Be Safe

Recent Studies State Chemical In Plastic Liquid Containers Contain Tox

For BPA, Does the Dose Make the Poison?


For those who keep up with environmental health research and chemical regulations, it is no surprise to come across conflicting reports on the safety or risk of various compounds. This week, in the case of the compound bisphenol A (BPA), these conflicting reports happened to emerge almost simultaneously. On January 21st, the European Food Safety Authority declared that BPA “poses no health risk to consumers of any age group…at current exposure levels.” The next day, a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics showed that even low and short-term exposures to BPA and other hormone-mimicking compounds could alter stem cells and lead to lower sperm counts.

BPA is a common ingredient in plastics used for food and drink containers. Its hormone-like properties allow it to disrupt the endocrine system, with potential health effects ranging from reproductive issues to cancer. Though BPA has been banned in baby bottles in the U.S., and BPA-free products have become widely available since concerns about the compound were first raised in 2008, it remains in products from water bottles to the inside coatings of cans.

David McNew via Getty Images

‘The dose makes the poison’ is a well-known adage in toxicology, implying that even hazardous chemicals can be harmless at low enough concentrations. However, decades of research have shown this to be an overly simplistic way of analyzing toxic exposures.  Dr. Theo Colborn, who passed away on December 14th, 2014, was a pioneering researcher in the field of endocrine disruption and a tireless advocate for precautionary chemical regulation. Her research on endocrine disruption demonstrated that even very low concentrations of harmful chemicals could result in changes to the reproductive system, particularly in developing babies and children who have less of a tolerance for exposure than adults. She also demonstrated that not all effects of toxic chemicals are immediately apparent, but can occur decades and even generations later.

The study published last week focused on both questions of concentration and timing. The researchers tested estrogenic compounds including BPA on mice, and found that they alter the stem cells, or undifferentiated cells, which are responsible for sperm production later in life. Patricia Hunt, the researcher who led the study, told Environmental Health News that exposure to even low doses of estrogens “is not simply affecting sperm being produced now, but impacting the stem cell population, and that will affect sperm produced throughout the lifetime.”

Uncertainties remain in the wake of this study. For instance, the researchers are still investigating whether the changes observed can cross generations, or whether the same changes can occur in human reproductive stem cells. The EFSA also recognized uncertainties in non-dietary sources of BPA, and they are still conducting long-term studies in rats. While scientists and regulators continue to chase answers, this past week shines a spotlight on the complicated realm of environmental health risk assessment, and shows the continued relevance of Dr. Theo Colborn’s work and legacy. Dose is indeed important in making a poison, but so is timing of exposure, and time itself in revealing the chronic and transgenerational effects of chemicals.


Furniture retailers phase out of toxic flame retardant chemicals brings safer choices


- Advocates Urge Other Leading Retailers to Adopt Timelines and Policies to Eliminate Harmful Chemicals

Several of the nation’s largest retailers have eliminated or begun phasing out furniture with chemicals known as toxic flame retardants, which have been linked to cancer and learning and developmental disabilities in children. However the pace of the phase-outs and disclosure of the contents of the furniture remains a muddle according to public health advocates, and they are urging the nation’s biggest furniture retailers to provide better disclosure.

The nation’s largest furniture retailer and manufacturer, Ashley Furniture, for example, has announced it will be phasing out such products, but declined to publicly say when. For years, public health advocates said the chemicals threatened human health and the environment, and did not provide an added fire safety benefit as claimed by the chemical industry.

Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said:

“For years, consumers were saddled with few safe choices when they wanted to buy a couch or other foam-padded furniture. Thankfully big retailers are beginning to remove toxic flame retardants.  The nation’s top furniture retailer Ashley has recognized that these toxic flame retardant chemicals are not necessary and will be manufacturing and selling furniture products that are safer as they meet the new California flammability standards. But customers want and have a right to know what they are buying. It’s vital Ashley take the next step by announcing a clear public timeframe for phasing out these chemicals in furniture foam and fabrics.

“Eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals makes our homes safer while improving our health. The industry is responding, but with varying degrees of success to consumers.  We urge other leading furniture retailers to adopt policies with clear timeframes to phase out these unnecessary and dangerous chemicals.”

Today the Chicago Tribune reported that major furniture retailers including Crate and Barrel, Room and Board, Williams-Sonoma (Pottery Barn, West Elm) have mostly eliminated chemicals known as toxic flame retardants from their furniture. They also reported that the Futon Shop, Scandinavian Designs and Walmart “have told vendors to stop adding flame retardants to furniture” and that Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture retailer and manufacturer in America, is “committed to designing furniture … without the use of flame retardant chemicals.”

Ashley’s announcement was triggered by a recent letter to the company from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign urging the retailer to identify and phase out the use of toxic flame retardants.

The vast majority of couches and upholstered furniture across the U.S. contain high levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals. Since 1975, furniture foam sold across the U.S. has been laden with these substances to meet the standards of a California “technical bulletin” called TB117. Despite being called “flame retardants,” research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other groups have found that these chemicals are not necessary to ensure that furniture is fire safe.

In daily use, the chemicals do not stay in the furniture. They migrate out of the products and collect in indoor dust where they enter people’s bodies by being inhaled, ingested and touched. Some toxic flame retardants do not break down easily, and have been found to persist and travel to waterways and ecosystems virtually everywhere. Firefighters, who already have a higher risk of certain cancers, are exposed to these harmful chemicals in a fire, and the highly toxic byproducts that result when they burn.

While TB117 only applied to California, it soon became the industry standard in all 50 states. After years of advocacy by public health groups, TB-117 was revised at the direction of California Governor Jerry Brown to allow manufacturers to phase out toxic flame retardants without compromising fire safety. The policy was renamed TB117-2013 and became mandatory as of January 1, 2015.

A 2014 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) survey of 16 major furniture stores found a wide degree of variation. Three chains – Crate & Barrel, The Futon Shop, and La-Z-Boy – have flame retardant-free furniture now available for purchase. Others said they would start offering safer alternatives, with some committing to a 2015 time frame.  Other retailers including Target, Pier 1, Restoration Hardware, American Signature, Cost Plus, Macy’s, Rooms-to-Go, and Sears did not indicate they have flame retardant free furniture available in the survey published as of September 2014.

The Mind the Store campaign is now planning on sending letters to these and other major furniture retailers urging them to also eliminate toxic flame retardants.

Helpful Links from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Safer Chemicals News Release:

Chicago Tribune story:

Ashley Furniture Facebook Page:

Ashley Furniture Twitter Page:

Safer Chemicals Twitter:

Safer Chemicals Facebook:

Our Letter to Ashley Furniture


One study finds BPA linked to changes in stem cells, while another declares it safe


Environmental Health News reports on a study that shows BPA and other estrogenic compounds may affect stem cell development in mice. Writes Brian Bienkowski, “The study, published in PLoS Genetics, is the first to suggest that low, brief exposures to bisphenol-A, or other estrogens such as those used in birth control but found as water contaminants, early in life can alter the stem cells responsible for producing sperm later in life.” Read more here.

Another study, from the European food safety authority, has recently declared BPA as not a considerable health risk. Says NBC News, “The European Food Safety Authority’s review of BPA shows that people in general – from babies to the elderly – are not getting enough BPA in their systems to harm their health. But it says more research is needed it some areas, such as exposure from cash register receipts.Read more here.

A complicated picture emerges, but perhaps BPA is an instance of a chemical that poses few immediate risks, but can alter health in the future.

Ecological economics

New Book: Introduction to Ecological Economics


Dr. Robert Costanza, Editor-in-Chief of Solutions (, has recently released a new book: Introduction to Ecological Economics, Second Edition. Dr. Costanza states, “Ecological economics explores new ways of thinking about how we manage our lives and our planet to achieve a sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future.”

The Second Edition:

  • – includes several new pieces and updates in each section;
  • – adds a series of independently authored “boxes” to expand and update information in the current text;
  • – addresses the historical development of economics and ecology and the recent progress in —  - integrating the study of humans and the rest of nature; and
  • – covers the basic concepts and applications of ecological economics in language accessible to a broad audience

You can find the book at the publisher’s site or on Amazon:

PA Ban Fracking Now March

Demand What You Want-Not What’s “Feasible”


Truer words have never been spoken. In CHEJ’s recent training on Lessons Learned from New York State, which recently banned fracking until it can be proven safe, Eric Weltman from Food and Water Watch told the group to demand what you want not what is feasible.

I find it frustrating and a bit troubling when I visit communities who are struggling to protect their health and environment from environmental threats and they ask for less than they deserve and need. When I ask leaders, “why short change themselves,” they often respond saying they don’t want to sound unreasonable or worse because their opponents said it’s too expensive. Leaders and community members are often bullied into believing that they must take less or they won’t get anything. This is just not true.

At Love Canal in 1978, our community was told that government does not evacuate families and purchase homes because of toxic pollution. If we didn’t stick to our goal we would never had been evacuated. When the environmental health and justice movement demanded that no more commercial landfills be built, we were all told it must go somewhere. Several years later up until today no new commercial hazardous wastes landfills have been built, although it is still legal to do so.

In one of CHEJ’s consumer campaigns around a multinational corporation, we were demanding they take certain products off their shelves. The corporations response was, we won’t be bullied by radical environmental group. Yet a short time later they did exactly what we and consumers across the country asked.

No one should ask or accept as the final decision, what is not right and fair. However, winning the big ask is more difficult and demands serious discipline. Everyone needs to be on the same page and demand the same goal. Yes, there are always those few who will say out loud and even in the media that they would be wiling to accept less. Yet if the loud vocal people, the base of the majority, the framers of the campaign stick with their larger goal for justice, they will dominate the campaign. Those with smaller goals will be essential drowned out by the voices and actions of this  larger group.

This was the case in New York State around fracking. There were good people who would have accepted better regulations or only drilling in certain parts of the state. In every issue those working from various groups often have different goals. Sometimes their efforts help build toward the larger goal and other times they may be an irritation. The key to win it all is to build larger stronger, more visible opposition and demand for the larger goals. In this way you can win your goals without publicly fighting with others.

As Eric told us, “we were relentless. With op-eds, press events, using the public participation/comment period to submit a hundred thousands of “comments” that said Ban Fracking Now –not detailed line by line comments about regulations that were proposed. Hundreds of groups participated in bird dogging the governor who couldn’t go anywhere without a group, small or large in his face demanding he ban fracking.”

Secondly, Eric was clear that you need a single target, in NYS it was the governor. “You need to find the person who has the power to give you what you are demanding,” he said. I would add that it always needs to be a person not an entity, like regulatory agency or corporation. You need a human face on your opponent and your messengers to make it all work.

This is a time tested strategy and if you follow it you are more likely to receive a higher level of justice not a compromising solution.

Children have higher exposures to some phthalates, which are found in some PVC plastics and personal care products.

Good news/bad news: Some phthalates down, some up


By Lindsey Konkel
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

January 15, 2014

Children have higher exposures to some phthalates, which are found in some PVC plastics and personal care products.

Scientists have documented for the first time that several phthalates – controversial chemicals used to make vinyl and fragrances – are declining in people while several others are rising. The study, published today, is the first comprehensive, nationwide attempt to document trends in exposure to these widely used chemicals over the past decade.

Anne Petersen/flickr
Most nail polish no longer contains the phthalate called DBP.

The researchers said the results suggest that manufacturers may be reformulating products in the wake of a federal regulation and environmental groups’ campaigns.

Three compounds banned in U.S. toys and other children’s products in 2008 have declined. But since other phthalates are increasing, it’s possible that industries have substituted them in some products.

“Our findings suggest that interventions may be working, though legislation didn’t entirely predict which levels went up or down,” said Ami Zota, a George Washington University assistant professor of environmental and occupational health who led the research when she was at the University of California, San Francisco.

Phthalates have been linked to a variety of health effects in animal tests and some human studies, including hormone disruptionaltered male genital development,diabetesasthmaattention disorders, learning disabilities and obesity.

Chemical industry representatives said that the traces found in most products are small, and not likely to cause harm.

“Despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies,” said Liz Bowman, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers of phthalates and other chemicals.

The researchers analyzed the urine of more than 11,000 American adults and children between 2001 and 2010. They discovered that people are still widely exposed to phthalates; some were found in 98 percent of people tested.

Breakdown products of three phthalates that Congress banned from toys and other children’s products were significantly lower in 2010 than in 2001. One of the compounds, known as DEHP, found in some toys, blood bags and medical tubing, decreased 37 percent.

“Despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies.” –Liz Bowman, American Chemistry CouncilWhile DEHP remained higher in children than adults, the levels dropped faster in children, narrowing the gap over time, according to the study, which was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study did not look at children under 6, who may be more highly exposed to phthalates and more susceptible to adverse health effects.

“Today phthalate usage is virtually nonexistent in toys. They have been replaced by non-phthalate substitutes,” said Alan Kaufman, senior vice president of technical affairs for the Toy Industry Association. He added that the toy industry began to transition away from phthalates years ago, but that the trend has been accelerated by regulatory actions in the U.S. and European Union.

However, three other phthalates used in some children’s products increased between 2001 and 2010. DiNP rose 149 percent, while DnOP increased 25 percent and DiDP rose 15 percent. The three were temporarily banned in 2008 in U.S. toys and childcare products that could be put in a child’s mouth. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently debating whether to lift the restrictions or make them permanent.

In addition, last month, California added DiNP to a list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer. That could lead to warning labels on consumer products sold in the state.

Diueine Monteiro/flickr
Phthalates are used as fragrances in some shampoos and lotions.

DBP, which dropped 17 percent in people in the decade studied, was used in nail polish until a few years ago, when most major manufacturers eliminated it. Benzylbutyl phthalate, used in vinyl tiles and sealants, decreased 32 percent. Both compounds were part of the 2008 ban for children’s products.

A phthalate used primarily for fragrance – diethyl phthalate or DEP – decreased 42 percent. While it is not subject to U.S. bans, advocacy groups have pressured the cosmetics industry to remove it from products with initiatives such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The study authors saw a steeper decline in DEP in adults and adolescents than in children, who may be less likely to use personal care products.

Joe Braun, an epidemiologist at Brown University who was not involved in the study, said “the age-dependent patterns confirm what we suspect about where these exposures are coming from.”

“These findings are not as reassuring as they could be,” Braun added.

For instance, DiBP, used in some nail polishes and personal care products, increased 206 percent in the decade studied.

Manufacturers may be using some phthalates as substitutes for the ones that declined, the researchers said. But it’s hard to know because they aren’t required to list ingredients on many consumer products.

“We are not confident that cosmetics manufacturers are replacing toxic phthalates with safer alternatives,” said Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The Personal Care Products Council, a Washington D.C.-based trade group, did not respond to requests for comment on the findings.

“There’s a clear need for better data reporting on ingredient composition of everyday consumer products so that we can fully understand the impacts of legislation and consumer pressure,” said Zota, who co-authored the study with UC San Francisco Professor Tracey Woodruff and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist Antonia Calafat.

Source: Zota et al. 2014


Former DNR Official Issues Open Letter About Handling of Burning Bridgeton Landfill


A former official with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources writes a sizzling farewell letter about the burning Bridgeton landfill. He has issued an open letter claiming politics – not science – is dominating the state’s handling of the landfill crisis. Norris says within the DNR, scientists are “losing their minds because they are fighting their own management structure,” which seems more concerned with politics than public safety. He says there is “an overall cozy relationship between the landfill owner and the DNR.” Read more.

Companies used BPS as a safe alternative to BPA. (David McNew/Getty Images)

BPA alternative disrupts normal brain-cell growth, is tied to hyperactivity, study says


In a groundbreaking study, researchers have shown why a chemical once thought to be a safe alternative to bisphenol-A, which was abandoned by manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups after a public outcry, might itself be more harmful than BPA.

Companies used BPS as a safe alternative to BPA. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Read more from Amy Ellis Nutt at The Washington Post.


US CPSC proposes ban on phthalates in children’s products


12 January 2015

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing to permanently ban the use of another five phthalates in children’s toys and childcare articles.

The move is based on the recommendations of the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP), which assessed the risks of 14 phthalates and six alternatives to the substances (CW 22 July 2014).

The panel recommended that diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), di-n-pentyl phthalate (DnPP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHP) and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP) be permanently banned from use in children’s toys and childcare articles at levels greater than 0.1%. There is no restriction in place for these substances at the moment. Their toxicological profiles are very similar to other antiandrogenic phthalates, so exposure to these substances contributes to the cumulative risk, the panel said.

It also suggested that the Commission’s interim ban on the use of diisononyl phthalate (DINP) at levels greater than 0.1% be made permanent.

The Commission voted 3-2 to accept a staff report proposing a rulemaking that embraces most of the CHAP’s recommendations. However, it is not proposing any prohibition of products containing diisooctyl phthalate (DIOP). “Although the CHAP recommended an interim prohibition on DIOP, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) did not provide for an interim prohibition as an option for the Commission’s rule under section 108. CPSIA section 108(b)(3),” the agency said in a Federal Register notice.

The CPSIA, which was enacted in 2008, permanently banned three phthalates:

  • di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP);
  • dibutyl pththalate (DBP); and
  • butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP).

It also imposed interim bans on:

  • DINP;
  • di-isodecyl phthalate  (DIDP); and
  • di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP).

Saying the proposed rule is based “largely on old data,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said the CPSC should have considered the most recently-available Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) biomonitoring data from 2009-10 and 2011-12 prior to issuing a proposed rule.

The 2009-10 biomonitoring data “clearly show a marked decrease in overall phthalate exposure since the 2005-06 data used by the CHAP, the ACC said. “This data is more relevant to exposures since the enactment of the CPSIA. This trend persists, as seen in the 2011-12 CDC data released this year..” Exposures to DINP remain extremely low with margins of exposure (MOEs) that are many times above the concentrations that induce adverse effects in rats, it said. “In fact, when the CHAP cumulative risk methodology is used with the 2009-10 data, the Hazard Index (HI) is well below one, indicating exposure levels do not pose a risk to human health, the ACC said.

Comments are due by 16 March. The CPSC has notified the WTO of the proposed rule.

From Chemical Watch: Global Risk & Regulation News


Environmental Working Group’s Seafood Calculator


Eat healthy fish and shellfish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury. EWG’s Best Bets are also from sustainable sources.

Use EWG’s Seafood Calculator to get your custom seafood list – based on your age weight and more.