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PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MCNEW, GETTY

Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats

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New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does.


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MCNEW, GETTY



Read the story at National Geographic

Both hazard and exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.

Staying Safe (Probably): Risk, Hazard and Chemical Regulation

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Risk’ and ‘hazard.’

These two words are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings in the context of chemical safety assessment. When we say a particular chemical is ‘hazardous,’ we are noting its mere potential to cause negative health or environmental effects. On the other hand, ‘risk’ describes the probability that these negative effects will actually occur under specific circumstances. In order to generate a measurable risk, some exposure to the hazard in question must occur.


Both a hazard and an exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.


If you have followed my last several posts, you’ve probably caught on to the idea that attempting to declare a chemical ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ is an exercise in futility. To comprehensively determine risk, we must know not only the detailed structure and function of a chemical, but also understand the intricacies of its interactions with the environment and the human body. Current chemical regulation in the United States operates within a risk-based framework. We establish standards and criteria for acceptable levels of hazardous compounds in products, in the environment and in our bodies; we enact bans and restrictions on chemicals in order to limit our exposures. These regulations are the product of risk assessments, which report not only the hazardous properties of chemicals but also the likelihood of human exposure.

My recent post on BPA illustrates the complexity of risk assessment. Though BPA has demonstrated hazardous potential, the levels to which humans are exposed to the compound, and therefore the actual risks of its use, are uncertain. Exposure may seem like a simple factor to evaluate, but our understanding of exposure is continually evolving, particularly with consideration for the special vulnerability of developing babies and children.  The ban on BPA in baby bottles reflects this emerging awareness of long-term effects of chemical exposures. However, the replacement of BPA with BPS illustrates the shortcomings of an approach that controls risk by limiting exposure to specific high-profile hazardous compounds.

The replacement of BPA, a known hazard, with BPS – an untested and unregulated compound with a nearly identical structure – may be considered an example of what scientists and regulators refer to as “regrettable substitution.” Regrettable substitution occurs when we eliminate one hazardous chemical from consumer products, only to replace it with a similar or even more hazardous alternative. Our risk-based chemical regulation enables us to remove demonstrably dangerous chemicals from consumer products, but also leaves profound loopholes for new chemicals, untested and unregulated, to enter the market in their stead, as long as risk assessments have not proven them dangerous. In a 2010 post on his Environmental Defense Fund blog, Dr. Richard Denison refers to this process as playing “whack-a-mole” with chemicals. No sooner have we knocked one hazardous chemical back into its hole, than a replacement rears its likely-hazardous head…until we generate evidence of its actual risk and seek to replace it with another unknown quantity.

Is this game of “whack-a-chemical” inevitable, or do more precautionary approaches exist? In Europe, regulators are striving for a balance between risk assessment and the more protective approach of hazard classification. While risk assessment relies on scientific studies to determine the risks of chemicals under different exposure scenarios, hazard classification groups chemicals based on their inherent hazard potential. It is this potential to cause harm that guides regulation, not demonstrated adverse effects.  A hazard classification regulatory scheme might have prevented BPS from entering the market, since its structural similarities to BPA make it a likely health hazard.

Hazard classification is essentially a more precautionary approach to chemical regulations. And when we operate in a framework of precaution rather than risk, the regulatory question itself changes. “A precautionary approach asks how much harm can be avoided rather than asking how much is acceptable,” write Dr. Ted Schettler and coauthors in a 2002 essay on the role of the Precautionary Principle in regulation and policymaking.

How can we better incorporate the Precautionary Principle into the chemical regulation process in the US? This question has been at the epicenter of the debate on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which I will cover next time on Backyard Talk.

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Exposure to low levels of common chemical (phthalates) shown to possibly affect reproductive health of male newborns

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“…”Our findings show that even at low levels, environmental exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals can adversely affect male genital development, which in turn may impact male reproductive health later in life,” said Dr. Swan, who is also a faculty member of The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at Mount Sinai. “Because most pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, our findings not only have a profound effect on public health, but on the public policies meant to protect women as well as the general population.”"

Read more at Science Daily.

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New Policy Report on Environmental Health in the Child Care Setting

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A new report by the Environmental Law Institute and CEHN examines state policy addressing environmental health in child care facilities.  The report focuses on several key indoor environmental exposures, providing an overview of state laws and regulations and highlighting examples of notable policies and programs.  The report includes chapters on: radon, carbon monoxide alarms, pesticides, and several other key indoor environmental exposures.


The report, Reducing Environmental Exposures in Child Care Facilities: A Review of State Policies, can be downloaded here.


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No More Toxic Couches

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A few months ago Safer Chemicals Healthy Families sent a letter to the nation’s biggest furniture retailer, Ashley Furniture, urging them to phase out toxic flame retardants from furniture that they sell.  

Great news! They’ve written back and told us that they are phasing out toxic flame retardants in their furniture!  But they haven’t disclosed when these chemicals will be eliminated, and that’s where you come in.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Ashley Furniture to finish the job by adopting a public timeline for getting these harmful chemicals out of their furniture.

As the #1 manufacturer and retailer of furniture in the country and one of the largest worldwide, this could have a big impact in getting these harmful chemicals out of our couches and furniture.  The company wrote back to us and said, “We are committed to designing our upholstered furniture with the goal of meeting the requirements of TB-117-2013 without the use of flame retardant chemicals.” We applaud Ashley Furniture for doing what’s right for the health of American families by phasing out these harmful chemicals from furniture.  

Please take a minute and join us
in thanking Ashley Furniture for doing the right thing by phasing out toxic flame retardants in furniture and encourage them to finish the job by publicly disclosing their timeframe for eliminating these harmful chemicals in furniture foam, textiles and backing.

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Toxic Chocolate Valentine Surprise Hershey’s, See’s Candies, Mars, and Others – Toxic Metals Found

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OAKLAND, CA – February 11, 2015 – Consumer health watchdog As You Sow filed notices of legal action today against Hershey’s, See’s Candies, and Mars. The notices allege violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for failure to warn consumers of cadmium in the companies’ chocolate products.

As You Sow previously initiated legal action against an additional 13 chocolate manufacturers, including Godiva, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Circle Organics, Moonstruck, Theo, and Vosges, for failure to warn of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolate products.

Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades and is associated with neurological impairment, such as learning disabilities and lower IQ, even at low levels. “No amount of lead ingestion is ‘safe’ for children,” commented Sean Palfrey, MD, a practicing pediatrician and professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Pregnant women and young children with developing brains in particular should avoid any ingestion of lead.”

Chronic exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage in humans. Children are more susceptible to exposure effects from low doses of cadmium over time. Animal studies have associated cadmium exposure with decreased birth weight, neurobehavioral problems, and male reproductive harm.

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires manufacturers to warn consumers if their products contain chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Testing commissioned by As You Sow and conducted at an independent laboratory, indicates that the chocolate products named in the legal notices contain lead, cadmium, or both, and fail to provide the required warning to consumers.

“Consumers need to know that chocolate may contain heavy metals,” said Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, As You Sow’s Toxic Chemical Research Director. “Since lead and cadmium accumulate in the body over time, even small amounts should be avoided.”

“Nobody expects heavy metals in their chocolate,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “By issuing these notices, we hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce heavy metals in their products through sound supply chain practices, or provide warnings so consumers can make their own choices about whether to consume the products.”
For twenty years, As You Sow has been one of the leading enforcers of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act with enforcement actions that have resulted in removal of lead from children’s jewelry, formaldehyde from portable classrooms, lead-containing baby powder from stores, and the reproductive toxin toluene, from nail polish.

# # #
CONTACT: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 299-9510, stephdh@gmail.com
Eleanne Van Vliet, (510) 735-8154, evanvliet@asyousow.org
Andrew Behar, (510) 735-8151, abehar@asyousow.org
As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. For more information visit www.asyousow.org/chocolate.

Phthalates are used as binders and plasticizers in everyday items, including cosmetics. How safe are they? Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Guardian

Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?

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‘Name a major public health concern over the past two decades and there’s likely some link to phthalates exposure.’ What are the real risks?

Phthalates are used as binders and plasticizers in everyday items, including cosmetics. How safe are they? Photograph: Tom Jenkins/the Guardian

The Guardian covers recent reports on pthalates’ safety.


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

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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 Shade, Mind the Store Campaign 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.” 

Help ask Ashley for a real timeline through their Facebook page.

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The FDA and BPA

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It is hard to believe that the FDA recently gave manufacturers the “OK” (again) to use Bisphenol A (BPA).  You heard us right. They realize that there are concerns surrounding the endocrine disrupting chemicals and are continuing to research it. But in the meantime, manufacturers still have the “OK” to let it show up in canned items. Our friends at One Green Planet blogged about this disconcerting news here.



Under our weak federal laws, it’s impossible for us to know all the uses of BPA in consumer products. As a result, we don’t even have an exhaustive list of all the products containing these chemicals.

Although, BPA-free products are on the market one of BPA’s substitutes, Bisphenol-s (BPS), is no better.  The Washington Post recently released this article, “How to avoid products with toxic bisphenol-s”. Check it out and feel free to share it with your networks.

As we continue to push for reform of our toxic chemical laws, it is times like these when I know our movement must grow.

Tell your friends to join us today and stand up for safer chemicals!

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The Circle of Poverty and Poison

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This past month I’ve spent time with several grassroots organizations fighting to protect their families from environmental chemical threats. In each case I was reminded of how impossible it is for parents, with dreams of a bright successful future for their children, to achieve their goals while living in the circle of poison and poverty.

Many parents in low wealth communities, tell the story of how they work hard to support their children in school. Moms and dads make sure their homework is done, provide the healthiest breakfast and lunch they can afford and attend as many meeting and events that time allows. They want their children to succeed in school, to learn the skills needed to later secure a job that will bring them a better life.

Yet, no matter how hard parents try they often can’t stop the environmental poisons in the air, water or land. As the children leave for school the toxic air triggers an asthma attack. A parent must lose a day of work, daily earnings, and take the child to the hospital or care for the child at home. When a child is exposed to other environmental chemicals, or maybe even the same ones that cause the asthma, they can suffer from various forms of central nervous system irritants that cause hyperactive behaviors, loss of IQ point or a host of other problems that interfere with learning potential.

The end result is the child becomes frustrated because s/he can’t keep up with what is required at school because of being sick or unable to focus and often drops out of school. That child and the parent’s dreams disappear. A healthy baby, poisoned for years from environmental chemicals, life is forever altered. Often unable to earn enough money to ever leave the poisoned community, possibly even raising their own families in that same neighborhood, continues another generation within the circle of poverty and poison.

America’s environmental protection agencies are responsible for a healthy environment. As we all know the agencies fail often and even more frequently in low wealth communities. In my conversations with leaders in such areas I hear over and over again, parents saying we had so much hope for our child but the chemicals destroyed that hope. Our family can’t afford to move and our children can’t succeed if we stay and they are poisoned. What are families supposed to do?  I can’t answer that question, except to say keep speaking up and out. Can you answer parent’s cries for a solution?