In 2006 a panel of experts reviewed the literature to that point on potential health effects arising from exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a high-production-volume chemical that is broadly detectable in the environment as well as in most people’s bodies in developed countries.1 A new review takes stock of the knowledge gained since then, focusing on potential reproductive health effects while also considering new and lingering questions.
Jackye Peretz, Lisa Vrooman, William A. Ricke, Patricia A. Hunt, Shelley Ehrlich, Russ Hauser, Vasantha Padmanabhan, Hugh S. Taylor, Shanna H. Swan, Catherine A. VandeVoort, and Jodi A. Flaws
New website contains info on toxic chemicals in products; testing results
NEW YORK, Aug. 22, 2013 – Information gathered by advocates investigating toxic chemicals in food, baby products, toys, furniture, construction materials and other consumer goods was unveiled on a new website today to help identify potentially harmful products and safer ones. SafeMarkets.orgreflects the work of many organizations working to remove toxic chemicals from the marketplace and promote an economy based on safe, sustainable products.
“People assume that if a product is on store shelves, that it’s safe; unfortunately that couldn’t be further from the truth. While we wait for urgent reform of federal chemicals regulations, it’s fallen on us to become educated on how to protect ourselves and our families from toxic chemicals in our homes, schools and hospitals,” explains Mike Schade, with Work Group for Safe Markets and Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). “We’ve been sounding the alarm on toxic chemicals in back to school products, including lunchboxes, backpacks made from vinyl, a plastic with many hazardous ingredients like phthalates, linked to asthma and reproductive harm. Shoppers can find links to CHEJ’s 2013 safer school supplies guide on Safemarkets.org.“
“This is a one-stop shop to provide information for consumers, retailers and manufacturers that are demanding safer products,” adds Beverley Thorpe, with Work Group for Safe Markets and Clean Production Action (CPA). “Here at CPA, we’ve developed the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals to help manufacturers and retailers choose safer chemical ingredients. This and our BizNGO Guide to Safer Chemicals help businesses make better chemical choices.”
“With toxic flame retardant chemicals in so many things – upholstered furniture, many baby products, and other common household items, even some brands of soda – it’s hard to avoid being exposed to them. Linked to neurological problems, infertility, endocrine disruption, even cancer, it’s crucial for consumers to educate themselves before they buy,” says Kathy Curtis, with Alliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety.
“People of color are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals,” explains Michele Roberts with the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. “So it’s particularly important for us to access information about toxics in products marketed to us. SafeMarkets.org is a good start forgaining information on many products in our homes. We look forward to information on personal care products marketed to ethnic markets to be included here in the future.”
Jamie McConnell, with Women’s Voices for the Earth and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, comments: “We’ve tested household products and found carcinogens and other harmful ingredients in cleansers, detergent, room fresheners and other everyday items used in many homes. SafeMarkets.org is helping to promote our reports and information and make them more accessible to consumers and businesses.”
Mia Davis, with Beautycounter, who is expecting her first child, says “It is about time we have a one stop web page that helps parents find safer products for their families. More than ever, people understand how important it is to shop with companies they trust and to support businesses working to create truly safe products.”
“This website helps consumers connect the dots between the choices they make every day to use healthier consumer products, like choices when making big budget decisions about how to build or renovate a healthy home,” according to Bill Walsh, with Healthy Building Network (HBN). “The new SafeMarkets site features a link to the Pharos Project, HBN’s database for building materials.”
“They haven’t backed down, and I think that’s to the benefit of public health in California,” she said.
The state agency is targeting BPA under Proposition 65, which publishes lists of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects. When products in California contain hazardous amounts of a listed toxicant, they are required to carry warning labels. BPA could now show up on the warning labels of hundreds of household items.
The law does not ban the compounds, but consumer backlash can lead them to be phased out of the market.
A state panel of health experts first considered recognizing BPA as a reproductive hazard in 2009 but decided there wasn’t enough evidence.
This time, the state based its decision on a federal report that expressed concern about BPA’s effects on development of the prostate gland and brain, and behavioral effects in fetuses and infants.
SALEM — Parents, public health advocates and small business owners squared off with representatives from the chemical, toy and retail industries over a bill that would require the eventual phase out of children’s products made with potentially toxic chemicals.
House Bill 3162 would require the Oregon Health Authority maintain a list of “high priority chemicals of concern for children’s health.” The agency would be required to post the information, including details on the health impacts associated with exposure to each chemical.
It would also require manufacturers who gross more than $5 million annually to phase out those chemicals in their products within five years or seek a waiver from the state.
Chemicals such as Bisphenol A, arsenic, mercury and cadmium would be subject to the requirements in the bill. Products such as children’s cosmetics, car seats, bicycles, toys and other items would be affected.
“The mere presence of a chemical in a product does not mean that it can cause harm to a child,” Gibbons said. “If those chemicals are in a product, that doesn’t necessarily mean it causes harm, because then you have to look at exposure and then you have to look at risk.”
Gibbons’ testimony sparked skepticism from Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, a sponsor of the bill. Conger’s daughter, now 13, was exposed as an infant to high levels of lead because they lived in an old house at the time, he said.
“You’re suggesting that none of the products we would list are harmful, which I find hard to believe because they include things like formaldehyde,” Conger said to Gibbons. “Are you suggesting that either none of those chemicals are in children’s products, or are you saying those chemicals are not harmful?”
Conger eventually relented in order to allow others signed up to testify to speak.
My name is Tommy Mutell and I just started working at CHEJ’s New York City office as an intern last month. Last Tuesday I was given the opportunity to participate in a flyering event alongside about forty other people organized by the JustGreen Partnership to bring awareness to the nation-wide lobbying efforts of the Toy Industry Association (TIA) against the discontinuation of harmful chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, and mercury in toys.
TIA claims to have the best interests of its consumers as a primary mission to their association. However, what they say to consumers about toy safety and what they do regarding toy safety legislation and regulations are two different things. Our time at the Toy Fair, an event that attracted tens of thousands of visitors from 92 countries, was spent calling out TIA for their recent lobbying of continued usage of toxic chemicals in toys and other consumer products.
“The Toy Industry Association should stop toying around with our children’s health, and support state and federal efforts to protect children from toxic chemicals in children’s products,” said Mike Schade, Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).
The flyering event was really a great learning experience and I received a lot of satisfaction in helping to spread the word to the issues we are working to resolve. It felt like the few dozen of us accomplished the amount of work in about an hour that it would take me alone months to complete. I am learning that our collaborative efforts of flyering and raising awareness are really at the frontline of making an impact and bringing about change, and I am going to continue to work on the discontinuation of toxic chemicals in toys and consumer products in the months to come. I also enjoyed meeting and working with other interns, staff, and volunteers at different environmental groups within the city, as well as members of NYPIRG, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, and the Center for Environmental Health to name a few.
We are all just a little bit plastic. Traces of bisphenol A or BPA, a chemical used in plastics production, are widely detected in our bodies and environment. Is this chemical, and its presence in the human body, safe? A new book by our friend and colleague See summary.
It’s very likely that you’ve heard of a chemical called BPA or bisphenol A. It’s been in the news because it’s an endocrine disrupting chemical used in making plastic products and in the lining of metal cans. The problem is that BPA leaches out of plastic bottles, canned foods and other products and gets into the food and drink. Trace amounts of BPA have been found in the urine of at least 90% of Americans. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the body and has been linked to reproductive and developmental abnormalities as well as other adverse health effects.
Source: American Chemical Society
Concerns about these adverse health effects led Canada to define BPA as a toxic substance and 11 states to ban its use in baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA followed suit in July of this year. Concerns remain however about BPA leaching into infant formula, food and beverages. Approximately eight billion pounds of BPA are used each year worldwide.
Although diet is the primary route of exposure to BPA, research has shown that it can also be absorbed though the skin in a less familiar way – the handling of receipts of all kinds. BPA is the primary chemical used in cash register and thermal receipts commonly used in stores, ATM machines, gas stations, various tickets, and many other uses. BPA is used as a color developer for the printing dye. It’s applied as powder coating that acts in the presence of heat to produce an image without ink. The problem here is that the chemical is not bound to the paper, so it rubs off when you handle the receipt. It gets on your fingers and quickly gets into your blood stream. If you handle receipts every day, and it accumulates in the body, you increase your risk. This is especially a concern for workers who handle receipts all day long, or for pregnant women.
While there’s no way to tell if a receipt contains BPA or not, a number of studies have tested receipts for BPA. One study reported in the New York Times of 103 thermal receipts collected from cities in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in 2010 and 2011 found 94% of the receipts to contain BPA. All of the receipts in the U.S. had traces of BPA, even some marked as BPA-free. A study by researchers in Boston found 8 of 10 cash register receipts had BPA, and a study by the Environmental Working Group in 2010 found 14 of 36 receipts collected from fast food restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, gas stations and post offices tested positive for BPA.
Although studies in animals have found that very low concentrations of BPA can produce adverse effects, it’s unclear what level of exposure in people can produce adverse effects. It’s also unclear how much exposure from thermal receipts contributes to a person’s total exposure to BPA. Diet remains the primary route of exposure. It is clear, however, that there are readily available alternatives to BPA and this is another source of chemical contamination that can easily be eliminated. It’s also easy to say “no thank you,” when asked if you want your receipt.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering banning the use of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in infant formula packaging. Tell FDA that you support the ban. BPA is found in many products including food cans, receipt paper and the lining of some infant formula packages. Exposure even at low doses is linked to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For more details, see:
A brand new report by the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has documented elevated levels of toxic cadmium and lead in PVC packaging sold by dollar-store discount retailers. They found that:
This is the symbol of PVC packaging. Just remember Bad News Comes in 3′s – Don’t Buy PVC!
“Almost 40 percent of imported PVC packaging of products tested, sold by discount retail chains, was found to violate state toxics laws… These packages contained cadmium or lead, which are restricted by laws in 19 states due to toxicity.” – TPCH press release
“Packaging in violation of state laws is likely not one-time sourcing or production mistakes, but rather appears pervasive in imported PVC packaging,” – Kathleen Hennings of Iowa Department of Natural Resources.”
PVC packaging violates laws in 19 states.
No less than nineteen states have laws that prohibit the sale or distribution of packaging containing intentionally added cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium, and set limits on the incidental concentration of these materials in packaging. The purpose? To prevent the use of toxic heavy metals in packaging materials that enter landfills, incinerators, recycling streams, and ultimately, the environment. The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has been working to implement and enforce these laws.
In their latest report released this past Friday, a total of 61 flexible PVC packaging samples were screened using XRF technology. 39% of the packaging samples failed the screening test for cadmium and in one instance, also for lead. All the failed packaging samples were imported, mostly from China.
Packaging that failed the screening tests was used for children’s products, pet supplies, personal care, household items, home furnishings, hardware, and apparel. The products were purchased at eight retail chains across America. Six of the eight retail chains operate at least 500 locations each across 35 or more states.
Not the first time PVC packaging contaminated with toxic metals
This isn’t the first time the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has documented PVC packaging laden with toxic heavy metals. In 2007, they published a report which found sixty-one percent of the PVC packages tested were not in compliance with state laws due to the use of cadmium and/or lead. In 2009 they published a follow up report which found that all packaging samples failing for cadmium content were flexible PVC, and over 90 percent of these were imported.
Other studies have documented other chemicals of concern in PVC packaging, including phthalates, organotins, bisphenol A (BPA), and adipates. Unfortunately, these were not tested for in the brand new study, and are also likely lurking in PVC packaging at retailers.
Is cadmium the new lead?
In recent years, the vinyl chemical industry has been moving away from lead as a stabilizer, but apparently has been replacing lead with cadmium and organotins.
There’s a body of evidence that cadmium may be the new lead. Like lead, cadmium has been linked to learning problems in school children, which are on the rise. A recent study by researchers from Harvard found children with higher cadmium levels are three times more likely to have learning disabilities and participate in special education.
Our friends at SAFER have compiled lots of great information on cadmium, including a summary of cadmium’s health concerns.
Just Remember – Bad News Comes in 3’s, Don’t Buy PVC
Thankfully, it’s not too hard for consumers to identify and avoid PVC/vinyl packaging, to help reduce your exposure to cadmium and the other toxic additives commonly found in vinyl.
One way to be sure if the packaging of a product is made from PVC is to look for the number “3” inside or the letter “V” underneath the universal recycling symbol. If it is, that means it’s made out of the poison plastic. That’s why we say Bad News Comes in 3′s – Don’t Buy PVC!
Not sure? Call the manufacturer or retailer and ask them directly.
Have some PVC packaging? Return it to the manufacturer or retailer and demand they go PVC-free!
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice can help you and your community if you are facing an environmental health risk. From leaking landfills and polluted drinking water to incinerators and hazardous waste sites, we can help you take action towards a healthier future. Call us.