Posts Tagged ‘ toxic chemicals ’

Birth Defects in Washington State Mystify Doctors

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Doctors and public health officials are puzzled by why a cluster of diagnoses of anencephaly, a fatal birth defect in which infants are born missing parts of their brain and skull, has emerged in Washington state. The spate of diagnoses is leading parents and doctors to question how rigorous epidemiologists are being in determining the causes of the defect.  CNN has more:

For months, Andrea Jackman has been expecting a call from the Department of Health.

While pregnant, Jackman lived in the Yakima Valley, an agricultural area in south-central Washington. Her daughter, Olivia, was born in September with spina bifida, which, like anencephaly, is a neural tube defect the state is also tracking. Unlike anencephaly, however, spina bifida is usually not fatal.

She says she’s incredulous and outraged that state researchers haven’t called to ask questions: What did she eat while she was pregnant? Did she spend time near farms that sprayed pesticides? Did she take any herbs or supplements? How about Olivia’s father? Was he exposed to any toxic chemicals?

But no one has called.

Mandy Stahre, the state epidemiologist who’s investigating the cluster of birth defects, says it might be upsetting for mothers to get a call with such questions. Most of the women were pregnant with babies who had anencephaly, and the outcome is always horrible. If a woman didn’t miscarry, she had to make a decision whether to terminate her pregnancy or go ahead and have a baby sure to die soon after birth.

Stahre and her colleagues asked themselves: Would a phone call traumatize these women?

“We have to weigh that heavily. This is a devastating diagnosis, and we know that for a lot of these women they had to make some hard choices,” Stahre says. “We have to weigh how invasive we want to be with these types of interviews.”

Jackman says that attitude is paternalistic and condescending. She says she would do anything to help prevent another family from having a baby with a severe birth defect. State epidemiologists should have made those phone calls a long time ago, she says, since every day that passes, her memory, and those of other mothers, start to fade about what their habits were during pregnancy.

“What are you researching if you haven’t physically called the families to find out?” she asks.

‘Very bad research

Stahre has an answer to Jackman’s question: The state examined the mothers’ medical records, which revealed, among other things, the women’s home addresses.

By the address, epidemiologists can learn a mother’s water source, whether she lives near an agricultural area and whether she took folic acid early in pregnancy, which helps prevent neural tube defects.

“(Medical records) give us a lot of information about all of the known risk factors,” the epidemiologist says.

The state’s rigorous search of the women’s medical records, along with birth and death certificates, found nothing linking the families who had babies with birth defects.

That finding doesn’t surprise Dr. Beate Ritz, who’s done several studies on birth defects.

Ritz, vice chair of the epidemiology department at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, says medical records are notoriously unreliable: One doctor, for example, might note whether a woman smokes, but another doctor might not.

“From a research point of view, this is very bad research,” she says.

She says medical records reveal whether a woman has been prescribed any drugs, or diagnosed with a certain condition, but they don’t contain detailed information about a mother’s diet or possible toxins she might have been exposed to in the environment.

“The data quality on medical records is so low that it’s not really research,” she says.

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Kids Exposed to Brain-Harming Chemicals at Record Levels

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years.  Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:

In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.

Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.

The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.

“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.

Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock

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200,000 Toy Dolls Blocked from Entering U.S. Because of Toxic Chemicals

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

More than 200,000 toy dolls shipped to the United States from China for the holiday gift-giving season were seized by U.S. authorities because the dolls were found to contain phthalates, a toxic chemical that has been linked to premature births, among other health risks.  More from CNN.com:

The toys contained high levels of phthalates, which are chemical plasticizers used to make materials softer and more pliable, authorities said. Congress has banned the chemical in children’s toys.

The U.S. Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center began targeting the shipments in April because they threatened children’s safety, authorities said.

“Using advanced technology to track certain shipments before they reach our shores is helping CPSC better protect America’s consumers,” Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in a statement.

U.S. authorities didn’t identify the manufacturer of the toys Tuesday.

A total of 10 shipments valued at almost $500,000 were seized at the ports of Chicago; Dallas; Los Angeles; Norfolk, Virginia; Memphis, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon; and Savannah, Georgia, authorities said.

Tenenbaum said her agency and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been targeting dangerous imports at several major ports through the use of a risk management system. Those efforts resulted in the seizure of more than 1.1 million unsafe products last fiscal year, authorities said. At the same time, the system also allows “for faster processing of compliant products,” she said.

Image: Toy doll, via Shutterstock

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Report on Toxic Chemicals and Child Health Delayed

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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Toxic, Dangerous Toys Still on Some Store Shelves, Report Says

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

The U.S. Public Interest Research Organization has released its 27th annual “Trouble in Toyland” survey, which has found on store shelves a number of toys that are known to be dangerous or made of toxic materials. The offending toys include those that pose choking or laceration hazards, contain toxic chemicals like lead and BPA that are associated with health risks, or exceed recommended limits for safe noise levels around young ears.

Parents are urged to carefully read all printed warnings on toys they are planning to purchase this holiday season, and to review the report to educate themselves on the warning signs of a dangerous toy.

CNN.com has more:

Over the years, the organization said, its reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other regulatory actions.

This year’s list “includes a potentially dangerous magnet toy, a bowling game that is a choking hazard and a key chain rattle that may be harmful to little ears,” it said.

Researchers visited national toy stores, malls and dollar stores in September, October and November this year to look for potential toxic, choking, strangulation and noise hazards.

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Nasima Hossain, public health advocate for Public Interest Research Group, in a release detailing the report.

The Toy Industry Association, which represents more than 500 manufacturers in the United States, said, “Safety is our top priority all year,” and a spokesman called the group’s survey “another of its needlessly frightening reports.”

Image: Child in toy store, via Shutterstock

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