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Monday, December 31st, 2012
A report on the possible health effects for children of chemicals in everyday products, long in the works at an agency of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been sidelined by bureaucratic entanglements and serious opposition from the chemical industry. NBC News calls the “America’s Children and the Environment” (ACE) report a “landmark” that contains information linking toxic chemicals to illnesses from asthma to learning disabilities, analyzes the extent to which the air inside schools and day care centers may be polluted, and discusses possible health risks to pregnant women and their fetuses. From NBC:
In the making since 2008, the ACE report is based on peer-reviewed research and databases from federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health officials view it as a source of one-stop shopping for the best information on what children and women of childbearing age are exposed to, how much of it remains in their bodies and what the health effects might be. Among the “health outcomes” listed as related to environmental exposures are childhood cancer, obesity, neurological disorders, respiratory problems and low birth weight.
The report cites hundreds of studies — both human, epidemiological studies that show a correlation between exposure to certain chemical pollutants and negative health outcomes, and animal studies that demonstrate cause and effect. In some cases, the authors note, certain chemicals have been detected in children, but not enough is known about their effects to draw conclusions about safety.
In a section on perfluorochemicals (PFCs), for example, which are used to make nonstick coatings, and protect textiles and carpets from water, grease and soil, among other things, the draft notes that they are found in human breast milk.
The report said that “a growing number of human health studies” have found an association between prenatal exposure to PFCs and low birth weight, decreased head circumference and low birth length. It also stated that based on “emerging evidence suggests that exposure to some PFCs can have negative impacts on human thyroid function.”
Furthermore, it noted that animal studies produced similar results, although exposures were typically at higher levels than people are exposed to.
The EPA’s website still notes that the report will be published by the end of 2011. But after a public comment period that was marked by unusually harsh criticism from industry, additional peer review and input from other agencies, the report landed at OMB last March, where it has remained. No federal rule requires the OMB to review such a report before publication, but EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine said the agency referred it to the OMB because its impact cuts across several federal agencies.
The spokeswoman said EPA had no idea when OMB would release it, allowing publication.
Image: Child near factory, via Shutterstock
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Friday, January 13th, 2012
Coca-Cola, which manufactures both the Simply Orange and Minute Maid brands of orange juice, has reported to federal regulators that the company has detected low levels of the fungicide carbendazim in its juice and in an unnamed competitors’ juice. The fungicide, which is illegal for use on food in the United States, is widely used against mold on orange trees in Brazil, which exports orange juice to many U.S. companies.
“This is an industry issue that affects every company that produces products in the U.S. using orange juice from Brazil,” said Coca-Cola spokesman Dan Schafer.
The FDA said Coca-Cola found levels up to 35 parts per billion of the fungicide, far below the European Union’s maximum residue level of 200 parts per billion. The U.S. government has not established a maximum residue level for carbendazim in orange juice, though the Environmental Protection Agency has said a risk assessment showed no risks of concern at up to 80 parts per billion.
Most orange juice products made by Coke and other companies contain a blend of juice from different sources including Brazil. In addition to Coca-Cola, Pepsico Inc.’s Tropicana brand is one of the largest U.S. orange juice producers. A spokesman for Tropicana declined to say whether the company had done its own testing for the fungicide.
The FDA told MSNBC that it has not detected carbendazim levels higher than 10 parts per billion–if they had, a recall would be in effect. The agency said it urges the industry to stop using the fungicide, and that any discovery of higher levels will prompt a recall.
Image: Orange juice, via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical found in some hard plastics and food can linings, has been found to make male mice less “masculine” and less attractive to female mice, reports Health.com.
Though the study, in which pregnant mice were fed BPA and their offspring put through a series of tests, cannot be conclusively linked to similar effects of BPA on baby boys, studies have shown that male factory workers who were exposed to significant amounts of BPA experienced erectile dysfunction and loss of libido.
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement of concern over the effect of BPA on fetuses and young children, though BPA has not been officially declared to be a toxic chemical. Many toy and baby bottle companies have stopped using BPA in their plastics.
One interesting finding from the mouse study was that adult BPA-exposed and non-exposed mice both exhibited normal testosterone levels, though their behaviors were different. The study’s lead author, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri–Columbia Cheryl Rosenfeld, Ph.D., says this suggests that future human research should focus on pre-adult hormone levels, and how BPA exposure might be affecting people in ways that are not currently being measured.
“[We] have sexually selected traits just like animals do, so there’s no reason to presume that the animals would behave differently than humans,” Rosenfeld told Health.com. “It also suggests that the development period is very important — the period when offspring are exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds. Pregnant women need to start considering what exposure to these compounds is doing to their offspring.”
For more: 15 BPA-Free Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups
(image via: http://www.fooducate.com/)
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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
An increasing number of studies point to exposure to chemicals as a major cause of autism, CNN reported June 7. Autism is a group of developmental disorders that affects an estimated 1 in 110 American children, can cause behavioral and socialization problems, and costs a family an estimated $3.2 million to care for over a lifetime.
The percentage of children diagnosed with autism has increased markedly in recent years, rising 17 percent since the 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines have been scientifically disproved to be causes of autism, and more evidence is mounting that chemical exposure, together with genetics, are contributing factors.
“We live, breathe and start our families in the presence of toxic chemical mixtures and constant low-level toxic exposures, in stark contrast to the way chemicals are tested for safety,” said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at The Autism Society in a conference call with reporters.
“Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe,” she said.
Irva Hertz-Piccotto, Chief of the Division of Environmental Health at the University of California, Davis, and a faculty member at the Mind Institute, added that neurological disruption caused by chemical exposure can begin in the womb and extend to everyday items such as soaps and plastics. The CNN article states:
The central nervous system of the fetus is sensitive to a wide range of chemicals, Hertz-Piccotto said. Hormones, such as estrogens and androgens, are essential for proper brain development. Endocrine-disrupting compounds need more research, she said. Flame-retardant chemicals called PBDEs interfere with the body’s hormones. Even though many of them are no longer used in manufacturing, they can hang around in the environment and the human body for a long time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aware of concerns about these chemicals and is working on accessing substitutions (see the action plan).
Bisphenol A, present in plastic food packaging and water bottles, among other products, is another big concern, she said, because it could interfere with the body’s natural estrogen system; antimicrobials added to soaps, toothpaste and other products can artificially enhance androgenic activity.
“That means that they could potentially play a role in autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders,” Hertz-Piccotto said.
Learn more about autism on Parents.com:
(image via: http://mudirect.missouri.edu)
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Tuesday, June 7th, 2011
The NPR health blog Shots covered a late-May Capitol Hill appearance by the actress Jessica Alba to advocate for reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that governs how chemicals are used in products from water bottles to soaps to furniture. In May, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that the government specifically amend this law to better protect children and pregnant women.
Alba appeared with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who has introduced a bill called “The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011″ as a replacement to the Toxic Substances Control Act. Announcing the bill in April, Lautenberg said, “The average American has more than 200 industrial chemicals in their body, including dozens linked to cancer and other health problems. The shocking truth is that the current law does not require tests to ensure chemicals used in everyday household products are safe. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] does not have the tools to address dangerous substances and even the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws to assure consumers that their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to separate the chemicals that help from the chemicals that hurt.”
According to Shots, the NPR blog:
Alba, a mom who’s expecting her second child, is now the celebrity spokeswoman for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families — a consortium of advocacy groups and companies ranging from the American Nurses Association to the Union of Concerned Scientists. They want more teeth in the federal law to tackle questions about chemicals like bisphenol A.
“Like many other moms out there, I try to buy safe products for my family, but that can’t be the only solution. You can’t hire a team of scientists to do your shopping for you,” Alba said at the media briefing. “At some point the government has to step in and ensure that chemicals are safe before our children are exposed to them.”
(image via: http://www.saferchemicals.org/)
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