Monthly Archives: April 2013

April brings showers…and a flurry of new studies on the risks of perfluorinated chemicals

Rachel Shaffer is a research assistant.

What do waterproof jackets, car wax, and non-stick pans have in common?

Aside from being great Father’s Day presents (Dad, I’m thinking ahead this year!), they also all are made with perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. There are hundreds of different PFCs, and their oil- and water-resistant properties make them useful in a variety of products, from cookware and carpets to food-packaging and electronics.  

Unfortunately, these chemicals have less desirable properties as well. Thanks to their strong molecular bonds, PFCs do not readily break down; they persist in the environment and in our bodies. And, widespread use has led to extensive human exposure. The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) human biomonitoring program, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), detected four types of PFCs in over 98% of samples representative of the U.S. population collected in 2003-2004.  

Two of the compounds detected in NHANES, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorootanoic acid (PFOA), are the focus of three new studies published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. These studies, one reporting an association with osteoarthritis in women, another an association with semen quality in men, and a third an association with asthma in children, add to a growing concern about the potential adverse effects of these ubiquitous chemicals.

What follows is a brief overview of the findings of these new studies.  Read More »

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Might we soon be facing an effort to roll back the Toxic Substances Control Act?

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

It seems like only yesterday there was broad consensus on the need to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a consensus that included the chemical industry.

But that was then.  Now there are growing indications that legislation will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate that would not only not fix the fundamental flaws of TSCA, but would actually make the law even weaker.  Read More »

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Two safer chemicals initiatives garner national headlines: Mind the Store campaign and The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013

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

This morning, two major daily newspapers carried stories on initiatives to ensure the safety of products containing chemicals to which people are increasingly exposed in their daily lives.

A story in USA Today covers the launch of Mind the Store, a campaign that asks the top 10 retailers in the country to develop and make public their plans to address toxic chemicals in the consumer products they sell. 

Also today, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on the introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate, which would amend the core provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the first time since its passage 37 years ago. 

See more information on each of these initiatives below.  Read More »

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Avoiding conflict and delay: EDF comments to yet another IRIS review panel

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

Chemical industry representatives and their consultants often argue that they should be on panels reviewing government assessments of their chemicals because “they know their chemicals best.”  Well, the mother of a young man accused of a crime may well know her son better than anyone – but that doesn’t mean we should seat mom on the jury.

I made that comment as part of my public comments delivered at this week’s meeting of a new committee formed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which has a charge of peer reviewing chemical assessments developed by EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program.  (If you’re a regular reader of this blog and you feel like you’re having a déjà vu, yes, this is yet another panel set up to oversee or assess IRIS; see this earlier post.)  I felt compelled to make that comment in part because in the preceding day and a half of the meeting, well over half of the comments offered by the 26-member committee came from just four of those members, all of them industry consultants.

It turns out that the assigned members of the committee, named the Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee, or CAAC (I recommend just saying C-A-A-C, rather than trying to pronounce the acronym), have not yet been screened for potential conflicts of interest (COI) or lack of impartiality.  This step won’t happen until later, when a subset of committee members are tapped to serve on a review panel for a specific IRIS assessment.  But this process made for an awkward meeting, which was supposed to be limited to a “fact-finding” briefing by the IRIS program, but constantly veered into territory verging on providing advice to EPA (again dominated by the industry consultants).  Federal law requires that any committee offering such advice be free of conflicts of interest in all but the most exceptional of circumstances.

In my comments, I raised concerns about the high potential for conflicts of interest to arise, given the composition of the committee.  I also reiterated the points I have made to other similar panels that getting the science right in IRIS needs to be balanced with ensuring that IRIS assessments are completed in a timely manner — because there are real-world adverse public health consequences to the delays that have plagued the IRIS program.

Read on for my full comments. Read More »

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