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BPA in the air: Manufacturing plants in Ohio, Indiana, Texas are top emitters

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By Brian Bienkowski

Staff Writer
Environmental Health News


October 14, 2014

As concerns mount over people’s exposure to the plasticizer bisphenol A in everyday products, it’s also contaminating the air near manufacturing plants: U.S. companies emitted about 26 tons of the hormone-disrupting compound in 2013.

Although research is sparse, experts warn that airborne BPA could be a potentially dangerous route of exposure for some people. Of the 72 factories reporting BPA emissions, the largest sources are in Ohio, Indiana and Texas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’sToxics Release Inventory.

UC Irvine
Bruce Blumberg

No one has measured what people in nearby communities are exposed to. But the exposures are likely to be localized and smaller than other sources of BPA.

BPA breaks down quickly in the environment. But it also can attach to particles that infiltrate lungs, said Bruce Blumberg, a University of California, Irvine, biology professor.

“Inhalation of compounds is a big exposure route that most people do not usually consider for BPA,” he said.

BPA, used to make polycarbonate plastic, food can linings and some paper receipts, is found in almost all people tested. Low doses can alter hormones, according to animal tests, and exposure has been linked to a wide range of health effects in people, including infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.

In the only study of its kind, Japanese researchers reported that BPA was ubiquitous in the atmosphere worldwide. They suspected the emissions came from the manufacturing and burning of plastics.

In the United States, chemical manufacturing accounted for 54 percent of the BPA air emissions, while metal manufacturing and metal fabricating accounted for 21 and 20 percent, respectively, according to the EPA database. In addition, U.S. companies in 2013 reported releasing 3,313 pounds of BPA to surface waters, the EPA database shows.

The amount of BPA emitted into the air has been dropping in recent years. Although the number of companies reporting BPA emissions has remained about the same over the past decade, in 2013 the total tons declined 41 percent from 2012 and almost 66 percent from 10 years ago.

There is “no evidence that inhalation exposures are of concern.” –Kathryn St. John, American Chemistry Council Kathryn St. John, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said the data don’t reflect what people in surrounding communities might be exposed to. Factors such as the proximity of people to the plants and whether the emissions are continuous or intermittent are important when determining people’s exposures.

St. John added that there is “no evidence that inhalation exposures are of concern.” Studies have not provided any information on what happens to BPA if inhaled, such as whether it is absorbed in the lungs and if absorbed, whether it is metabolized.

Monica McGivern/flickr
BPA can attach to particles that are inhaled.

But Wade Welshons, an associate professor at the University of Missouri who studies endocrine-disrupting compounds, said airborne BPA could be absorbed through the lungs as well as the skin.

Both and inhalation and skin absorption “would deliver more BPA to the blood than an oral exposure,” he said.

Blumberg and Welshons said since these routes would bypass metabolizing organs such as the intestines and liver, airborne exposures may be more dangerous than food exposures.

“The liver is a great organ for metabolizing substances, lungs are for absorbing, not for metabolizing,” Welshons said.

No one has investigated the potential health effects of inhaling BPA. Regulatory agencies only consider oral doses when analyzing potential effects, Blumberg said.

Several communities with the biggest BPA emitters are also home to large volumes of other toxics from industrial plants.

Deer Park, Texas, had 4,100 pounds of BPA and 2.8 million pounds of other air toxics in 2013, while Defiance, Ohio, had 6,600 pounds of BPA and 387,454 pounds of others, according to the industry reports filed with the EPA. Freeport, Texas, home to a Dow Chemical plant, had 905 pounds of reported BPA air emissions last year and an additional 1.74 million pounds of other toxics.

Compared with exposure from consumer products such as polycarbonate plastic and food cans, there has been little concern about airborne BPA. “But this lower concern level is based on relatively little data,” said Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who studies health effects of BPA. “This is something I would say is not discussed in-depth on our field but it should be.”

Several communities with the biggest BPA emitters are also home to large volumes of other toxics from industrial plants.There isn’t a lot of research on what happens to BPA when it’s released into the air. BPA degrades fairly quickly, but it also can attach to dust particles, Vandenberg said.

Researchers tested for BPA in the dust of homes, dorms and labs at and around Murray State University and the University at Albany in 2011. They estimated that, while diet is the still the major exposure route, people’s BPA exposures through dust are about the same as the low concentrations that cause health problems in lab animals. It’s not clear how the BPA got into the dust; it could have been from indoor sources.

Sudan Loganathan, who led the study while a student at Murray State University, said the estimated daily exposure for people through dust was low compared with food exposure. But, she added, “when you look at the average dust intake for adults and then infants, this is more of a concern for infants. They are on the floor, and there’s more hand-to-mouth contact.”

Blumberg said air quality monitoring should expand to test for BPA.

“There are a lot of people studying inhalation exposure with things like particulate pollution, ozone and other major components of exhaust, but not much at all when it comes to chemical exposure like BPA,” Blumberg said. “That’s a big open area right now.”


Follow Brian Bienkowski on Twitter.

Original story at http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2014/oct/bpa-emissions

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone atmcone@ehn.org.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Chemicals of Concern

Solutions to Hazardous Plasticizers

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From Mark Rossi at BizNGO

The dominant movement in the marketplace is to alternative plasticizers to DEHP and other phthalates. Yet this is the less preferred solution to avoiding PVC and plasticizers altogether. Some recent assessments on alternative materials and plasticizers include:

Clean Production Action’s Plastics Scorecard demonstrated the benefits of substituting medical IV bags made from PVC/DEHP with polyolefin bags that require no plasticizers (see figure to the right). The substitution eliminated the need for plasticizers, which are roughly 30% of the weight of an IV bag.

Alternative plasticizers need to be assessed for their hazards. While less preferable than avoiding PVC and plasticizers altogether, if a company can’t avoid PVC, here are two analyses of alternative plasticizers. The Healthy Building Network (HBN) and Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) used the GreenScreen (GS) to evaluate alternatives to phthalates in building products (HBN) and DEHP in wire and cable (GC3). Here are their findings:

- Two bio-based products that appear to be the least toxic of all the plasticizers it evaluated (Grindsted Soft-n-Safe and Polysorb ID 37) – GS Benchmark (BM) undetermined due to data gaps (HBN)
- DEHT – GS BM 3 (with data gaps) (GC3 & HBN)
- Vegetable oil based blends that vary from GS BM 2 to GS BM 3 (GC3 & HBN)
- DINCH – GS BM 2 (GC3 & HBN)
- Dibenzoate plasticizer – potentially GS BM 1 (while safer than DINP still has significant hazardous properties) (HBN); and

- Polymeric adipate – GS Benchmark 2, 3, or 4 (depending on chemical assessed) (GC3).

Further alternative assessments of phthalates: The U.S. EPA Design for Environment program is in the middle of a project to evaluate alternatives to eight phthalates.

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Corporate Espionage Non Profits Without Legal Consequences

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Greenpeace received word that the DC Court of Appeals has ruled against them in their lawsuit against Dow Chemical, Sasol, Dezenhall Resources, Ketchum, and the former operates of the now-defunct Beckett, Brown, Inc. corporate espionage firm. The court dismissed the case because Greenpeace rents its office space and the court ruled that as tenants and not owners, Greenpeace had no standing to sue the burglars for intruding on our premises.

Some of you that have been with CHEJ for a while might remember this is the same suit in which CHEJ and Lois Gibbs was targeted with both her home address listed in the espionage firm’s documents as well as photos of the front of her house.  Too bad the case was dismissed but not surprising.  CHEJ knows that they are watched and our phone and internet wires cut a few years ago also went unsolved. For a recap of the case read Ralph Nader’s recent article.

Like other firms specializing in snooping, Beckett Brown turned to garbage swiping as a key tactic. BBI officials and contractors routinely conducted what the firm referred to as “D-line” operations, in which its operatives would seek access to the trash of a target, with the hope of finding useful documents. One midnight raid targeted Greenpeace. One BBI document lists the addresses of several other environmental groups as “possible sites” for operations: the National Environmental Trust, the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Media Services, the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an organization run by Lois Gibbs, famous for exposing the toxic dangers of New York’s Love Canal. For its rubbish-rifling operations, BBI employed a police officer in the District of Columbia and a former member of the Maryland state police. Ridgeway Mother Jones Article.

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Childhood Cancer & Environment

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Between 1975 and 2011, the U.S. has seen a 55% increase in the number of children diagnosed annually with childhood leukemia. Read more from Environmental Health Policy/PSR.

Roxbury New Jersey

Gov. Christie’s Wastegate–His Toxics—Not his Tummy

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This bullying, ignoring his own state laws and regulations, endangering thousands of innocent people, and potentially creating a serious groundwater crisis in the Highlands protect watershed, and wasting taxpayers money adding to the financial strain on the state which just had their bond rating lower is why we named his actions Wastegate.

What kind of a Governor says no, to place one of the state’s most toxic sites on the federal superfund program? And why would the Governor make state taxpayers pay to manage this toxic site rather than moving the costs to the federal government? The state’s finances are in trouble and just had their credit, the state’s bond rating, lowered. Why?

Maybe it could be the Governor has a soft spot for DuPont? The DuPont toxic site in Pompton Lakes is a nightmare. There is mercury in the water, toxic cancer causing chemicals in the air . . . Not just in the outside air but in homes that are downhill from the old DuPont facility. Oh, and yes it has been going on for over 20 years. It won’t cost the state anything to place the site on Superfund. In fact it is costing the taxpayers of NJ to manage the site. Furthermore the site is hurting innocent people. When the power goes off in Pompton Lakes, like when Super Storm Sandy hit, people sit in their homes, with their babies and young children surrounded by toxic chemicals in the air that have been acknowledged by the federal EPA as dangerous. Without power the homeowners “mitigation” fans don’t work to remove the toxics before they enter the house.

Governor Christie says, not to worry. I am in control and will decide who gets to protect the good people of Pompton Lakes. It’s my sandbox and no one can play in it unless I say so. A bully, by any ones gauge.

Ahh but it’s not just the good taxpaying, church going families in Pompton Lakes that Christie is putting in harm’s way, he is doing the same to the families in Roxbury, New Jersey. Christie’s idea was to get a grant to build a solar farm on an old brownfields sites. He wanted it so bad that he actually let the “construction” begin without following his own state laws. He let a convicted felon purchase the property – against the law. Then gave permission to place Super Storm Sandy waste on the cleaned up and closed superfund site. Christie then allowed his agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, to ignore their regulations around the protection of the Highlands critical water protection area. This protected area preserves the quality and quantity of drinking water for the 850,000 people in the Highlands as well as the more than four million people in surrounding areas who depend on Highlands’s water. Today alarms go off regularly to warn residents that the air is so dangerous they should not go outside or should evacuate their homes.

I can almost hear the Governor say, So what if the state has regulations . . . I’m in charge . . . I say what happens. Christie is a Governor who knows what he wants and will take it . . . do it . . . regardless of who gets in his way. It’s time for New Jersey residents to get the Governor under control.

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Walmart Tackling Toxic Chemicals-Will Their Suppliers Listen?

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By Mike Schade, Mind The Store Campaign Director

Small_489771072Yesterday, Walmart announced a major update to their corporate chemicals policy with the release of their new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide, sending a strong message to suppliers, competing retailers and the chemical industry that toxic chemicals that build up in our bodies linked to cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities have no place in products sold on store shelves.

(Photo Credit: Ron Dauphin via photopin cc)

This is big news, as our Mind the Store campaign has been challenging Walmart and the other top ten US retailers to eliminate the Hazardous 100+ chemicals of high concern from their products.  Yesterday, we responded to the new announcement with this statement.  We congratulate Walmart on expanding their chemicals policy with the release of this new implementation guide.   The million dollar question is – will their suppliers listen?  How will Walmart ensure suppliers actually comply with this important new policy? Here, we take a look at some of the more exciting elements of the expanded policy, as well as some initial thoughts on how the policy can be improved.

Raising the bar for disclosure of chemicals of concern

ShoppingArguably the most exciting elements of Walmart’s policy center on online and product-level disclosure.  We are especially pleased that Walmart will now be requiring suppliers to disclose the presence of toxic chemicals of concern business-to-business through the Wercs, publicly on company websites, and even on product labels (!) beginning in January 2018.   This new requirement should not only provide incentives for manufactures to reduce or eliminate the use of “priority” chemicals, to avoid having to list them on products, but also empower moms and dads to make smarter and healthier shopping choices for their families. The company is also attempting to address chemicals like fragrances, which most companies virtually never disclose.  They recommend that disclosure should include “full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “known residuals, contaminants and by-products”.

The question is – will suppliers listen – and how will Walmart actually ensure fragrances and other additives are actually publicly disclosed?

Expanding “Priority” list of chemicals – but what are their top ten?

Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons”

This past fall, Walmart announced their new chemicals policy and were going to be prioritizing a list of ten chemicals as an initial list of “high priority” chemicals for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination”, yet the company never disclosed the names of these chemicals.   Unfortunately, Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons and state that these ten chemicals are “based on (a) authoritative lists, (b) current and pending regulatory lists, (c) high prevalence in Walmart products, and (d) concerns of direct exposure to consumers.” So that leaves about 2 or 3,000 chemicals to choose from.  Hmmmm, any guesses as to what ones they may be?  We are disappointed that Walmart has still not disclosed their initial ten “high priority” chemicals, despite public pledges to do so.  In the interest of transparency, we call on Walmart to reconsider their decision to not disclose these “high priority” chemicals.  After all, American families have the right to know.

On the positive side, Walmart has announced a brand new set of “Walmart Priority Chemicals”, which is comprised of no less than twenty of the most important authoritative lists in the US and internationally identifying chemicals of high concern, such as California Proposition 65, US EPA PBT and chemical action plan chemicals, and the states of Washington and Maine chemicals, demonstrating the significance of state action on chemicals.  We are very pleased that this list includes every single one of the lists we referenced on our Hazardous 100 list, and many more.  While the company did not identify the actually chemicals on these lists, you don’t have to work so hard to find them. This could very well likely include thousands of chemicals, though right now it’s somewhat unclear if every single one of the substances on these lists are included, or not.  By comparison, Target’s policy and list is also very significant, with over 1,000 substances.

Reducing, restricting and eliminating toxic chemicals

Walmart is now calling on suppliers to, reduce, restrict and eliminate these substances.  The policy states that suppliers should:

“Reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, which will be made public, to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy…. All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists (made publicly available through Appendix 1) to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy.”

Tracking reduction of chemicals of concern

they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals”

The company is using the Wercs database/website to notify suppliers when products they sell contain either a “Walmart Priority Chemical” or “Walmart High Priority Chemical”.  Using the Wercs system, they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals” and in the future, any time a product entered contains a “priority” or “high priority” chemical, the supplier will automatically be notified.  They will also use the Wercs database to track the number of priority chemicals in products, as well as their reduction, using various metrics including quantifying reductions by weight, number of products, number of suppliers, and sales volume.

The company also plans to publicly report their progress on transparency, advancing safer formulation of products and DfE certification in the company’s 2016 Global Responsibility Report.

Getting off the toxic treadmill

Another significant element of their expanded policy is that Walmart is for the first time encouraging their suppliers to get off the toxic treadmill, and avoid “regrettable substitution” by evaluating the hazards of replacement chemicals and embracing best in class “informed substitution” and  “alternatives assessment” principles.   Walmart states:

“Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives [1]. Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability[1][2]…”

In their guide, they cite many great resources, such as the Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s  Alternatives Assessment Protocol. It’ll be interesting to see whether suppliers listen, and use these useful tools.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.

What’s good for our pets is good for our children

4103103448_982ca1cc4c_mThe policy impacts a number of categories of products sold at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the US, primarily cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies.  This is a good list of products to start with, and we hope Walmart will expand this over time to all other categories where chemicals of high concern are often found, such as children’s toys, apparel, furniture, electronics, and food packaging.

(Photo Credit: rumpleteaser via photopin cc)

We also hope Walmart will expand this policy to their stores globally.  As a company that has enormous power and influence over their supply chain, if they can do it in the US, why not the rest of the world? Families worldwide deserve the same protections.

Will other retailers Mind the Store?

Today’s new announcement should be a call to action to other big box retailers, grocery stores, and drug store chains.  We call on the other leading top ten retailers to join Walmart to Mind the Store and get tough on toxic chemicals.   After all, with great market power comes great responsibility.

We look forward to working with Walmart and the other nine leading retailers to create similar action plans on the Hazardous 100+ list of toxic chemicals in the months to come.

Join us and share this good news with your friends.

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Toxic Chemical Found in Toys and Vinyl Plastic Linked to Cancer Added to California Proposition 65 List – Phthalate DINP

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(San Francisco) Toxic chemical diisononyl phthalate (DINP), manufactured by Exxon Mobil and other petrochemical companies, is being added to the California list of chemicals known to cause cancer, known as Proposition 65, this Friday December 20th.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said, “The CIC (Carcinogen Identification Committee)  determined that the chemical was clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause cancer.” DINP is a phthalate plasticiser widely used in vinyl (PVC) soft and flexible toys and childcare items. Soft vinyl has been very popular for toy production. Famously, soft vinyl “ rubberduckies” are an iconic use of this carcinogenic chemical in toys.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and exposures to chemicals may explain at least some of these cases,” explains Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at UCSF. “DiNP and other phthalates are frequently found in our home environments and as a result, in the bodies of the majority of people tested.  This contamination with a now recognized cancer causing substance is due to the failed oversight of chemicals. Today’s listing will allow consumers to be better informed about their exposure to toxic chemicals”

Mike Schade, work group co-leader for the National Work Group for Safe Markets, and with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) adds, “DINP and other phthalates linked to harmful health impacts are found in vinyl raincoats, backpacks, binders and other school products used by children.  The chemical industry, led by phthalate manufacturer Exxonmobil, has spent millions lobbying against restrictions on these chemicals. It’s time for Exxon Mobil to stop toying around with our children’s health.  We need the Consumer Product Safety Commission to finalize its ruling on phthalates now to prevent further exposure to children from toys made with these cancer-causing chemicals.”

Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist with the Breast Cancer Fund. “While Congress works to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, the chemical industry is fighting against environmental health protections that would prevent children’s exposure to chemicals like DINP. Why should parents need to become chemical experts just to buy safe products for their children? We need strong environmental health protections from Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission now.”

“Small retailers are in the business of providing products to make the lives of families and children better.  Small businesses and consumers both need the information and transparency to drive these toxic chemicals out of the marketplace. At the same time we must do all that we can to create the safer alternatives to meet consumer demand and build our businesses,” says Frank Knapp, President and CEO, South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and co- Chair of the American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund.

“If retailers like buybuy BABY and Babies”R”Us stop selling children’s products that contain toxic chemicals, people will stop buying them, and children will no longer be exposed,” said Kathy Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York, which houses the Getting Ready For Baby campaign. “Getting Ready For Baby is urging major infant and child care retailers to require disclosure from children’s products makers about their use of hazardous chemicals like DINP, and to only carry the safest items for their young, vulnerable customers.”

“Existing health protections from phthalates are totally inadequate to protect pregnant women and children from harmful health effects – from reproductive harm to asthma. In the absence of federal action it is critical for states like California and Maine to take the lead on addressing the dangers of phthalates in our homes,” said Emma Halas-O’Connor, Coalition and Advocacy Coordinator Environmental Health Strategy Center.

Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, Director, Toxic Chemicals Research, As You Sow, added, “The addition of DINP to California’s Proposition 65 list as a carcinogen is a great step forward in reducing and removing all phthalates from consumer products including children’s toys, food containers and personal care products –and should influence the manufacturing of consumer products across the U.S, such that all American consumers, not just Californians, can enjoy safer and healthier, phthalate-free products.”

In 2007, California banned use of DiNP and 5 other phthalates in children’s toys and childcare articles. Congresspassed a similar ban as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in 2008. DINP is one of three phthalates that were temporarily banned in the CPSIA pending a scientific review by a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP). Once the CHAP’s report, which is long overdue, is released, the CPSC will make a decision on whether to make the ban on DINP permanent. The listing of DINP as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 adds further evidence of the need to keep this toxic chemical out of our children’s toys and consumer products.

The American Chemistry Council, whose members include phthalate manufacturer ExxonMobil, has said it is challenging California’s ruling.

More info: SafeMarkets.org

Available for Interviews (for media assistance, Stephenie Hendricks, Coming Clean, 415 258-9151 stephdh@earthlink.net)

Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Strategist, Breast Cancer Fund 202.213.3384,nbuermeyer@breastcancerfund.org.

Kathleen A.  Curtis, LPN, Executive Director, Clean & Healthy New York and Co-Chair, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Policy/Advocacy Work Group, 518.708.3922 (cell), 518.355.6202 (home office), clean.kathy@gmail.com,www.cleanhealthyny.org.

Emma Halas-O’Connor, Coalition and Advocacy Coordinator, Environmental Health Strategy Center, 207.699.5799 (direct)  207.272.9581 (cell), ehalasoc@preventharm.org.

Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, Assistant Clinical Professor, University of California, San Francisco 415.722.0120 sarah.janssen@ucsf.edu.

Frank Knapp, founder and CEO of the  South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, and vice chair of the American Sustainable  Business Council  803.252.5733 sbchamber@scsbc.org.

Mike Schade, Co-coordinator, National Work Group for Safe Markets, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) 212.964,3680, Mike@SafeMarkets.org.

Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, Director, Toxic Chemicals Research, As You Sow 510.735.8154, 917.345.4943 (mobile).

Inside A Wal-Mart Super Store Ahead Of Black Friday

Your Black Friday Guide To Poison-Free Holiday Shopping

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The holiday shopping season officially kicks off on Black Friday, and so begins that annual hunt for the perfect present, at the best price — and with the fewest poisons.

Store shelves, as consumers have been warned, can be filled with everything fromlead-contaminated jewelry and toys, to hormone-disrupting perfumes and lotions. Just in the last month, watchdog groups reported finding potentially toxic levels of phthalates in Spongebob Squarepants vinyl rain ponchos and flame retardants in Toys R Us furniture.

And let’s not forget the neurotoxic lead and other chemicals that leach from somefake plastic Christmas trees.

Despite growing recognition of toxic dangers that may lurk in consumer products, avoiding these chemicals is another story. Advocates continue to lament weak and outdated federal regulation of toxic chemicals, even though they cheer incremental gains, such as California’s announcement last week that furniture manufacturers will no longer be required to fill their foam with flame retardants starting in January. Thecontroversial chemicals are the subject of an award-winning Chicago Tribune series and a documentary, “Toxic Hot Seat,” which premiered Monday on HBO. (In light of this news, people with furniture on their holiday shopping lists may want to consider gifting an IOU.)

“Right now, the dangers are invisible, unlabeled, and a consumer has no basis for making a reasonable and health-protected choice,” said John Wargo, an environmental health expert at Yale University. “The onus is on the consumer, who needs to do research product by product,” he added. “People don’t have time for that and often opt for buying whatever is available.”

Some environmental groups are now attempting to make navigating around toxic chemicals easier for concerned shoppers, with a fleet of new consumer guides and mobile apps.

A website launched in September, SafeMarkets.org, provides information, tips and resources, such as HealthyStuff.org‘s database of more than 5,000 tested consumer products. The new site from the Workgroup for Safe Markets, a collaboration of environmental groups, links to other sites, including a new nontoxic shopping guide published by Women’s Voices for the Earth and Greenpeace’s electronics buying guide.

An increasing number of tools are also available for shoppers on the go. Mobile product-rating apps from the Good Guide and the nonprofit Environmental Working Group allow users to simply scan a barcode. The latter, launched in mid-November, offers iPhone and Android versions of its Skin Deep database, which contains data on about 80,000 cosmetic and personal care products.

“A lot of people are surprised when they start scanning,” said Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group. The average American uses 10 to 12 personal care products a day, totaling some 126 different ingredients.

Among the most critical ingredients to avoid due to their hormone-mimicking, cancer-causing, antibiotic-resistance-promoting or development-disturbing properties, according to White, are parabens, formaldehyde, triclosan, polyethylene, phthalates and “fragrance.”

Fragrance formulas are protected as “trade secrets,” so their ingredients are rarely disclosed. White noted that the additives often include phthalates. Research published in November added an increased risk of preterm birth to the list of phthalates’ potential health hazards.

“Lip gloss, mascara, perfume. They are popular stocking stuffers,” White added. “But there are some serious concerns being raised each day.”

An app very similar to Environmental Working Group’s is available for mobile phones called Think Dirty. Launched in October, its database includes close to 14,000 products — primarily “best sellers,” according to founder and CEO Lily Tse.

A comparison of the two apps by The Huffington Post showed significant differences between scores on the same products. Edge sensitive skin shave gel, for example, rated 4 out of 10 on Environmental Working Group’s app, and 10 out of 10 on Tse’s. Higher values mean greater toxicities, according to both scales.

Tse suggested the discrepancy reflects differing philosophies on toxic chemical exposures.

“For myself and many others with chemical sensitivity, it’s important to stay away if a certain chemical is present, regardless of how much of it is there,” said Tse. In this case, the presence of PEG-90M, triethanolamine and fragrance put the shave gel in the red.

Tse’s advice for the holidays: Minimize fragrance use to protect yourself and others around you who may be chemically sensitive. “You don’t need to overload to show holiday spirit,” she said.

Perhaps no sight or smell represents the holiday spirit more than a Christmas tree. But the season staple isn’t without chemical dangers, from pesticides at tree farms to lead and phthalates found in fake plastic versions and on the lights traditionally strung across branches.

Yale’s Wargo said he will likely be on the hunt for a Christmas tree this holiday weekend. “I can’t bring myself to buy a fake tree. We go to a tree farm every year,” he said, choosing one that runs sustainably, without pesticides.

Still, Wargo’s family falls short of avoiding chemical dangers. He recalled shopping for an extension cord the other day and seeing the ubiquitous warning label for lead. He said he uses old Christmas lights that are also likely contaminated.

Mike Schade of the nonprofit Center for Health, Environment and Justice, who helped create the SafeMarkets.org website, emphasized the health hazards associated with PVC, also know as vinyl, used widely in fake Christmas trees, lights and in products wrapped and put under trees. He called PVC the “poison plastic.”

“From production to use, to disposal, it releases harmful chemicals that are building up in our bodies and are linked to chronic health problems on rise,” Schade said, listing links to cancer, learning disabilities and obesity, among other conditions. He noted that heat from lights can encourage chemical additives to leach out.

Phthalates and lead are among chemicals that have been commonly added to PVC to soften and stabilize the plastic. While some companies have eliminated those chemicals, scientists are finding that organotins and other replacement additives may be toxic, too.

“We don’t want to be a grinch,” Schade said. “We just recommend consumers avoid purchasing trees, toys or infant products made of PVC, even if they are labeled lead or phthalate-free.”

A potential red flag are items imported from China, added Schade. Several such products have been found in recent years to be contaminated with lead or elevated phthalates.

“But just because it’s made in the U.S., doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe,” Schade said. “Our chemical safety system is broken.”

Even the patches in place to help protect consumers, advocates warned, are far from foolproof.

While laws restrict certain chemicals from products aimed at younger children, for example, Penelope Jagessar Chaffer warned that parents also need to be cautious about what they bring into the home for older members of their family. Play jewelry gifted to a teen girl, for example, may find its way into the hands and mouth of a more vulnerable little sister or brother.

Jagessar Chaffer is the director of the film “Toxic Baby,” which will be released next year as an innovative iPad app with additional footage, an interactive map of toxic sites across the country and an encyclopedia of information on toxic chemicals. One of the awards for pledging to her soon-to-launch Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign will be a toxic audit — available for Christmas or New Year’s.

“People do tend to buy a lot from Black Friday onward,” said Jagessar Chaffer. “I can help them navigate what presents to get, what they bring into their home.”

She added that if people plan to purchase big-ticket items during after-Christmas sales, she can also help them manage toxicity levels or even decide if now is the time to buy an air filter or HEPA vacuum.

It’s this rise and dispersal of information that experts and advocates said they believe is the key to solving our toxic chemical woes.

Wargo likened it to the evolution of organic food. That was caused, he said, by “widescale recognition among consumers that pesticides are potentially dangerous.”

“As more people are educated, our hope is that they’ll take action to move the market,” said Environmental Working Group’s White. “As the market changes, we hope the political climate changes — giving more hope for revising our outdated law.”

“We can’t shop our way out of this problem,” White added.

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Beware of pretty but dangerous Christmas decor

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Written by  Jeannette I. Andrade for the Philippine Daily Inquirer


While Christmas decorations may put you in a holiday mood, an environmental and consumer protection group has warned that some can be pretty dangerous as they contain high levels of toxic metals.

The EcoWaste Coalition said Sunday that it recently detected excessive levels of toxic metals in 62 of 80 Christmas decorations—particularly in Christmas lanterns made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—bought from various budget shops around Metro Manila.

In a statement, EcoWaste’s Project Protect coordinator Thony Dizon said that “lead is dangerous even at low levels, hence [there is a] need to curb all avoidable sources of exposure as much as possible, including lead in paint, dust and soil and, of course, in consumer products.”

He warned that “children are most prone to lead exposure because their bodies are still developing and they tend to explore their surroundings by touching, tasting, biting or chewing anything they can get their hands on, including the power cord of Christmas lights and the trimmings and trinkets of a Christmas tree.”

“There is also the risk of lead [coming off] as painted or glazed surfaces deteriorate, thus contaminating the ground where children gather and play…,” Dizon said.

According to him, there is also the risk of indoor air pollution from the “out-gassing” of chemicals from plastic-based Christmas decorations, particularly among workers making or handling these products. Out-gassing is the release of gas dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in a material.

Late last month, EcoWaste bought Christmas ornaments from stores in the Divisoria and Quiapo districts in Manila, Monumento in Caloocan City  and a market in Quezon City at prices ranging from P15 to P199.

Using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, the group detected high levels of toxic metals—including lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium and chromium—from most of the items they purchased.

Lead up to 23,500 parts per million (ppm) was found in 50 samples, above the United States limit for lead in paint and surface coatings of 90 ppm. The other 12 samples contained antimony, arsenic, cadmium or chromium.

Among the samples analyzed by the group were Christmas balls, bells, foliage, garlands, lanterns, trees, trinkets, serving platters and table decorations featuring characters such as Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus.

It found 23,500 ppm of lead in a big yellow star lantern made of PVC; 16,100 ppm of lead in a medium-size yellow star lantern made of PVC and 13,600 ppm of lead in a small yellow PVC star lantern. A plate with a Christmas tree design had 11,800 ppm of lead while a Snowman ceramic container had 11,000 ppm of the toxic metal. A ceramic gingerbread house had 9,513 ppm of lead.

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Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals in Children’ Furniture

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(New York) Children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased from Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys” R” Us/Babies “R” Us, buybuy Baby and other major retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada were tested and found to have harmful toxic flame retardant chemicals linked to infertility, thyroid disease, cancer, other serious health problems. Modern studies show that they do not provide fire safety benefits in furniture and make fires more toxic and dangerous with soot and smoke.

The Getting Ready for Baby Campaign is calling upon Babies”R”Us and buybuy BABY to require product suppliers to disclose their use of a list of chemicals known as the “hazardous 100+,” as designated by the Mind the Store Campaign, which targets the nation’s top 10 retailers.

Product makers are allowed to use toxic chemicals in infant and toddler products because there is no law that bans the practice. The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) is a monumental failure, and needs to be modernized and strengthened. However, the recently-introduced Chemical Safety Improvement Act is not an improvement over TSCA.

“I had a P’Kolino Little Reader chair tested that I thought my two year old grandson would love,” says Kathy Curtis, LPN, from Clean and Healthy New York and coordinator of theAlliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety. ”The testing done by Center for Environmental Health showed both Firemaster 550 and TDCPP. Retailers should be more careful about the products they sell.”

“A Spiderman chair from Walmart was tested and it has Firemaster 550 in it,” saysMaricarmen Cruz-Guilloty, Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator from Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “Arctic Indigenous peoples already carry a high burden of many of the other toxic flame retardants in their bodies. Exposure to these chemicals are linked with thyroid disease, learning and developmental disorders, reproductive problems, and certain cancers. We also have the highest rates of birth defects in the nation up here. Our children should not be exposed to these chemicals.”

Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation says, “Two couches from Kentucky, from Wal Mart and Target, tested positive for toxic flame retardants. These small couches present big problems: should kids play on them? How could we safely reuse or dispose of them? Why was this toxic product allowed to be manufactured in the first place? Kentucky parents want answers, and we need our legislators to take seriously the need for federal chemical reforms.”

Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy with Women’s Voices for the Earthconcurs,”It makes no sense that we cannot trust a product made for children. We’ve been working to try and get chemical regulatory reform to stop toxic chemicals in products.”

“Shame on Disney for selling children’s Princess, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse chairs containing toxic flame retardants,” said Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator with theCenter for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Parents should be able to trust that Disney products are safe, not toxic. We shouldn’t have to worry about our little princes and princess being exposed to poisonous chemicals. It’s time for Disney to make our dreams come true and eliminate these unnecessary dangerous chemicals. “

For more info: Alliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety