Nostalgia can be dangerous! Before passing on old toys to your children, consider new research that has found contaminants like arsenic, lead and cadmium in plastic toys from decades ago.
The European Commission has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it intends to restrict the phthalates DEHP, BBP, DBP and DiBP under the revised EU Directive on the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS2) in electrical and electronic equipment (CW 7 February 2014).
A new economic analysis has concluded that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely costs the European Union €157 billion ($209 billion U.S.) a year in actual health care expenses and lost earning potential, according to a new series of studies published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
A total of four papers were published (overview, neurobehavioral, male reproduction and obesity & diabetes) that focused on specific health conditions that can partly be attributed to endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) exposure. These included infertility and male reproductive dysfunction, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurobehavioural and learning disorders. A team of eighteen researchers from eight countries led by Leonardo Trasande, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Population Health at NYU Medical Center, were involved in this landmark initiative.
EDCs interfere with numerous hormone functions and are commonly found in thousands of household products including plastics made with vinyl, electronics, pesticides, and cosmetics.
The overview paper concluded that “EDC exposures in the EU are likely to contribute substantially to disease and dysfunction across the life course with costs in the hundreds of billions per year. These estimates represent only those EDCs with the highest probability of causation; a broader analysis would have produced greater estimates of burden of disease and costs.”
The papers were prepared in conjunction with an evaluation being done by the EU Commission of the economic impact to industry of regulating EDCs in Europe. According to the authors, “Our goal here is to estimate the health and economic benefit of regulating EDCs in Europe, based on current evidence.”
The expert panels put together for this analysis “achieved consensus for probable (20%) EDC causation for IQ loss and associated intellectual disability, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood obesity, adult obesity, adult diabetes, cryptorchidism, male infertility, and mortality associated with reduced T.”
“The analysis demonstrates just how staggering the cost of widespread endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure is to society,” said Leonardo Trasande, the lead author in a press statement released by the Endocrine Society. “This research crystalizes more than three decades of lab and population-based studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the EU.”
The press release goes on to say:
“In the EU, researchers found the biggest cost driver was loss of IQ and intellectual disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to pesticides containing organophosphates. The study estimated the harm done to unborn children costs society between €46.8 billion and €195 billion a year. About 13 million lost IQ points and 59,300 additional cases of intellectual disability per year can be attributed to organophosphate exposure.
“Adult obesity linked to phthalate exposure generated the second-highest total, with estimated costs of €15.6 billion a year.
“Our findings show that limiting exposure to the most common and hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals is likely to yield significant economic benefits,” said one of the study’s authors, Philippe Grandjean, MD, PhD, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and Adjunct Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “This approach has the potential to inform decision-making in the environmental health arena. We are hoping to bring the latest endocrine science to the attention of policymakers as they weigh how to regulate these toxic chemicals.”
The impact of this paper is staggering. It should be a “wake up call” said Linda Birnbaum, Director of the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences when asked about the results. It also provides more evidence that low level exposure to chemicals found in everyday household products is affecting the health of many people not just in the Europe, but worldwide.
The International Association of Firefighters is hosting a screening of the film, “Toxic Hot Seat” in Washington D.C. tomorrow. We hope you can join them!
What: Toxic Hot Seat Film Screening
When: Monday March 9, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Where: Hyatt Capitol Hill, Congressional B Room – Lobby Level, Washington, D.C
A newly published study is the first to report an association between bisphenol-A (BPA), a common plasticizer used in a variety of consumer food and beverage containers, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. The study, by researchers at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), shows that BPA is not metabolized well in children with ASD.
New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does.
Read the story at National Geographic
‘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.
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.
Exposure to low levels of common chemical (phthalates) shown to possibly affect reproductive health of male newborns
“…”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.”"
‘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?
The Guardian covers recent reports on pthalates’ safety.
Two weeks ago on Backyard Talk, I wrote about BPA, a major plastic component that has been linked to number of health impacts, particularly endocrine disruption. The jury is still out on BPA; the European Food Safety Authority has declared that BPA does not pose a health risk at normal exposure levels, while recent studies have emerged showing that BPA affects stem cells and may impact reproductive health later in life. In the face of all this scientific uncertainty, it’s lucky that we have access to BPA-free products. Or is it?
I have a few new water bottles from Christmas sitting in my cabinet, stamped with a leaf design and a guarantee that their plastic is BPA-free. Our eco- and health-conscious readers probably have similar items in their homes. BPA-free products have proliferated since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of baby bottles containing BPA in 2012. Unfortunately, studies over the past few years have shown that even BPA-free products release estrogenic compounds, some of which can even be more potent than those released by BPA-containing products.
One common replacement for BPA, or bisphenol A, is BPS, or bisphenol S, which has been shown to disrupt cell functioning at very tiny concentrations. It’s no surprise that the compounds might have similar effects, because they are close in structure as well as in name. A brief organic chemistry interlude:
To the right is an image of BPA side-by-side with a particular estrogen, estradiol.
This image highlights the structural similarities between BPA and estradiol, which enable BPA to mimic the hormone and cause disruptions to the endocrine system.
Below is the structure of BPS:
Though the two molecules are not identical, BPS contains the essential ring structure, called a ‘phenol’ group, which is highlighted in both BPA and estradiol. Structural similarity between BPA and BPS is what enables them to play a similar role in conferring hardness to plastics. It also enables them to interact with cells in similar ways. According to Scientific American, BPS is thought to be more resistant than BPA to escaping from plastics when they are heated. However, studies have demonstrated that it is prevalent in human urine, and that even small amounts can cause changes to cells.
We are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to developing safe, or safer, alternatives to chemicals that have been linked to adverse health or environmental impacts. When replacing chemicals in products, we often first look to chemicals that share properties with the ones we are seeking to eliminate. As in the case of BPA, however, these similarities that preserve the function of a product can also preserve its toxic effects. When health risks are demonstrated for a given compound, is it prudent to bring in a replacement, even if this new player has not been vetted by scientific studies? Should we settle for lesser risk and continue working towards an even safer ideal? What does ‘safe’ mean, anyway? Tune in next time!