children’s health

A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.

Danger on the toy shelf


Study finds toxic metals and chemicals in children’s items sold at local stores
By Brian Nearing

A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.

The little metal toy charm of a cute fairy being sold at Ocean State Job Lots looks innocent enough, but it could expose any child who touches it — or puts it in his or her mouth — to dangerous levels of cadmium, a heavy metal linked to cancer, kidney and lung damage, and early onset of puberty, according to a report to be released Monday by a local public health group and an environmental advocacy organization.

That fairy charm was among nearly two dozen children’s toys on store shelves in Albany County allegedly found to contain unsafe levels of dangerous chemicals or metals like cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, mercury or lead, the report by Clean and Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters states.

Other tainted items included beads, hair clips, key chains, a luggage tag and jewelry. The metal in the fairy charm, the report states, was found to be almost 25 percent cadmium, a carcinogen with no safe level of exposure for children, according to federal guidelines.

“Parents who looked at the labels on these products have no way of knowing they are not safe,” said Kathleen Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York. Her group tested children’s toys sold at stores including Target and Party City, as well as Ocean State, using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence analyzer.

Curtis said tests were done to draw support and attention to a proposed Albany County law that would fine stores selling tainted toys up to $500 per toy, and up to $1,000 per toy for repeat violators.

Two allegedly contaminated toys sold at Target — a Lego “Legends of Chima” LED light key chain and a Monster High doll based on Dracula — were found to have unsafe levels of cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, lung problems and development problems, or antimony, another heavy metal that can damage the heart, liver and respiratory tract.

A Target spokesman was unable to provide comment for this story Friday.

At Party City, a charm bracelet promoting breast cancer awareness was found to contain unsafe levels of cobalt, which is carcinogenic, the groups claim.

Bobbi Chase Wilding, a Clean and Healthy New York staffer who conducted the tests, said nearly all the dangerous toys were manufactured in China. She also said Target has a policy that urges — but does not require — its suppliers not to use hazardous chemicals or metals in their children’s products.

The New York League of Conservation Voters also supported the testing, the first time the group has gotten involved in measuring chemical exposure in children’s products, said Christopher Goeken, director of public policy and government relations for the league.

Test results point to a failure of federal and state regulators to inspect toys being imported for sale in the U.S., Wilding said. “In the absence of leadership by the federal government or state, Albany County is taking on this issue itself,” she said.

The proposal by county Legislator Bryan Clenehan, a Guilderland Democrat, would allow the county health commissioner to inspect children’s products in stores for the presence of banned or unsafe chemicals. Lead, for example, is banned in any product intended for children 13 or younger, but nine toys tested were found to contain lead.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toys contain no more than 40 parts per million of lead. A hair clip sold at Ocean State tested out at more than 1,600 parts per million of lead, according to the report. That same clip was also found to be 11 percent cadmium.

Corporate offices for Ocean State and Party City did not return several telephone calls seeking comment for this story.


Story originally published at


How phthalate exposure impacts pregnancy


In recent years, scientists have linked chemicals known as phthalates with complications of pregnancy and fetal development. Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastic materials more flexible and can also be found in personal care products such as perfumes, deodorants and lotions. They can enter the human body by being ingested, inhaled or through the skin. Most often phthalates are metabolized and excreted quickly, but constant contact with them means that nearly everyone in the United States is exposed, some more than others.

Read more at Science Daily.


Coal’s black wind: Pregnant women in parts of India advised to stay away


Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

Nov. 20, 2014

In some regions of India, a married woman will return to her mother’s house for the last trimester of pregnancy and the birth of her child. But in Mettur, pregnant women are advised by their doctors to stay away.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Children walk among smoldering coal fires in Jharia, India.

“Black wind” from a coal yard wafts constantly across poor neighborhoods, settling on rooftops, walking paths and even indoor furniture. People complain of asthma, wheezing and frequent colds.

In its bid to industrialize, India relies heavily on energy from coal. Accounting for 71 percent of India’s electricity, coal will remain a key player over the next decade, with 455 new plants proposed, according to energy experts.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Coal plants produce 71 percent of India’s electricity.

The poor pay the highest cost of India’s dependence on coal, said Jennifer Wang of the nonprofit group Health Care Without Harm. Already burdened by chronic disease, poor nutrition and inadequate health care, they also are highly exposed to air and water pollution, she said.

Mettur and other industrial cities throughout India are now mobilizing to document coal’s health impacts on their own residents in an effort to wring environmental protections from local politicians and world leaders.

Coal poses health risks in India at all stages – mining, transportation, storage and use:

♦ In Jharia, famous for its rich coal resources, 700,000 people are exposed to toxic smoke that seeps from the ground as fires from opencast coalmines burn around the clock. Residents suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis and skin problems.

♦ In Gujarat, on the west coast, fish catches plummeted after the construction of a massive 4,800-megawatt coal plant destroyed mangrove and creek ecosystems by discharging polluted water in the sensitive ecosystem.

♦ Mercury-laced ash from five mega power plants in the Singrauli district in central India is stored in piles five feet thick, polluting air, water and soil.

♦ In Mettur, in southern India, a coal yard where fuel is shipped in by rail and stored for a power plant and factories stands just 100 feet from some homes. Coal dust blows from the yard into neighboring communities. Air pollution levels are high.

Women in Mettur, a city of about 50,000 with a variety of heavy industries, are hit particularly hard. Doctors often recommend that pregnant women leave.

Gonur West Agriculturist Development Union
In Mettur, coal trains unload next to a low-income neighborhood.

About 1,500 mostly low-income households are within reach of the coal yard dust, said Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring, an environmental justice group in India.

“Women are told not to have their babies here. The pollution affects not only their daily lives, but their culture,” Narayan said.

“Women are told not to have their babies here. The pollution affects not only their daily lives, but their culture.” –Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring, India A 2010 analysis by Narayan’s group found that airborne particles in Mettur were three to four times higher than the World Health Organization’s pollution guidelines. Worldwide, these tiny particles have been linked to increased deaths from lung and cardiovascular disease. Air quality measurements also suggest that Mettur’s air contains metal particles, such as manganese and nickel, which could harm child brain development.

Parents complain that their children are always sick. Kids often miss school due to wheezing. But complaints about sickness are largely anecdotal. Scientific analysis of the health impacts of coal pollution is lacking in Mettur and other communities.

“The health aspect has been largely ignored in India’s energy policy framing,” Narayan said.

Much of the evidence of health effects from coal pollution comes from the United States or Western Europe, which are much cleaner.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Coal plants have contaminated water and fish in some parts of India.

“There’s a lack of research regarding long-term exposure to air pollution in some of the world’s most polluted places, including India,” said Aaron Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Health Effects Institute in Boston.

“There’s a lack of research regarding long-term exposure to air pollution in some of the world’s most polluted places, including India.” –Aaron Cohen, Health Effects Institute, Boston An estimated 627,000 Indians die prematurely each year from outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease project. A 2012 Greenpeace India report estimated that about 20 percent of premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases each year could be attributed to coal pollution.

Next year, the nonprofit Community Environmental Monitoring will begin to screen people near the coal yard for asthma and other lung problems. They’ll also look for other effects in the women because “pollution manifests itself in different forms, including stress and anxiety,” Narayan said.

“Do we need more research to act? No. We know the immediate health effects from generating energy this way and the long-term effects from climate change,” said Dr. Peter Orris, director of the Global Toxics Policy Program at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. “But how do you convince local policy makers to take action? People need to feel a connection.”

Many of India’s coal plants and mines are government-run.

In some ways, energy regulations to curtail fossil fuel burning may be an easier sell in developing countries than in the United States, said Rachel Cleetus, senior economist with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Carbon reduction efforts, such the landmark deal struck this week between the United States and China, are viewed largely as climate-change policies.

Growing concern over polluted air and water in China and India is more immediate. “Air and water pollution may be of concern to us, but to them it’s becoming a public health crisis,” Cleetus said.

The health costs associated with coal-fired power stations cost the European Union about 53 billion U.S. dollars each year, according to a report by the Health and Environment Alliance. No such economic analysis exists for India.

“Coal tends to look cheap when health and environmental costs aren’t taken into account. There is a huge need for monetizing the public health costs, especially in developing countries,” Cleetus said.

Looking to China, Cohen said, “it’s hard to argue that economic development there, in which coal has certainly played a role, hasn’t had significant beneficial effects on poverty reduction and population health. But it’s becoming evident that high levels of air pollution from coal burning and other sources is having an adverse effect on population health and life expectancy and is now an obstacle to continued development.”

Nevertheless, the energy landscape is beginning to change. China and India are the fastest growing markets in the world for wind and solar, Cleetus said.

“It’s not that old static picture anymore that coal is king,” she said. “We see that being challenged both in the U.S. and abroad.”

Follow Lindsey Konkel on Twitter.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at

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PVC pipe

Residents Sue National Pipe (PVC) NY


Nearly 50 Endicott, NY residents have banded together in a lawsuit filed last week against National Pipe & Plastics, accusing the manufacturer of having “devastated the neighborhood” where it opened a new plant earlier this year.  The lawsuit claims noise and odors wafting from the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe manufacturing plant at 15 Mills Ave. have created an “ongoing public nuisance” to residents of the West Endicott neighborhood.

Read more.

Danger chemicals image

The Paradox of Science: Knowing so Much, yet so Little


One of the toughest questions to answer is whether a person’s cancer or birth defect was the result of growing up at Love Canal, or Pensacola, FL or at any of the hundreds of communities in this country where there’s a toxics legacy. People wonder at the genius of their smart phone or the marvelous engineering feat of sending a crew of astronauts to the moon and backing them safely back, and then naturally expect the health experts at ATSDR or EPA to know what happens when people are exposed to toxic chemicals.

But neither of these technological and engineering feats can hold a candle to the complexity of the human body and the intricacy of its biological functioning. In the engineering world, one plus one will always equal two. In the biological world of the life sciences, there is no such simple mathematics to lay the foundation of understanding. When it comes to the biology of the human body, scientists actually know very little about how and why the body responds to toxic chemicals the way it does.

This is the paradox of science when it comes to toxic chemicals: we know a great deal about the mechanism of action of some chemicals such as dioxin or lead, yet we don’t know is what is going to happen to an individual who is exposed to 5 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene in their drinking water, or to 56 parts per trillion (ppt) of dioxin in the air, or to a child who eats lead paint chips for 3 months. In some cases, scientists can predict symptoms to expect, but it’s rare that they can predict health outcomes. Add in the reality of cumulative exposures, not only in the number of chemicals a person might be exposed to, but the time over which exposures might occur, and the certainty over what is known becomes even smaller.

There are a number of factors that determine what happens when a person is exposed to chemicals. These factors include an individual’s susceptibility (this varies quite a lot from person to person), how long exposures occur, how many chemicals a person is exposed to, the concentration of these chemicals, and the toxicity of the chemicals. Even if you knew all of these factors (which is very rare), it’s still almost impossible to predict what will happen when a person is exposed.

In addition, many symptoms or diseases are not specific to a particular chemical. In most instances, there can be many causes of the symptoms that people are having. And few physicians have experience with exposures to toxic chemicals, and they often blame the victim for his or her situation rather than looking at chemicals as a possible explanation. Another problem is determining what the “normal” rate of illness or disease is in a community. Scientists simply can’t decide what’s normal, in large part because of the many uncertainties already discussed.

So if you have a health problem that you think might be related to some exposure to toxic chemicals, don’t expect the scientific community to have many answers for you. Scientists can give you their “best guess” on what they think will happen, or maybe they can give you a risk range or a probability of getting cancer, but don’t expect much more. No matter what they tell, they just don’t know.  No one does.


Childhood Leukemia from Power Lines


We previously reported an association between childhood leukemia in Britain and proximity of the child’s address at birth to high-voltage power lines that declines from the 1960s to the 2000s. We test here whether a ‘corona-ion hypothesis’ could explain these results. This hypothesis proposes that corona ions, atmospheric ions produced by power lines and blown away from them by the wind, increase the retention of airborne pollutants in the airways when breathed in and hence cause disease. We develop an improved model for calculating exposure to corona ions, using data on winds from meteorological stations and considering the whole length of power line within 600 m of each subject’s address. Corona-ion exposure is highly correlated with proximity to power lines, and hence the results parallel the elevations in leukemia risk seen with distance analyses. But our model explains the observed pattern of leukemia rates around power lines less well than straightforward distance measurements, and ecological considerations also argue against the hypothesis. This does not disprove the corona-ion hypothesis as the explanation for our previous results, but nor does it provide support for it, or, by extension, any other hypothesis dependent on wind direction. Read more.


Will You Support the Children and Firefighter Protection Act?


85% of couches tested recently contained toxic or untested flame retardants. Exposure to toxic flame retardants is linked to a variety of health concerns like cancer, hormone-disruption, and harm to the developing brain.

Tell your senator to support a federal bill to get toxic flame retardants out of our living rooms and our children’s rooms.

As you may know, children are uniquely vulnerable to the toxic effects of these chemicals because they have a completely different physiology and metabolism than adults. Fire fighters are also exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals including flame retardants when a house is burning. But guess what? These chemicals are not effective in preventing fires and provide no meaningful protection from small open flames for upholstered furniture.

Please support The Children and Firefighters Protection Act (S. 2811) sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (NY).

The Schumer bill bans the ten worst toxic flame retardants from use in upholstered furniture and children’s products, and allows the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban similar chemicals shown to be hazardous.

Take action now and urge your U.S. senator to cosponsor The Children and Firefighters Protection Act (S. 2811).

Act Now!

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Pesticide levels on food unknown due to poor government testing


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not perform enough pesticide residue tests — on either imported or domestic foods – to say whether the American food supply is safe, according to federal auditors.

The Government Accountability Office report, which was released Thursday, said FDA is testing less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all imported fruits and vegetables and less than 1 percent of domestic fruits and vegetables. Federal auditors said the agency’s pesticide testing program is not “statistically valid,” making it impossible for it to meet one of its mandates, which is to “determine the national incidence and level of pesticide residues in the foods it regulates.”

Read the full story from Kimberly Kindy at The Washington Post.


Visionary Leaders Issue a Renewed Vision for Protecting Children’s Environmental Health


The Children’s Environmental Health Network convened a diverse group of visionary leaders to chart a renewed vision and blueprint for protecting children’s environmental health.

We believe that the next generation must be better off than the last. We believe that it is our moral obligation to protect and nurture our children’s health.

October 30, 2014

Last week, a historic meeting was convened by the Children’s Environmental Health Network at Wingspread, headquarters of the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin. Visionary leaders representing perspectives from science, non-profit advocacy, environmental justice, child health, urban planning, academia, public health, business, economics, public policy, law, and agriculture gathered in urgent recognition that children are now being gripped by an epidemic of illnesses and chronic diseases linked to environmental exposures.

This diverse group of leaders drafted a dynamic vision statement calling for transformative change through renewed and collective action to provide all children with the protections from harm that they deserve. Meeting participants also developed an outline of a blueprint for action that will place children at the center of all key decision-making moving forward, and will continue to finalize this framework for action to make the vision a reality. The text of the vision statement is as follows:

A Vision for Protecting Children’s Environmental Health

(Wingspread Statement)

We believe that every child has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Fundamental to that vision is the right of all children to play and learn, to breathe, eat and drink, and to dream safely cradled by their families and communities. All children should live free from violence, racism, poverty, hunger, life trauma, and poisons that will keep them from living up to their full potential. Indeed, society’s soul is truly revealed by the way in which it treats its children.

We believe that the next generation must be better off than the last. We believe that it is our moral obligation to protect and nurture our children’s health. And we believe that their health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease.

We have gathered in urgent recognition that our children are gripped by an epidemic. It is a surge of illnesses and chronic diseases linked to environmental exposures. This may be the first generation of Americans to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. We know that too many hazards in our homes, schools, childcare facilities, businesses, and communities are threatening the health and well-being of our children and our nation. The water our children drink, the air they breathe, the food they eat, the schools and childcare facilities in which they learn, the parks where they play, and the communities in which they live are in too many cases threatening their health during childhood and later in life. The security of their families, communities, and our nation’s future is further imperiled by climate change. We know that children are uniquely susceptible and especially exposed to too many toxics. We also know that many of these threats stem from parents’ exposures to pollutants before conception and children’s exposures throughout childhood and into late adolescence – and that these early exposures can trigger diseases and disrupt development, learning, and behavior both in childhood and later in life.

Based on these facts, we unanimously support the following principles:

  • All children have the right to breathe clean air, eat safe and healthful food, drink pure water, and enjoy toys and products free from environmental health and safety threats;
  • All children have the right to healthy, safe, and secure homes, childcare facilities, schools, and communities;
  • All children and their parents and caretakers have the right to know about proven and potential hazards to their environmental health and safety and to protection from these threats.

It is our mutual responsibility to protect these rights and to act with forethought to protect children’s health and development, regardless of their race or social circumstances. It is our special obligation to safeguard communities most at risk.

Our vision is of a society that puts children at the center. We urge renewed and collective societal action to make this vision real by:

  • Mobilizing greater societal understanding of children’s environmental health and placing a strong priority on children and families;
  • Creating knowledge essential for effective action and making use of the knowledge we have;
  • Marshaling the engine of the economy to achieve environments in which children can thrive and enjoy abundant opportunity for building a sustainable, economically secure future; and
  • Building the political will in our institutions of government for child-centered policies.

To read more about the Vision and its supporters, click here.


Plastics chemical linked to changes in baby boys’ genitals


Environmental Health News

Oct. 29, 2014

Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today.

The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract.

Previous studies of baby boys in three countries found that a similar plastics chemical, DEHP, was associated with the same type of changes in their genitalia.

Less is known about the reproductive risks of DiNP, a chemical which scientists say may be replacing DEHP in many products such as vinyl toys, flooring and packaging. In mice, high levels block testosterone and alter testicular development.

“Our data suggest that this substitute phthalate may not be safer than the chemical it is replacing,” wrote the researchers, led by Carl-Gustaf Bornehag at Sweden’s Karlstad University, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Levels of DiNP in U.S. adults and children have more than doubled in the past decade.

Ray Dumas/flickr
Phthalate chemicals found in vinyl products have been linked to altered genital development in baby boys.

“This study raises concern about DiNP, which is being used in increased amounts in products that contain vinyl plastics, and the impact on the developing fetus,” said Dr. Russ Hauser, a professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health who is not involved in the new study.

The researchers measured metabolites of five phthalates in the urine of pregnant women during the first trimester. Development of male reproductive organs begins during that period, said senior study author Shanna Swan, a professor of reproductive science at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

The researchers then measured the anogenital distance – the length between the anus and the genitals – when the boys were on average 21 months old. Boys who had been exposed to the highest levels of DiNP in the womb averaged a distance that was slightly shorter – about seven-hundredths of an inch – than the boys with the lowest exposures.

“These were really subtle changes,” Swan said.

Considered a sign of incomplete masculinization, shortened anogenital distance in men has been associated with abnormal testicular development and reduced semen quality and fertility. In men, this measurement is typically 50 to 100 percent longer than in women.

But it’s unknown whether a slightly shorter distance in infants corresponds with any fertility problems later in life.

“More research is needed to understand the extent to which shorter anogenital distance at birth is associated with impaired reproductive function later in life in humans,” said Emily Barrett, a reproductive health scientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

For other phthalates, the study found shorter anogenital distance with higher concentrations, but the findings were not statistically significant, meaning they may have been due to chance. The Swedish women in the new study had phthalate levels similar to U.S. women in Swan’s previous studies. Those studies, published in 2005 and 2008, linked several phthalates to shorter anogenital distance.

Thomas van Ardenne
Pregnant women may be exposed to phthalates through food or through skin contact with home products.

A spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, a group representing chemical manufacturers, said the study “reports small changes that are associated with exposure to DiNP” but does not prove that the chemical caused the changes.

The spokesperson said the new findings “seem to contradict” the authors’ earlier findings as well as two other studies that found no association between DiNP and men’s anogenital distance. In addition, the study is based on a single urine sample from the mothers. As a result, the “plausibility is low,” the industry group said. “To demonstrate causal associations in the field of epidemiology, there are criteria that should be evaluated and considered…We found that this study scores low for many important considerations.”

The industry group did not answer questions about what types of products DiNP is used in. The scientists said exposures to the chemical can come from food or through skin contact with home furnishings or child-care articles.

In 2008, the United States temporarily banned use of DiNP and two other phthalate plasticizers in toys and other children’s products. “This ban does nothing to protect the developing fetus,” Swan said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended in July to make the ban permanent and urged that “U.S. agencies responsible for dealing with DiNP exposures from food and other products conduct the necessary risk assessments.”

While it’s nearly impossible to eliminate exposure to phthalates, Swan suggested that pregnant women may be able to reduce their exposures by incorporating unprocessed, unpackaged foods into the diet and by avoiding heating or storing foods in plastic containers.

Read the original story at Environmental Health News.

Follow Lindsey Konkel on Twitter.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at


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