Selected tags: formaldehyde

Should we be holding our breath waiting for more information on risks of the chemical spilled in West Virginia?

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

A hearing held yesterday by the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources created quite a stir, when a witness – West Virginia Environmental Quality Board vice-chairman Scott Simonton – said that the human carcinogen formaldehyde had been detected in several water samples drawn from a Charleston, WV, restaurant, and that people in the area affected by the January 9 spill could be expected to have inhaled the chemical, which he identified as a likely breakdown product of the spilled material, crude MCHM.  See stories in the Charleston Gazette and USA Today.

State officials and the West Virginia American Water company were quick to call Simonton’s claims “unfounded” and “misleading and irresponsible,” respectively.  The controversy led even the American Chemistry Council – which has laid low ever since the spill – to quickly issue its first statement related to the spill through its Formaldehyde Panel.

While experts are noting that data are insufficient to identify the spill as the source of any formaldehyde detected in the water samples, this new kerfuffle does point to yet another major data gap on crude MCHM.

The one part-per-million (1 ppm) “safe” level state and federal officials set was based on limited data from studies in which rats were exposed to crude or pure MCHM through oral ingestionAbsolutely no data are available on the chemical with respect to exposure through inhalation.  Yet officials did not hesitate to tell residents the 1 ppm level would be safe not only for drinking the water, but also for bathing and showering.

(It’s curious that the Eastman Chemical Company apparently performed no inhalation studies on crude or pure MCHM, given that Eastman said its motivation for the studies it did perform was to understand risks to workers in industrial settings, and its safety data sheet for crude MCHM prominently notes the potential for health concerns for workers from inhalation.)

[UPDATE 1/31/14:  This morning, Eastman posted an updated version of its Q&A document on its website (linked to in the above paragraph), and took down the earlier version.  Here is the original version, the updated version dated 1/31/14, and a redline comparison of the two versions.]

Clearly the material that spilled is volatile – that’s why people can smell it.  Taking a hot shower in such water means that people would clearly be exposed via inhalation of the vapor; how much exposure would occur has not been ascertained.  But in the absence of any data as to toxicity of the chemical via inhalation, there is simply no scientific basis on which to say or imply that showering in water contaminated at 1 ppm level was OK.

Chemicals can be more or less toxic by inhalation than by ingestion, with one study finding inhalation to be the more toxic route for half of the chemicals examined and oral ingestion to be the more toxic route for the other half.  Benzene, for example, is estimated to be several hundred times more toxic by inhalation than by ingestion, while inhalation of chloroform is estimated to be about 25-fold lower in toxicity than it is by ingestion.

What such comparisons indicate is that extrapolating from data on oral toxicity to predict inhalation toxicity – which is effectively what government officials did in this case – is about as accurate as flipping a coin.

Posted in Environment, Health Policy, Health Science | Also tagged , , | 3 Responses, comments now closed

The chemical industry says formaldehyde and styrene don’t cause cancer. Only one of 52 scientists agree.

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

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) held a joint meeting of its two panels that are charged with reviewing the listings of formaldehyde and styrene as carcinogens in the 12th Report on Carcinogens, which was released in June 2011.

The 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is the latest edition of a Congressionally mandated report developed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP).  It upgraded formaldehyde to the status of “known to be a human carcinogen,” and for the first time listed styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”  That put the chemical industry into a real tizzy, what with the threat these listings pose to its profits from the huge volumes of these cash cows sold each year, not to mention the huge potential liability it faces.

Never one to go down lightly, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has launched an all-out assault on the NTP and the RoC.  It is waging battle not only with the executive branch, but also in the courts and in Congress.  In late 2011, it managed to get its allies in Congress to slip into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, without any debate, a rider that mandated the NAS reviews of the formaldehyde and styrene listings in the 12th RoC that are now underway.

ACC also pushed legislation in the last Congress to shut down all funding for the RoC until the reviews are completed; failing on that front, earlier this month it demanded that NTP cease all work on the next (13th) edition of the RoC.  (For more background, see previous blog posts by EDF and NRDC.)

Lost in all this kerfluffle, however, are these salient facts:

  • The formaldehyde and styrene listings are the outcome of one of the most extensive scientific assessment processes on the planet, entailing reviews by four separate groups of expert scientists for each chemical.
  • ACC as well as the public had at least three separate formal opportunities for providing input to these expert bodies.
  • Of a total of 52 votes cast by these scientific panels on the NTP’s recommended listings, 51 of those votes supported the recommendations and only one opposed them. Read More »

Posted in Health Science, Industry Influence | Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

States act while Congress fiddles

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

Lest anyone thought that efforts by state legislators to protect their citizens from toxic chemical exposures would slacken despite Congress’ inability to take such action, this week’s announcement that legislators in at least 26 states are introducing such bills should dispel that notion.

Safer States, a national coalition of state-based environmental health organizations, notes that “between 2003 and 2011, 19 states adopted 93 chemical safety policies. The majority of legislation passed with healthy bipartisan support – 99% of Democratic legislators and 75% of Republican legislators voted in favor of bills, and both Republican and Democratic governors signed them into law.”

That trend shows no signs of abating in 2013, based on a list of state legislative activities underway, compiled by Safer States (more detail here):  At least 26 states are each to consider multiple legislation and policy changes this year that will:

  • restrict or label the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in receipts, children's products and food packaging;
  • require removal of certain toxic flame retardants from children's products, home furniture or building materials;
  • change disclosure rules so that concerned consumers will have a way to identify toxic chemicals in products;
  • encourage manufacturers to remove identified toxic chemicals in favor of safer alternatives.
  • ban cadmium, a dangerous, persistent metal that is often found in inexpensive children's jewelry;
  • ban formaldehyde from cosmetics and children's products; and
  • promote green cleaning products in schools.

The chemical industry frequently argues it just can’t live with a “patchwork” of requirements that vary from state to state.  But that’s just what it’s creating by dragging its feet on reform of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has never been amended since its adoption nearly four decades ago. 

State legislators, like nature, abhor a vacuum.

 

 

Posted in Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

No way to treat our kids: Formaldehyde, flame retardants and other toxics exceed safe levels in air and dust in day care centers

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

A study conducted by the State of California [Update 10-26-12:  The study was funded by the California Air Resources Board and conducted by Asa Bradman and colleagues at the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley] – described as “the first comprehensive study in child care centers to measure a broad spectrum of pollutants including many volatile organic chemicals, particles, and pesticides, and emerging pollutants such as flame retardants, phthalates and perfluorinated compounds” – has routinely detected dozens of these toxic contaminants in the air or floor dust present in such facilities. 

Some of the key findings include the following:

  • “Formaldehyde levels in 87% of the facilities exceeded the California acute and chronic reference exposure guideline levels for non-cancer health effects such as respiratory and sensory irritation (e.g. eyes, nose, throat, and lungs).”
  • “In most facilities, levels of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, or ethylbenzene exceeded child-specific Safe Harbor Levels computed by the report authors based on Proposition 65 guidelines for carcinogens.”  [These are levels calculated to result in a cancer risk of at least 1 per 100,000 people.]
  • “Phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, and lead were also frequently detected in dust and/or air.”
  • “Child dose estimates from ingestion of dust for two brominated flame retardants (BDE-47 and -99) exceeded the non-cancer U.S. EPA reference health dose (RfD) in 10.3% of facilities for children < 1 year old.”
  • “Two VOCs commonly found in cleaners and personal care products, d-limonene and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, had the highest concentrations compared to other chemical groups.”

The presumed sources of most if not all of these chemicals are everyday materials and products used to construct, furnish or clean these facilities.  Formaldehyde, for example, is used in hundreds of materials and products, including furniture, wood products, carpeting, paints, and household cleaning products.  California took action in 2007 to limit is use in pressed wood products, and Congress passed a law in 2010 to do the same.  (Unfortunately, the proposed regulations needed to implement the federal law – which Congress mandated be in place by January 1, 2013 – are stuck in regulatory review limbo at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):  The proposed regulations were sent by EPA to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) more than 170 days ago, on May 5 of this year, but remain under “pending review” by OIRA despite the requirement for OIRA to complete its reviews within 90 days.)

The larger problem exposed by the California study demands, of course, a far more comprehensive solution – TSCA reform.

 

Posted in Emerging Science, Health Policy, Health Science | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Hands off the Report on Carcinogens

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D., is Managing Director of EDF's Health Program.

Information, and importantly, access to reliable and objective information, is the cornerstone of a democratic society.  That is why recent efforts by the chemical industry and its allies to block Congressionally-mandated, scientific information on carcinogenic hazards by defunding the Report on Carcinogens (ROC) have many researchers and public health officials alarmed. 

Today, in a letter sent to House and Senate appropriations committee leaders, 75 occupational and environmental health scientists and professionals from around the country called on Congress to maintain funding for the ROC.  Their letter is in response to a legislative proposal that, if passed into law, would withhold funding for any work on the ROC until the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completes its review of the listings of formaldehyde and styrene in the 12th ROC—a process the NAS has only just begun.  If such a proposal were successful, it would effectively delay public access to critical information on chemical carcinogens for years.     Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence | Also tagged , , , | 3 Responses, comments now closed

ECHA gives a CoRAP: REACH substance evaluation kicks off with list of target chemicals

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

Posts to this blog concerning REACH – the European Union’s regulation for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals – have dealt mainly with the “R” and “A”.  A few weeks ago, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) took a first big step to capitalize on the “E” (Evaluation).

Specifically, the final 2012-2014 Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) was published on February 29th (see ECHA’s press release).  After many months of consultation with the Member States, ECHA has released the list of 90 chemicals that will be the first to undergo REACH’s substance evaluation process in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Existing data guided the prioritization process that led to the production of this list, but REACH’s authorities granted for substance evaluation will allow ECHA and the Member States to gather new information to fill data gaps.  This new information will help to improve both governmental and public knowledge about the risks these chemicals may pose to human health and the environment.  Read More »

Posted in EU REACH, Health Policy | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

REACH starts to earn its "A": 20 chemicals headed to the Candidate List and 13 to Authorization

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been busy this week implementing the EU's chemical regulation, REACH (short for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals).

On Monday, ECHA announced it has added 20 more Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) to REACH's Candidate List.  These SVHCs are now eligible for later addition to Annex XIV, the list of SVHCs subject to Authorization.

Separately, the agency today forwarded its final recommendation that 13 chemicals already on the Candidate List be formally added to Annex XIV.  (We had blogged earlier about ECHA's initial recommendation proposing these 13 SVHCs for Authorization.)  If the European Commission confirms this addition, after a specified sunset date, the use of these will be allowed only if specifically authorized by EU authorities.  Read More »

Posted in EU REACH, Health Policy | Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

ACC resorts to smear tactics to defend its cash cows, formaldehyde and styrene

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

An increasingly common tactic in modern bare-knuckle politics is to divert attention away from your own weakness or vulnerability by loudly – and falsely – accusing your opponent of having that very defect you possess but won’t admit to.

That Rovian tactic was on display last week, with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) as the accuser, and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) as its “opponent.”  Mind you, NTP is the nation’s leading authoritative body on cancer-causing chemicals.

The precipitating event?  NTP’s long-overdue release of its 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).  Among other additions NTP made since its last report was published way back in 2005, it had the audacity – according to ACC – to:

  • upgrade its classification of formaldehyde to “Known to be a human carcinogen,” from its earlier classification (dating back to 1981) as “Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” and
  • for the first time include styrene on its list of chemicals linked to cancer, classifying it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

The accusation hurled at NTP was this gem from ACC President and CEO, Cal Dooley:

“We are extremely concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process and believe this report by HHS is an egregious contradiction to what the President said early in his administration, ‘…That science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my administration…’.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black (per the “second, subtler interpretation” of that phrase).

Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Adding a hammer to TSCA's tool belt: Clear deadlines and, yes, hammers to ensure they’re met, are essential to TSCA reform

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

For decades, the American chemical industry has produced and used chemicals virtually without condition, due to the laissez-faire approach embodied in TSCA.  The consequence?  Tens of thousands of chemicals are in everyday use with little health and environmental data, let alone evidence of their safety.  This has led to a crisis in confidence among commercial buyers, users and sellers of chemicals and products made using chemicals – not to mention consumers, state and local government and the general public.

Meaningful TSCA reform must address these problems, by not only systematically subjecting chemicals on the market to data requirements and safety determinations – but also ensuring all this is done in an efficient and timely manner.

That’s where hammers come in.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform | Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Katrina chronicles meet the BP oil disaster: Formaldehyde-laced trailers are back in the Gulf

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

In another truly bizarre collision between recent Gulf coast disasters (on top of Hurricane Alex), Ian Urbina of the New York Times reports on the front page today that those toxic trailers – sold at auction by FEMA back in March – have been reincarnated once again, this time as housing for Gulf cleanup workers.

I had blogged about the sale at the time, questioning the viability of FEMA’s assurance that “wholesale buyers from the auction must sign contracts attesting that trailers will not be used, sold or advertised as housing, and that trailers will carry a sticker saying, ‘Not to be used for housing’.”  In that post, I had cynically asked:  “Think that’s likely to be enough?”

With good reason, it turns out.  Read More »

Posted in Health Science | Also tagged , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed
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