at the first day of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) panel that is conducting a peer review of EPA’s draft risk evaluation of the likely human carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane.  We blogged last week about the extensive comments EDF submitted to the peer review panel on this flawed assessment.

Yesterday ACC rolled out the same game plan the industry has used for years to slow down, derail, or obfuscate chemical assessments conducted by EPA’s Information Risk Information System (IRIS), and more recently, the last Administration’s effort, now aborted by the Trump EPA, to restrict high-risk uses of the highly toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE).

In the public comment period yesterday afternoon, ACC Senior Director Steve Risotto revealed to the peer review panel that ACC has sponsored a new “study” that he says – lo and behold – supports all of the positions downplaying 1,4-dioxane’s carcinogenicity that ACC has espoused for years.

The aim of this is to get EPA to set the level of exposure to 1,4-dioxane that would be deemed acceptable well above the level EPA would set if 1,4-dioxane is assumed to pose a risk at any level of exposure.  (Briefly, if EPA determines that 1,4-dioxane does not have a safe threshold, it must extrapolate exposures to zero to set acceptable risk levels in its risk evaluation. If, as ACC wants, EPA finds that there is a threshold below which exposure poses no risk, then the Agency’s risk calculations will be much less conservative.)

So, where is ACC’s new study?  Well, it’s not public.  It hasn’t been provided to the peer review panel.  It hasn’t been published by ACC.  There’s no indication it’s been peer-reviewed.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, Worker Safety / Tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

Air pollution: E-commerce’s sustainability problem that isn’t the cardboard box

Aileen NowlanSenior Manager, EDF+Business

This post originally appeared on EDF+Business.

With the click of a button, our groceries, clothes, personal care products, household items – just about anything – could arrive on our doorsteps in a neatly packaged cardboard box. It’s convenience, delivered. But at what cost?

What happens behind-the-scenes to get a package delivered to your door is taking a toll on our planet and our health. Freight is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and a major source of local air pollution. The rise in e-commerce is a growing part of increased pollution and poor air quality.

The truth is, “free shipping” isn’t really free. We’re just paying for it in other ways.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Hyperlocal mapping, Markets and Retail, Public Health / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Trump EPA grossly understates workers’ risks to 1,4-dioxane while ignoring those to the general public

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

On Friday, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed extensive comments on a draft risk evaluation for the likely human carcinogen 1,4-dioxane EPA issued on July 1.  While the formal public comment period runs until August 30, Friday was the deadline EPA set for comments if submitters want them to be considered by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), which will be conducting peer review of the draft risk evaluations for this chemical and another, the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), next week.

In its draft risk evaluation for 1,4-dioxane, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has grossly understated the risks that workers and the environment face from exposure to the chemical.  EPA has also abdicated its responsibility under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to identify and evaluate the risks the chemical presents to consumers and the general population by excluding from its risk evaluation conditions of use and exposures that are known or reasonably foreseen.  EPA has not met its mandatory duty under TSCA to identify and evaluate the risks to vulnerable subpopulations, falsely asserting there is no evidence that certain subpopulations are or may be more susceptible to adverse effects from exposure to the chemical.  EPA has utterly failed to utilize the enhanced authorities Congress granted it in 2016 to ensure that it has or obtains robust information on 1,4-dioxane’s uses, hazards and exposures, resulting in serious information and analytic gaps and deficiencies that severely undermine the scientific quality of its risk evaluation.

EDF’s comments raised numerous major concerns with EPA’s draft.  Among them are the following (see the noted section of the full comments for the details):

  • EPA has ignored evidence that some subpopulations are or may be more susceptible to 1,4-dioxane exposures than the general population (see section 1.A).
  • EPA has distorted OSHA requirements and over-relied on personal protective equipment, ignoring its real-world limitations (see section 1.B).
  • EPA has, without scientific basis, sought to sow doubt on the use of a linear, non-threshold model for 1,4-dioxane’s carcinogenicity, an approach that reflects longstanding agency policy and consensus in the scientific community (see section 1.D).
  • EPA has dismissed the liver tumors observed in female mice in the key oral cancer study it uses to extrapolate dermal cancer risks. Its insufficient rationale ignores the IRIS program’s basis for including these tumors and its determination that they are the most sensitive endpoint, which has been affirmed through peer review.  As a result, cancer risk is significantly understated, a concern also noted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (See section 1.E.ii.)
  • EPA has excluded all exposures and risks to consumers (and to workers from at least one use), based on 1,4-dioxane’s presence in such products as a byproduct rather than being intentionally used, a distinction without any basis in science (see section 2.A).
  • EPA has excluded from its risk evaluation all general population exposures to 1,4 dioxane, based on EPA’s unsupported assertion that existing regulatory programs under other statutes EPA administers have addressed or are in the process of addressing potential risks of 1,4-dioxane in all media pathways (see section 2.B).
  • In several instances, EPA’s decisions are inconsistent with Agency guidelines (see section 4.B.i).
  • EPA fails to consider combined exposures to workers from different routes and sources (see section 4.B.ii).
  • EPA has significantly understated the extent of risks to workers it has identified (see section 5).
  • EPA’s “expectation” of compliance with existing laws and standards as a basis for not finding unreasonable risk is unwarranted (see section 6.A).
  • EPA finds no unreasonable risk even when the high-end risk exceeds relevant benchmarks, an approach that is not adequately protective (see section 6.B).
  • EPA’s allowance of a 1 in 10,000 cancer risk for workers is a major and unwarranted deviation from longstanding agency policy and practice to regulate upon finding cancer risks on the order of 1 in 1 million (see section 6.C).
  • EPA’s systematic review to support the risk evaluation is flawed and not reflective of best practices (see section 7).

 

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Wearable sensors drive demand for cleaner air

Tasha Kosviner, Environment Writer/ Editor

This blog originally appeared on Medium.

Brooklyn Bridge

Most Fridays, my eight-year-old son and I take a walk. Our route takes us across some of the busiest traffic intersections in Brooklyn. As we walk, we talk. My son has lots to say and he bounces from topic to topic in funny and unexpected ways. This being New York, we often have to shout over the sound of car horns, sirens and buses roaring away from curbs.

Earlier this year, our conversation centered around the little white gadget clipped to my bag. Known as an AirBeam, it was personal air quality monitor, able to sense and measure the pollution in the air around us as we walked. The data it gathered was fed, via Bluetooth, to an app on my phone, giving us real time information about what was in the air we were breathing. What we saw was sobering.


With increasing global concern about air pollution, the availability of, and interest in, wearable air quality monitors has accelerated in recent years. In addition to the AirBeam, there is now also the Tzoa, the Flow, the ATMOtube, the CleanSpace Tag. A quick search of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe reveals multiple new monitors under development all claiming to give us the lowdown on what’s in the air around us.

Many of these gadgets stream their measurements straight to your smartphone. The AirBeam uses an open-source platform, AirCasting, and the information appears in ever evolving graphs which dip and peak as you move through space and time.

For most of mine and my son’s Friday walk, the lines remained reassuringly green and steady. But as we crossed a bridge above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, with traffic flying beneath our feet, the PM2.5 line (so-called because the particles detected are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or one-thirtieth the size of a human hair) suddenly spiked and turned a traffic light red. We stood together and watched it silently for a few seconds.

“What does it mean?” my little boy asked.

I hesitated. The air around us looked clear, the sun shone, the people looked the same. Whatever was happening in the air above that expressway, New York (no surprise here!) didn’t seem to care. Staring at that red line, I realised I didn’t really know what it meant either. Could we stay and safely breathe that air? How long before it started to affect our health? A minute? A week? A year? I did that parent thing and answered without really answering.

“It means we’re moving on,” I tell him. “Let’s walk.”

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Posted in Air Pollution, Hyperlocal mapping / Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

Hey Trump EPA, your extreme bias in favor of the chemical industry is showing again

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

[See UPDATE in brackets below.]

The Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just released drafts of two more chemical risk evaluations it has conducted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  One is for the likely human carcinogen and neurotoxicant 1,4-dioxane, which contaminates public water systems serving more than 7 million Americans in 27 states at levels exceeding the level EPA has traditionally (until now) aimed to meet for general population exposures.  The other is for the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD, a persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemical – toxic to human development and highly acutely and chronically toxic to aquatic organisms – that has been banned or heavily restricted in most of the rest of the developed world.

As might have been expected of the Trump EPA, the draft risk evaluations wholly exonerate HBCD and largely do so for 1,4-dioxane.  Especially in the latter case, EPA achieves its improbable finding through quite a sleight of hand:  EPA simply excludes most exposures to the chemical from the scope of its risk evaluation.

Trump EPA political appointees have repeatedly argued that the agency needs to be doing a better job at “risk communication.”  I guess we now know what that means.

Once finalized, EPA’s determinations that these chemicals “do not present an unreasonable risk” will mean it has no obligation or authority to impose any restrictions on their manufacture, processing, distribution, use, recycling or disposal.

We will be looking at these documents more closely in the very limited time EPA has provided for the public to review and comment on them.  But I want to draw attention right off the bat to a telling aspect of how the Trump EPA has presented its risk determination for 1,4-dioxane.

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Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform / Tagged , , | Comments are closed