children’s health

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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.


Health Studies: What you can expect and what you can do

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Whether your group is new or has been organized for years, one of the most pressing questions you’ll face is about health problems in your community. Typically, if you raise enough public attention and pressure, the state will ask the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to do a health study. While you may initially be excited, be careful what you ask for. ATSDR has a poor track record at investigating health problems in communities. You are more likely to get a result that is “inconclusive by design” than you are to get an honest answer to your questions. At least that’s what history tells us.

You can expect at least two things from ATSDR: First, the agency is going to treat your community like every other community that they have gone into. Second, ATSDR is going to use the standard methods they use to evaluate and investigate the health problems in your community.  Unfortunately, these scientific methods cannot answer with any accuracy or assurance the questions that people have about health problems in their community. The best state-of-the-art scientific methods that ATSDR will use cannot determine what’s causing an increase in cancer, birth defects or any other adverse effect in a population of people.

In 99 out of 100 instances, health studies conducted by ATSDR or other government agencies are inconclusive or at best incapable of determining what might be causing an observed increase in a disease found in a community. Given this likely outcome, it’s critical to have a plan for how to get the most from a health study done in your community.

One important step is to define as a community what you want. Do you want a typical epidemiological study where a questionnaire is distributed throughout the community asking about health problems and the results are then compared to a matched unexposed community? Do you want a clinic set up in the community where people could be tested to evaluate their health? Maybe some portion of the community wants to be relocated or evacuated and you want ATSDR to recommend such action.

Once you’re clear on what you want, then you need to figure out how to achieve these goals. This will take some strategic planning and a strong organized community effort. Ask these three questions about the health study, the answers to which will give you a good sense of the intent of the investigators and the limits of the study:

  • What are the goals of the investigation?
  • How will the investigators get the information they need?
  • How are they going to release the results?

Based on what you find out, you may decide that you don’t want to participate in this study. Or you may decide you want to change the agency’s plan to something that will be useful to your group. Changing their plan will require a strong organized community effort and a plan to get your points across to the agency. CHEJ can help you develop a plan to address a health study. Contact us at chej@chej.org

Also, tune in tomorrow at 12 noon EST to participate in a training session on Health Studies: What can they tell you about health problems in your community?


(RSVP Online Now
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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.

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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.

Safeguard America Resources

Southern Community Groups Call for the Right to Say No to Natural Gas Facilities

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Campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources Today community groups in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia called for the establishment of local veto power over natural gas extraction, transport and use. At rallies, marches and other public events extending from Floyd, Virginia, across North Carolina to Valdosta, Georgia, people joined in a chorus of protests against pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, hydrofracking wells and waste dumps and for the restoration of property rights and local control over energy policy in the Southeast.

Lou Zeller, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said, “Today we launch the campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources because of our nation’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuel, including natural gas, which pollutes the air and water. But we also see a parallel danger to our communities, to our society and to our democracy from a dominant oil and gas industry.”

At press conferences in county courthouses, community buildings, a university and a small church, League chapters called for action to halt natural gas facilities in their communities. Following the speeches, they joined caravans and parades to focus public opposition at the local government level. Events across the region echoed the twin themes of danger and opportunity.

Kim McCall, Secretary of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, North Carolina, spoke against hydro-fracking and the expansion of Duke Energy’s natural gas power plant in Hamlet. She said, “We are petitioning local governments for the ability to veto projects that threaten our homes, our families and our neighbors.” The group has petitioned EPA to deny the air permit to increase toxic air pollution by 36% from the combustion turbine electric power plant in her backyard.

To launch their campaign in Lee County, North Carolina, members of EnvironmentaLEE held a prayer vigil and rally at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, which is located in front of the brickyard in Sanford where the dumping 8 million tons of Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash is proposed. Deb Hall, a member of EnvironmentaLEE, said, “We are already ground zero for fracking, and the North Carolina General Assembly stripped local governments of their ability to control fracking and coal ash dumping. This threatens our health, the environment, community self-determination, and property rights.”

Mark Laity-Snyder, a founding member of Preserve Franklin county, joined others carrying black coffins in a caravan to Floyd, Virginia. He said, “We chose a coffin to represent the loss of a basic American right, the right to be secure in our homes without private companies taking our land.” Jenny Chapman, from nearby Preserve Bent Mountain, said, “For a corporation like Mountain Valley Pipeline to override the rights of private citizens to their land, safety and quality of life is unacceptable.”

Pat Hill, co-founder of Person County PRIDE in Roxboro, North Carolina, said, “My husband and I live next to the Republic mega-dump. We want to have a voice in protecting our water and air quality because we live with it every day.” She continued, “The toxic wastes deposited here endanger our health and the health of our neighbors. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead and many other poisons. Because hydrofracking uses secret contaminants, it could have an unknown number of dangerous compounds.”

Michael G. Noll, President of Wiregrass Activists for Clean Energy in Valdosta, Georgia, sounded a note of hope, saying, “This is the beginning of a new era, where we see the unified efforts of communities across the nation to safeguard America’s resources, to wean ourselves of fossil fuels, and to protect the unalienable rights of citizens to clean water and air. I am convinced that safe and renewable sources of energy like solar and wind will be the lunar landing of our generation.”

Mara Robbins, Virginia Campaign Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and organizer of the Floyd March and Demonstration, said, “We chose to have this action here because we stand in solidarity with all the counties that are resisting the threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” She pointed to many different communities in three states that are calling for community-level veto power over fossil fuel projects. Referring to her success in pushing the pipeline route out of her home county, she said, “Though Floyd is not in the line of fire at the moment, we claim the right to say NO to dangerous proposals that utilize eminent domain over the wishes of the people. And we think all communities deserve that right.”

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was founded in 1984. The organization has a thirty-year track record of victories over polluting facilities.

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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 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?

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Oregon schoolchildren inhale cancer-causing fumes on buses as state plods towards fix

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Almost half of Oregon’s school buses spew unhealthy amounts of diesel fumes into the air, exposing tens of thousands of children to cancer-causing exhaust every day.

An Oregonian/OregonLive review of state data found that 3,300 of the state’s 5,800 school buses were built before 2007 when federal rules for emissions tightened.

The state has equipped just 600 of those with tailpipe filters that eliminate most pollution.

“From a policy standpoint, it boils down to economics — as much as I don’t like it,” said Michael Wiltfong, the Oregon Department of Education’s transportation director. “Choosing between a teacher and a bus, the bus is often the one that’s postponed.”

Read more at The Oregonian

SAN Trimer: The hidden killer behind the Reich Farm Superfund Site

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Styrene-acrylonitrile trimer. It sounds like some sort of noxious mega-rocket fuel that Wile E. Coyote used to power his Acme rockets as he tried to take the Roadrunner down. Turns out styrene-acrylonitrile trimer, or SAN trimer for short, is not so far from being just that as the residents of Toms River, NJ painfully and tragically found out.

SAN trimer is a compound set of similar semi-volatile chemicals that are formed during the production of acrylonitrile styrene plastics. This compound is relatively new to modern toxicology, having been studied in depth only within the past decade and a half. As a result, its toxicological properties remain poorly understood – and the residents of Toms River and its surrounding areas paid the price for our lack of understanding and, most importantly, our carelessness.

In 1971 a waste hauler working for Union Carbide improperly disposed of drums containing toxic solvents on a section of the three-acre Reich Farm property in Toms River leading to massive soil and groundwater contamination with volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). Consequently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and USEPA worked to address the site’s contamination, introducing it into the National Priorities List in 1983, developing a cleanup plan in 1988 and culminating the soil portion in 1995 (groundwater treatment was ongoing).

However, the SAN trimer lay hidden in the groundwater undisturbed by the treatment system – silently eating away at the health of the local residents. In 1996, significantly elevated rates of certain childhood cancers were found in the Toms River area. A staggering total of 90 cases of childhood cancer were reported from 1979-1995. New Jersey authorities were baffled by this and frantically looked for possible causes. Finally, with the help of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, they found a possible culprit as high concentrations of the SAN trimer in groundwater surrounding the Reich Farm Superfund Site were detected. Despite having practically zero understanding of the toxicity of SAN trimer, this find led to an update in the groundwater treatment system designed to remove the SAN trimer. Simultaneously, the National Toxicology Program was asked to conduct studies on the SAN Trimer to determine its health effects, and they completed their review in 2012.

The results concluded that the SAN trimer has potential to cause peripheral nerve degeneration, bone marrow hyperplasia and urinary bladder hyperplasia, while also concluding that it has no carcinogenic effects. However, the study consisted of 7 week, 18 week, and 2 year reviews of rats exposed to the SAN trimer as well as bacterial assays. These studies were quite limited and simply underscore our incomplete knowledge of SAN trimer toxicity. Furthermore, although not statistically significant, dose-related increases in DNA damage in brain and liver cells of test rats were observed pointing the way towards a possible association with cancer.

What is clear is that the SAN trimer is one of many new chemicals whose toxicity we simply do not understand. The reality is that it was present for nearly 20 years at the Reich Farm Superfund Site, and it ate up the lives of the children living there. Now, over 35 years since the site became contaminated, EPA held a public meeting in Toms River last Friday to explain how the SAN trimer is not responsible for the cancer cluster that devoured so many lives. And what are they basing this assessment on? On the lie they tell themselves and the rest of the public – that we understand how the SAN trimer works on our bodies, and that this hidden killer is not responsible for ruining 90 lives.

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Health Effects of Fracking – New Evidence

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The evidence linking adverse health effects and exposure to chemicals generated during the natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) continues to mount. The latest evidence, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that people living near natural gas wells may be at increased risk for adverse health impacts including respiratory and skin conditions. The study examined nearly 500 people in 180 households in Washington County, PA, home to some of the most intense fracking activities in the U.S. The authors found that residents who lived less than a kilometer (about 2/3 of a mile) from a gas well reported more adverse health symptoms than residents who lived more than 2 kilometers from a gas well (about a mile and a third). Residents living less than a kilometer from a gas well were also more likely to report skin conditions during the past year as well as upper respiratory symptoms. The effects did not go away when adjusted for potential confounding variables including age, cigarette smoking, education level and occupation. The study did not find an association between proximity to a natural gas well and increased cardiac, neurological or gastrointestinal symptoms. According to the author, this study is the largest to examine general health conditions among people living near fracking sites.

Researchers from Yale University, the University of Washington and Colorado State University collected their data by going door-to-door and asking people to participate in a general health study. The authors followed the study participants for two years from 2012 to 2014. They did not tell people that the study was looking at the adverse health effects of fracking. The authors hoped this approach would reduce the potential for bias in people reporting the results. There are plans for an even longer term study.

The authors concluded that “airborne irritant exposures related to natural gas extraction activities could be playing a role. Such irritant exposures could result from a number of activities related to natural gas drilling, including flaring of gas wells and exhaust from diesel equipment.” According to the authors, the results underscores the need for ongoing health monitoring of people living near natural gas extraction activities in order to better understand the potential health risks. “We’re at a stage in which we know enough to recommend prudent precaution and exposure reduction,” stated Peter Rabinowitz, one of the co-authors, from the University of Washington.

To read the full paper, click here.

Recent Studies State Chemical In Plastic Liquid Containers Contain Tox

For BPA, Does the Dose Make the Poison?

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

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

David McNew via Getty Images

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

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

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