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EPA Should Use U.S. Chemical Safety Law to Turn Off PFAS Tap

The word

PFAS is a group of synthetic chemicals used in industrial processes and consumer products, including water-repellent clothing, such as outdoor wear, and food packaging. Once these “forever chemicals” are produced and used, they often make their way into the environment and our bodies. Many pose serious threats due to their toxic effects (often at trace levels) and their ability to build up in people, animals and the environment. Studies show that they are in almost all of us.

To make matters worse, people are exposed to multiple PFAS, not individual PFAS in isolation. Yet under the nation’s primary chemical safety law, EPA evaluates the safety of PFAS chemicals one at a time and does not consider the combined risks from exposures to multiple PFAS. Combined exposures increase the risk of harmful effects, thus magnifying the risks and the need for action.

Current Situation: All Costs, No Benefits

PFAS move easily throughout the environment and are difficult to destroy. They have contaminated drinking water, food, farms, wildlife, and the environment more broadly. At the local, state and federal levels, the U.S. is spending millions of dollars to clean up PFAS contamination. Some states, such as Michigan and Maine, are trying to recoup the costs their residents have had to bear to clean-up PFAS contamination of their water and land. The federal government is also taking action to address the widespread PFAS contamination. The costs for cleaning up PFAS contamination are imposed on society by the domestic producers, importers and users of PFAS who profit from their production and use.

Yet, despite the well-documented risks and costs to society of these chemicals, companies still continue to produce, import, and use PFAS. It is time to ban all PFAS or—if there are truly essential uses for these chemicals—limit how they are produced, imported and used so that their impact on us and the environment is minimal.

Urgent Need: Revisit, Reassess, and Regulate All PFAS

While EPA has recently tightened up approvals for new PFAS entering the market, it has yet to take significant action on those that are already on the market, which includes the hundreds of PFAS the agency approved over the past few decades. It is clear these PFAS have not been produced responsibly as demonstrated by the environmental contamination associated with many of the PFAS manufacturing facilities. And yet, many of these PFAS are still on the market. They are being produced and released into the environment, are in products we use every day, and continue to contaminate us and our environment.

Many of EPA’s approvals were made 10 to 20 years ago, before we had a full picture of the pervasiveness and degree of PFAS contamination. The data on the extent of the environmental contamination of these persistent PFAS, their ability to move through the environment, and the significant difficulty in destroying them was not as robust as it is today. Furthermore, mounting evidence shows that even trace levels of PFAS can cause developmental issues in children, reduced fertility, hormonal disruptions, and certain types of cancer.

In addition, these approvals did not consider risks to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and children as currently required by the law. Many communities are exposed to multiple PFAS, particularly those who live, work and play near where PFAS are made and used.

Addressing the production, import and use of PFAS would limit further pollution of our water supplies, safeguard the health of our communities, and be consistent with other strong EPA actions to address PFAS, including its recent robust proposed drinking water standards.

Effective regulation of these harmful chemicals at their source would also accelerate efforts to seek out and adopt safer alternatives. Leaving chemicals with such well-documented harms on the market makes it more difficult for innovative, safer substitutes to enter it. Failing to address these risks in effect puts a thumb on the scale in support of older harmful technologies.

Our Take

EPA should re-evaluate each of the PFAS it has approved. During that re-evaluation, EPA should use the best available science and consider the full picture of PFAS exposure. Considering each PFAS in isolation rather than the multiple PFAS people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, are exposed to will underestimate their risk.

EPA should use the Toxic Substances Control Act to take action to ban these legacy PFAS, or restrict them if the uses are truly essential, rather than continuing to allow the production, import and use of these demonstrably harmful “forever chemicals.”

Go Deeper

Learn more about EDF’s concerns about PFAS and read our follow-up blog  on how EPA can use TSCA to turn off the PFAS tap.

EPA’s information on PFAS

Posted in Chemical exposure, Chemical regulation, Contamination, Cumulative impact, Cumulative risk assessment, Emerging testing methods, Food, Food packaging, Health hazards, Health science, PFAS, Public health, Risk assessment, Risk evaluation, TSCA, Vulnerable populations / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

Unleaded Juice: FDA needs to start with public health—not market impact

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals 

This is the fifth in our Unleaded Juice blog series exploring how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets limits for toxic elements like lead, arsenic, and cadmium in food and its implications for the agency’s Closer To Zero program. 

FDA’s approach to setting draft action levels for lead in juice is based on two ill-conceived presumptions:

  • Action levels should not impact more than 5% of the market. Unfortunately, FDA does not appear to consider market trends or whether the products were made using best practices shown to reduce contamination.
  • Action levels should help ensure 90% of young children have a dietary intake of lead that is below FDA’s Interim Reference Level, the maximum daily intake from food. Unfortunately, this effectively ignores the top 10% or 2.4 million of the most-exposed young children.[1]

To its credit, the agency has shown it is willing to go beyond the 5% impact for three types of juices (grape at 12%, pomegranate at 6%, and prune at 6%),[2] and it has proposed the most protective lead-in-juice standards in the world. However, for a heavy metal like lead where relatively short-term exposures can result in long-term harm to young children’s developing brains, the current approach has serious weaknesses.

We think the agency should evaluate alternatives that impact more than 5% of the market and protect more than 90% of children. And when FDA evaluates impacts, it should assess the socioeconomic benefits of the alternatives. For substances like lead (and arsenic), these societal benefits can be quantified using established methods. In a previous blog, we showed that reducing young children’s overall dietary intake of lead by just 6% would yield $1 billion a year in benefits. The agency should compare these benefits to the investments that industry would need to make to achieve these action levels using best practices.

Read More »

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Broken GRAS: It’s time for FDA to wake up and protect consumers from dubious ingredients

Maricel Maffini, consultant and Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

This blog is the third in our Broken GRAS series where we explore how the Food and Drug Administration’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) voluntary notification system for novel chemicals added to food works in practice and why it is broken.

In this blog, we examine another voluntary GRAS notice submitted to the FDA, this one for Venetron, an extract of Apocynum venetum leaves. It is marketed for sleep improvement and anti-stress and used as a dietary supplement and food ingredient. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that FDA scientists raised safety concerns about Venetron. Under the broken GRAS system, however, the company that manufactures the ingredient was able to withdraw its notification and continue to market the chemical as GRAS, despite the questions raised by the agency.

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Japanese company Tokiwa Phytochemical (Tokiwa) voluntarily notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August 2014 that it had determined its extract of Apocynum venetum leaves was Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). The extract, called Venetron, would be an “ingredient in food” at levels up to 100 mg per day, the company said in the notice (GRN 530). Tokiwa indicated that Venetron could be incorporated into “health food product[s], such as tablet[s] or capsule[s],” but did not identify specific foods to which the substance might be added.

In support of its GRAS determination, the company presented results of preclinical and clinical investigations that examined the safety of the extract in mice and healthy adult male volunteers. They also reported data on the effectiveness of Venetron to treat individuals with mild depression. It convened a panel of three experts ‒ Drs. Veronika Butterweck (Univ. of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland), Sansei Nishibe (Health Sciences Univ. of Hokkaido), and Kuo-Hsiung Lee (Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill) ‒ to review the studies, as well as a “history of human intake” of Rafuma [another name for A. venetum] leaf extract and its use as a dietary supplement in Japan and as a drug in China to treat insomnia, kidney disease, hypertension and heart palpitations.

Tokiwa said the panel “unanimously concluded that VENETRON™, when used in foods in general at levels providing a daily total intake of 100mg/person/day, is safe,” and that the GRAS determination was based on “scientific procedures supported by a history of safe use.” Read More »

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Broken GRAS: Scientists’ safety concerns are hampered by FDA’s inactions on food chemicals

Maricel Maffini, consultant, and Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

A federal district court this fall ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to allow food companies to make Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) safety determinations for novel chemicals added to food without notifying the agency. The decision followed a lawsuit by EDF and others, in which we challenged this practice. The court agreed, in part, with FDA that an uptick in companies voluntarily choosing to send notices to the agency since the 2016 rule went in effect was a sign that the program was working.  We disagree with the court’s conclusion but opted not to appeal.

This blog is the second in our Broken GRAS series where we explore how the voluntary notification system works in practice and why it is broken. The first dealt with a synthetic chemical called apoaequorin and marketed as Prevagen, a chemical found in jellyfish and used in protein shakes. The company claims the substance helps memory, but FDA has repeatedly raised serious questions about its safety. Despite the agency’s concerns the company continues to sell the product as GRAS. 

In this blog, we examine another voluntary GRAS notice, this one for GABA, a neurotransmitter naturally produced in the brain and known to slow down certain nervous system activities. It is marketed as a food ingredient despite FDA’s serious concerns with the notice that prompted the company to withdraw it. The agency does not make such information publicly available. We were able to learn of FDA’s concerns through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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Companies have the option to voluntarily notify FDA when they determine that a use of a new chemical or a new use of an existing chemical is Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS. When they do notify FDA, agency scientists then review the data and supporting information and can ask additional questions. In most of the cases, FDA agrees with the company’s determination and publishes a “no questions” letter. In roughly 20% of cases, however, companies ask the agency to stop the process after receiving the scientists’ questions. FDA then stops its review and announces a “cease to evaluate” status in the GRAS notification inventory, and that’s the end of it. There is no public record of as to why the company withdrew the notice. In some cases, a brief summary is included in the agency’s response to the cease to evaluate letter published in its website. The company is free to market and sell the substance if it still believes the chemical’s use is GRAS.

This happened with gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). As you will see, the GABA case is a prime example of the 1) importance of FDA’s scientific review of safety data, and 2) profound implications for health risks when the agency takes no action in response to safety concerns raised by its own experts. A product with the safety concerns we describe below warrants closer examination, regardless of its current market share. Where serious health effects are found, it is important for FDA to act quickly before a specialty product like this one becomes more popular, and its health risks amplified. Read More »

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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.

Read More »

Posted in Drinking water, Emerging science, Food, Health policy, Lead / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

Podcast: You Make Me Sick! Plasticizers, fast food, and your urine

From the shores of the Puget Sound to the inside of your colon, EDF Health’s You Make Me Sick podcast has been bringing you the latest in environmental health science. In today’s episode, we’re excited to showcase the work of Dr. Ami Zota of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

We sat down with Dr. Zota to discuss her recent study where she looked at how certain chemicals associated with plastics show up in people’s urine after they eat fast food.

 

Want more? Subscribe to us on iTunes or Google Play, or check out our SoundCloud to listen via desktop!

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