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EPA’s latest analysis shows perchlorate risks to fetal brain development

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

Pursuant to a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing drinking water regulations to protect fetuses and young children from perchlorate, a toxic chemical that inhibits the thyroid’s ability to make the hormone T4 essential to brain development. The rulemaking is part of a long process that began in 2011 when the agency made a formal determination that Safe Drinking Water Act standards for perchlorate were needed. Under the consent decree, EPA should propose a standard by October 2018.

In the latest step in that process, EPA’s scientists released a draft report in September that, at long last, answers questions posed by its Science Advisory Board in 2013: does perchlorate exposure during the first trimester reduce production of T4 in pregnant women with low iodine consumption? Does reduction in maternal T4 levels in these women adversely affect fetal brain development? According to EPA’s scientists, the answers are Yes and Yes.

For several years, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have developed and refined a model that would predict the effect of different doses of perchlorate on levels of T4 in pregnant women. The latest version of the model addresses women during the first trimester, especially those with low iodine intake. This is important because iodine is essential to make T4 (the number four indicates the number of iodine atoms present in the hormone); perchlorate inhibits its transport from the blood into the thyroid. The risk of perchlorate exposure to fetuses in the first trimester is greatest because brain development starts very early and is fully dependent on maternal T4. If the mother gets insufficient iodine to offset the perchlorate inhibition, she will not produce enough T4 for the fetal brain to develop properly. When free T4 (fT4) levels are low but without increase in thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the condition is known as hypothyroxinemia. When T4 production is lowered further, the pituitary gland releases TSH to increase T4 production by a feedback loop mechanism.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

EPA proposes limits on hypochlorite bleach to reduce degradation to perchlorate

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

Every 15 years, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) reviews the safety of registered pesticides. The current cycle ends in 2022. As part of that process, the agency is evaluating the safety of hypochlorite bleaches. In January 2017, EPA decided it would consider the risks posed by degradation of the hypochlorite into perchlorate.

This is important for two reasons: 1) degraded bleach is less effective as a pesticide, and 2) perchlorate is a chemical that interferes with the production of thyroid hormone, a critical hormone for fetal and infant brain development.

On September 22, EPA proposed changes to the pesticide label to minimize the degradation for hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect drinking water, and the agency is accepting comments until November 21, 2017. The label would advise users to:

  • Minimize storage time;
  • Maintain pH of the solution between 11 to 13;
  • Minimize exposure to sunlight;
  • Store at lower temperatures; and
  • If practical, dilute with cool softened water upon delivery.

EDF submitted comments to EPA supporting EPA’s proposal and requesting specific changes to the proposed language, including making the advice to users mandatory. We also asked the agency to extend the label requirements to hypochlorite bleach used to treat produce and to disinfect food handling equipment. Bleach appears to be one of several significant sources of perchlorate contamination of food. Improving management conditions will reduce degradation and preserve effectiveness regardless of the whether the bleach is used in drinking water or to treat vegetables.

EPA’s proposal is an interim decision. We also were pleased to see that OPP is committed to continue working with EPA’s Office of Water (OW) in its assessment of the risks of perchlorate to pregnant women and young children. We asked OPP to incorporate the OW’s findings in additional interim registration decisions for all uses of hypochlorite bleaches.

 

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, Public Health, Regulation / Also tagged , , | Comments are closed

Pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths globally: Two-thirds are due to air pollution

Dr. Ananya Roy is a Health Scientist

Over the last few weeks as forest fires engulfed large areas of California, air quality in the Bay area plummeted. Doctors and pediatricians were on high alert to deal with the health impacts felt most acutely by children and the elderly. Pediatrician’s offices had phone messages that said “If you are concerned about air pollution and calling to make an appointment for your child’s asthma please dial …” and advised citizens to use face masks and air purifiers and stay indoors. News outlets compared air pollution levels there to winter days in Beijing or New Delhi where air pollution is a more consistent threat. These fires drive home the reality of the effect of pollution on health.

Time and time again pollution related news from across the country and globe have made headlines, ranging from lead and PFOAS in water Flint and Hoosick Falls, benzene in Houston, to the “Airpocalypse” in Beijing and New Delhi. Though these articles highlight the disastrous effects of pollution from major pollution and weather events, the constant and ongoing silent impact of air pollution on the lives of children and communities remains underappreciated.

GAHP, The Lancet Report

Today, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, an initiative of The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), Pure Earth, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with additional coordination and input from United Nations Environment, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Bank, and others provide the first comprehensive global analysis of the health and economic impacts from all forms of pollution (air, water, soil, occupational). My colleague Elena Craft and I were contributors to this report.

The analysis carried out through the Global Burden of Disease framework estimated that pollution across air, water, soil, and occupational exposures costs the global economy $4.6 trillion per year, approximately 6.2% of global GDP, and resulted in 9 million deaths in 2015. This is equivalent to 16% of all deaths worldwide. Three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Health Policy, Health Science / Also tagged | Comments are closed

New EPA model enables comparison of various sources of childhood exposure to lead

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

This week, Environmental Health Perspectives published an important article by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that sheds important light on the various sources of children’s lead exposure. Led by Valerie Zaltarian, the article shares an innovative multimedia model to quantify and compare relative contributions of lead from air, soil/dust, water and food to children’s blood lead level. The model couples existing SHEDS and IEUBK models to predict blood lead levels using information on concentrations of lead in different sources, intake and gut absorption. The predicted blood lead levels compared well with observed levels in the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey population. Given the variety of independent sources of lead exposure, the model provides a critical tool that public health professionals can use to set priorities and evaluate the impact of various potential standards for all children and not just those with the greatest exposure.

This peer-reviewed article builds on a draft report EPA released in January 2017 evaluating different approaches to setting a health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water. The report has provided a wealth of insight into a complicated topic. Earlier this year, we used it to show that formula-fed infants get most of their lead exposure from water and toddlers from food, while the main source of lead for the highest exposed children is soil and dust. In our February blog, we provided our assessment of a health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water and explained how public health professionals could use it to evaluate homes. The information was also critical to identifying lead in food as an overlooked, but meaningful, source of children’s exposure to lead.

The new article reaffirms the analysis in the January 2017 EPA report and highlights that evaluating source contribution to blood lead in isolation versus aggregating across all sources can lead to very different answers and priorities. A health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water could vary from 0 to 46 ppb depending on age and whether all other sources of lead are considered. For example, a health-based benchmark for infants (birth to six months old) would be 4 ppb or 13 ppb depending on whether or not you consider all sources of exposure.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, Food, Health Policy, lead, Uncategorized / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Progress takes vigilance to reduce children’s exposure to lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

The United States has made significant progress over the past fifteen years towards reducing children’s exposure to lead. While much more needs to be done to eliminate the more than $50 billion a year in societal costs from lead, the progress is good news for children since it is well known that there is no safe level of lead in children, and it can impair their brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Achieving this progress has required a diligent and ongoing commitment from all levels of government. If we expect to continue to make progress – and not backslide – the federal government needs to remain committed to reducing sources of lead exposure. So far what we’ve seen from the Trump Administration raises serious concerns about any real commitment to protecting children’s health, including from lead.

Lead has a toxic legacy from decades of extensive use in paint, gasoline, and water pipes. As long as lead is in the paint, pipes, and soil where we live, work and play, progress is far from inevitable. Protecting children from lead takes constant vigilance, especially when the paint or plumbing is disturbed. Flint provided a tragic example of what happens when we turn away. Without vigilance, the positive trends we have seen in blood lead levels could all too easily reverse course and go up. That is why the proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, which would eliminate the agency’s lead-based paint programs, are yet another indication that this Administration is turning its back on protecting children’s health.

Mean blood lead levels in young children dropped 56% from 1999 to 2014

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrates that from 1999 to 2014 the levels of lead in children’s blood or “blood lead levels” (BLL) dropped preciptiously. Average BLLs in young children declined by 56% during that period with the rate of decline increasing after 2010. For children with a BLL greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter (µg/dL), the reduction was an impressive 86%. Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation / Also tagged , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

EPA's Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee recommends four top priorities for EPA to protect kids from lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

For the past 20 years, the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), with its diverse members that include pediatricians and industry toxicologists, has been responding to requests for guidance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators. In December 2016, EPA’s Administrator asked CHPAC to provide the agency with its “highest priority advice” on lead. Citing the children’s health risks posed by lead, the economic and racial disparities and the demonstrated effectiveness of national leadership on the issue, on April 6, CHPAC sent the new administrator, Scott Pruitt, a letter with its four recommended priorities:

  1. Strengthen the Agency’s Lead-Based Paint Hazards Standard for lead in paint, dust, and soil. CHPAC stated that the “best evidence shows that a young child living in a home meeting the current lead dust standard still has a 50% chance of exceeding the CDC reference level for blood lead.” The EPA standard is so insufficient and outdated that on February 1, 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would require its lead hazard control grantees to meet a more protective level that is one-fourth of EPA’s standard.
  1. Revise the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water. CHPAC highlighted several high profile incidents of high levels of lead in drinking water and called for EPA to overhaul its 1991 Lead and Copper Rule to better protect children, especially infants dependent on formula for nutrition. CHPAC recommended the revisions be consistent with the recommendations from the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Committee and the lessons from recent water system lead contaminations.
  1. Improve risk communication efforts to provide clarity and consistency. CHPAC asked that EPA revise its “Protect Your Family from Lead In Your Home” booklet that is given to every family buying or renting a home built before 1978 so that it more effectively helps families make decisions regarding the risks posed by lead. The committee cited three problems with the booklet, it:
    • insufficiently describes other important lead sources including, but not limited to, drinking water faucets, plumbing, traditional and cultural products, and take-home exposures from work”;
    • treats all homes built before 1978 as equal and does not explain that the likelihood of having lead-based paint varies dramatically based on the age of the home”; and
    • “relies heavily on text rather than graphics making it less effective for some audiences.”
  1. Encourage the Administration’s infrastructure investment program to support healthy housing, childcare facilities, and schools, and safe drinking water. CHPAC recommended that EPA work closely with other federal partners on the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to help ensure that all Administration infrastructure investment programs make housing, childcare facilities, and schools healthier, and drinking water safer.

The letter was sent a day after the Washington Post reported on a leaked March 21, 2017 agency memo that details how EPA plans to execute the 31% cuts to its overall budget called for in the President’s proposed budget. The article’s headline says it all: “Trump’s EPA moves to dismantle programs that protect kids from lead paint.” If Congress goes along with these cuts, it is difficult to imagine how the agency could fulfill its basic responsibilities much less implement CHPAC’s recommendations to protect kids from lead.

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