Global Glyphosate Study pilot phase shows reproductive and developmental effects at "safe" dose
A new study(1) has found that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs), including Roundup, caused reproductive and developmental effects in both male and female rats, at a dose level currently considered safe in the US (1.75 mg/kg bw/day).
Exposure to GBHs was associated with androgen-like effects, including a statistically significant increase of anogenital distance (AGD) in males and females, delay of first estrus, and increased testosterone in females, in the study conducted by scientists at the Ramazzini Institute, Bologna, Italy.
AGD, the distance between the anus and the genitals, is a sensitive marker of prenatal endocrine disruption(2) affecting the genital tract development. Exposure to different chemicals including pesticides has been linked previously to altered AGDs and other endocrine effects(3)(4).
This is the fourth in a series of related papers(5) from the pilot phase of the Global Glyphosate Study. The first results of the pilot phase of the study were presented to the European Parliament on May 16, 2018. The previous peer-reviewed publications show that exposure to GBHs leads to other effects, including altering the gut microbiota of rats in early development, particularly before the onset of puberty.
The pilot phase of the study was performed by the Ramazzini Institute and a network of scientific partners, including the University of Bologna, the Genoa Hospital San Martino, the Italian National Institute of Health, the University of Copenhagen, the Federal University of Paraná, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and George Washington University.
The €300,000 study was funded by 30,000 members of the public in Italy, who are associates of the Ramazzini Institute cooperative.
A crowd-funding campaign has been launched to help support a long-term comprehensive Global Glyphosate Study, which, following these results, is now urgently required.
BackgroundGlyphosate is the most used herbicide in human history. 18.9 Billion pounds (8.6 Billion Kilograms) of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) have been sprayed worldwide since 1974. Glyphosate use has also increased 15-fold since genetically modified crops were introduced in 1996(6).
In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”(7). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), following the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) evaluation, has since stated that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”(8) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) stated that “the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction”(9). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still has a new evaluation of glyphosate pending(10).
The scientific uncertainty surrounding glyphosate and GBHs has also led to political uncertainty, with a shortened 5-year re-approval for glyphosate having been granted by European Union Member States in November 2017.
The Ramazzini Institute and their partners have walked into this unclear situation so as to supply valuable and independent data to enable regulators, governments and the general public of every country to answer the question: Are glyphosate and GBHs safe at real-world levels of exposure?
The pilot study, which is vital for the long-term comprehensive study, aimed to obtain general information as to whether GBHs are toxic at various stages of early life (newborn, infancy and adolescence), and to identify early markers of exposure and effect. Glyphosate and one of its formulates (Roundup Bioflow, MON 52276) were both tested in Sprague-Dawley rats, starting from prenatal life until 13 weeks after weaning, exposed to a dose of glyphosate in drinking water corresponding to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable daily dietary exposure(11), referred to in the US as the chronic reference dose (cRfD) – 1.75 mg/kg/day.
Global Glyphosate Study: CrowdfundingThe Ramazzini Institute, with the support of other independent Institutes and Universities in Europe and the United States, has now launched a crowdfunding campaign for the most comprehensive long-term study ever on GBHs. A longterm study is now necessary to extend and confirm the initial evidence that has emerged in the pilot phase of the Study.
The total budget for this study is €5 million and it is already receiving support from the public, politicians and NGOs around the world.
The Ramazzini InstituteThe Ramazzini Institute, in over 40 years of activity, has studied more than 200 compounds from the general and occupational environment and many of its results have provided a solid scientific base for regulating and limiting the exposure of a number of substances. Examples include vinyl chloride, benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and mancozeb.
Scientists' commentsProf Philip J. Landrigan, Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, Boston College, commented: “This very important study from the Ramazzini Institute indicates that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, has negative effects on reproductive development in mammalian species even at exposure levels that are currently considered safe and legally acceptable. Although these findings are not definitive, they are very worrisome, and need to be followed closely by national and international regulatory agencies.
Dr Fiorella Belpoggi, Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, Ramazzini Institute, said: “A long-term study on GBHs encompassing intrauterine life through to advanced adulthood is needed to confirm and further explore the initial evidence of endocrine-related effects and developmental alterations emerged in this pilot study.”
Prof Jia Chen, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said: “GBHs are of significant public health concern because of their widespread and sharply increased usage and we still do not know enough about their noncancerous effects, in particular in developing children.”
Dr Alberto Mantovani, Italian National Institute of Health, said: “A relevant feature of the findings for risk assessors are the definitely stronger endocrine-reproductive effects induced by the product GBH compared to an equivalent dose level of the pure substance glyphosate. The suggestion that other components of GBH may significantly enhance glyphosate toxicity definitely deserves further investigation.”
Prof Melissa J Perry, George Washington University, said: “Although glyphosate has been around for decades, its global use has increased rapidly and we know surprisingly little about the human health effects of such widespread use. This study in rats uses doses that compare to what humans are exposed to in their everyday environments including from the food they eat.
“These most recent findings demonstrate important impacts on hormone production that shouldn’t be ignored. The study findings as a whole are providing valuable original information to more clearly assess the health risks to humans.”
Prof Anderson Joel Martino Andrade, Federal University of Paraná, said: “This pilot study shows that the development of the reproductive system seems to be particularly sensitive to glyphosate and that formulated pesticides may have a different profile of toxic effects than isolated active ingredients.”
Source : GMWatch
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More bad phthalate news: Early life exposure linked to decreased motor skills
"This is a crucial public health challenge given the globally ubiquitous nature of phthalates"
Kids exposed to phthalates prenatally and as 3-year-olds have decreased motor skills later in their childhood, according to a new study.
The study is concerning because phthalates are so widely used. Previous research found that phthalate exposure is linked to decreased motor skills for infants and toddlers but this is the first study to suggest these problems may persist as the children age.
"As lower scores on measures of motor development have been associated with more problems in cognitive, socioemotional functioning and behavior, the findings of this study have implications related to overall child development," the researchers wrote in the study published online in Environmental Research.
"This is a crucial public health challenge given the globally ubiquitous nature of phthalates," they added.
Phthalates—used widely in vinyl flooring, cosmetics, detergents, lubricants and food packages—are endocrine disrupting chemicals, meaning they alter the proper functioning of people's hormones. They've also recently been found in diapers and women's sanitary pads.
The chemicals have been linked to multiple health problems, including birth and reproduction problems, diseases, impaired brain development, diabetes and cancer. Just last week researcher linked phthalates to reduced lung function as well.
Researchers looked at the prenatal phthalate exposure of 209 children, as well as exposure when they were 3 years old. They found girls that were exposed to higher levels of phthalates while in the womb had decreased motor skills at age 11; and boys exposed to higher levels of phthalates at age 3 had decreased motor skills at age 11.
The women and children are from an ongoing study cohort in New York City; the mothers are all either Black or Dominican.
Senior author of the paper Pam Factor-Litvak, a professor and epidemiologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, told EHN the motor skills tests included "fine motor skill" tests such as whether or not kids can put a peg in a peg board or coordinating with their upper limbs, and a focus on larger muscle groups, with tests such as walking on a balance beam or running.
She said the importance of motor skills is often overlooked in research. "Motor function is so important and it has a lot to do with cognitive and social development as well," she said.
The researchers didn't look at how the phthalates might be impacting motor skills; however, previous studies have shown the chemicals to alter proper function of the thyroid, which is crucial to proper motor skills and brain development. The chemicals could also disrupt vital neuron activity in the kids' brains, which are involved in motor skills' development.
Factor-Litvak said it's not entirely understood why they saw different impacts on boys and girls but that phthalates are known to disrupt sex steroid hormones such as estradiol and androgens, which could impact boys' and girls' brains in different ways.
The study alone doesn't prove the compounds are causing these impacts, however, it adds to mounting evidence. Multiple previous studies have found a link between phthalate exposure and decreased motor skills.
Those studies focused on newborns to children around preschool age. This study suggests that these prenatal and early life exposures may continue to impact children well into their childhood years—and maybe beyond, Factor-Litvak said.
"That's what we worry about – the downstream impacts after childhood. [Those impacts] haven't been studied," she said.
Source : Environmental Health News
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Chemical Exposure Linked to 1.4 Billion Euros in Women’s Health Care Costs
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may raise risk of developing endometriosis, uterine fibroids
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may contribute to reproductive health problems experienced by hundreds of thousands of women, costing European Union an estimated €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) a year in health care expenditures and lost earning potential, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The study examined rates of uterine fibroids – benign tumors on the uterus that can contribute to infertility and other health problems – and an often painful condition called endometriosis where the tissue that normally lines the uterus develops elsewhere in the body. The two conditions are common, with as many as 70 percent of women affected by at least one of the disorders.
Research has linked the development of uterine fibroids and endometriosis to chemicals found in pesticides, cosmetics, toys and food containers. Past studies suggest a byproduct of the pesticide DDT, a chemical known as DDE, can raise the risk of developing uterine fibroids. Another group of chemicals called phthalates, which are found in plastic products and cosmetics, have been tied to growing risk of endometriosis.
DDT and phthalates are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs can contribute to health problems by mimicking, blocking or otherwise interfering with the body’s hormones – the signaling system the body uses to determine how cells develop and grow. Unborn children are particularly vulnerable because exposure during key points in development can raise the risk of health problems later in life.
“The data shows that protecting women from exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals could substantially reduce rates of disease and lower health care and other social costs of these conditions,” said Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
The study is part of a series of economic analyses that found endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure may be costing the European Union upwards of €157 billion ($173 billion) a year. Prior studies in the series examined the costs associated with infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral and learning disorders.
To assess the economic burden of EDC exposure, a group of scientists convened a panel of global EDC experts to adapt existing environmental health cost models, relying on the Institute of Medicine’s 1981 approach of assessing the contribution of environment factors in causing illness. Based on the body of established literature, the researchers evaluated the likelihood that EDCs contributed to various medical conditions and dysfunctions.
Researchers only considered endometriosis and uterine fibroids in the analysis because there is robust data on their incidence and association with endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure. The researchers estimated that 145,000 cases of endometriosis and 56,700 cases of uterine fibroids in Europe could be attributed to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
“Although these two gynecological conditions affect millions of women worldwide, we recognize that this analysis only reflects the tip of the iceberg,” Trasande said. “A growing body of evidence suggests EDC exposure is linked to a broader range of female reproductive problems, including polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility and pregnancy complications. These disorders also place a significant cost burden on women, their families and society as a whole.”
The economic analysis included direct costs of hospital stays, physician services, and other medical costs. The researchers also calculated estimates of indirect costs such as lost worker productivity associated with these often painful disorders.
Other authors of the study include: Patricia A. Hunt of Washington State University in Pullman, WA; Sheela Sathyanarayana of Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington in Seattle, WA; and Paul A. Fowler of the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, United Kingdom.
The study, “Female Reproductive Disorders, Diseases & Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union,” will be published online at http://press.endocrine.org/doi/10.1210/jc.2015-2873, ahead of print.
Source : Newswise
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The FDA just banned these chemicals in food. Are they the tip of the iceberg?
FDA banned three toxic food packaging chemicals and is considering banning seven cancer-causing food flavoring chemicals, but food safety advocates say the process highlights flaws in the system.
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will withdraw its approval for three chemicals used to make grease, stain, and water repelling food packaging and consider banning seven food additives used in both “artificial” and “natural” flavors. While the news may have gotten lost during the first post-holiday weekday, it’s worth noting. And it raises much larger questions about one of the agencies with the most control over the safety of what we eat. Here’s what you need to know.
A Rare Response
The ban, which goes into effect in February, comes in response to a petition filed with the FDA by a handful of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Working Group (EWG), and others. What makes it significant, says Erik Olson, health and environment program director at NRDC, is the fact that, “It is the first time the FDA has actually banned a [chemical’s] use based on a petition” and done so “based on safety information.”
But despite this unusual response on the part of an agency, the ban itself may be too little too late, say some environmental advocates.
No-stick, No Guarantee of Safety
The banned chemicals are all perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), a class of chemicals used to coat things like pizza boxes, pastry wrappers, take-out food containers, paper plates, and non-stick cookware. In other words, they’re the kind of chemical most of us might be ingesting without knowing it. PFCs have raised environmental and human health concerns because they last for a very long time in the environment and have been found in wildlife worldwide and in people—including newborns and nearly every American the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tested.
In lab studies, PFCs have been linked to adverse effects on hormones, reproductive, developmental, neurological and immune systems, and to certain cancers. Last year, a group of more than 200 scientists from 38 countries issued a statement expressing their concern about this type of chemical and calling for policies to limit their production and use.
In its announcement this week, the FDA said the agency is taking this action because it can no longer say there is “a reasonably certainty of no harm” from use of these chemicals in food contact products. The FDA also acknowledged that it lacks adequate information about the chemicals’ migration from packaging into food itself as well as information about the chemicals’ developmental and reproductive toxicity.
While this candor on the part of the agency might be refreshing to some, Olson says it “highlights concerns we have with the whole system that has approved chemicals for these uses without fundamental data.”
And that’s not all. As EWG’s president Ken Cook said in a statement, “Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging…But it has taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out, and it’s banning only three chemicals that aren’t even made anymore.”
Bringing Imported Foods up to the Same Standards
Indeed, the banned chemicals are three of what are known as “C8” or long-chain PFCs that the agency worked with manufacturers to voluntarily discontinue about five years ago. According to the Society of the Plastics Industry—a major U.S. plastics industry trade group—these substance are no longer manufactured here for food-contact use.
Yet, while U.S. production of these three chemicals has been shut down, they are produced in China and India. As Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) chemicals policy director Tom Neltner explained to Civil Eats, the FDA’s action, “prevents these additives from being used in the future,” and in packaging on the millions of pounds of food that is imported to the U.S. every year. Without this week’s ban, consumers would have to rely entirely on voluntary action to keep these chemicals out of food packaging.
And while the FDA has focused on C8, it’s not clear that the shorter-chain chemicals that are being used to replace them are actually safe. The latter are also environmentally persistent and there’s a lack of information about their toxicity. “What is obviously worrisome is that there are a lot of other compounds out there and we don’t know what’s being used,” says Olson.
Behind the Flavor
At the same time the FDA announced this ban, it also agreed to review a petition from a similar group of environmental organizations asking that the agency bar the use of seven food flavoring chemicals that are classified as carcinogens. The substance names are mostly obscure: benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone, pyridine, and styrene.
These are the compounds you don’t see listed in food because they’re often classified as “artificial” or “natural” flavors. But all have been found to be carcinogenic—either by the U.S. National Toxicology Program or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). And all but one are listed as carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65.
On paper, carcinogenic food additives are illegal in this country. But, as EDF’s Neltner explains, “There is no look back, there is no reassessment.” In fact, as an FDA spokesperson said to Civil Eats, “Our subject matter experts monitor scientific literature and take action as needed,” but the FDA has no structured program to review previously approved food additive or food contact chemicals.
NRDC’s Olson says that “we’ve been banging on FDA’s door about for many years” about the agency’s lack of a formal review process for new science. When the FDA does review food additives it is usually in response to a petition from a public interest group, says Neltner. “I think there needs to be a reassessment system,” he says.
According to the petition submitted by the environmental groups, these chemicals are used to flavor ice cream, candy, baked goods, jellies, and beverages. Civil Eats reached out to several major food manufacturers that are members of the Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA, not to be confused with the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and did not receive a response about use of these substances.
But FEMA’s executive director John Cox said in a statement that, “The substances are permitted for use by the FDA and have not been identified as carcinogens by the FDA,” and that these seven chemical are approved by the WHO’s food additive committee. Cox also added that these chemicals are “naturally occurring substances” found at higher levels in fruit, vegetables, and spices.
Neltner disputes this assertion saying the chemicals in the petition may occur naturally, but not in the purified and manufactured form that get added to processed foods. “Is the industry actually arguing that styrene, pyridine, and benzophenone are natural flavors? It makes wonder what they call an ‘artificial’ flavor,” he wrote in an email.
Since many of these chemicals are typically used in proprietary flavor blends—secret recipes not unlike perfume formulas—“if you’re a consumer, there’s no way of avoiding them” says NRDC’s Olson. Unless of course you want to spend your time scanning ingredients lists for all “added flavors.”
The concerns about all of these chemicals—the flavor additives and the food packaging additives—highlight larger systemic problems at the FDA, say Neltner and Olson. Food companies are free to use a vast number of these chemicals without specific permission from the agency despite huge existing toxicity data gaps on the thousands of food additive and food contact chemicals in use. Take the example of these seven food flavorings. As Neltner explained, the FDA approved these substances in 1964 before it had evidence they were carcinogens, and the agency has not reevaluated its decisions since then.
“FDA has such limited resources that it rarely looks back at old decisions even when its sister agency, the National Toxicology Program, demonstrates that they cause harm,” Neltner noted. “When it does look back, it is usually as a result of petitions submitted by the public interest community.”
The FDA is accepting public comments on the food flavoring petition until March 4, 2016.
Source : Civil Eats
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Combinations of 'safe' chemicals may increase cancer risk, study suggests
Lots of chemicals are considered safe in low doses. But what happens when you ingest a little bit of a lot of different chemicals over time?
In some cases, these combinations may conspire to increase your risk of cancer, according to a new report.
“Many [chemicals] have the possibility, when they are combined, to cause the initiation of cancer,” said Hemad Yasaei, a cancer biologist at Brunel University in England, one of the authors of the report. “They could have a synergistic or enhanced effect.”
This is not the way regulators typically think about cancer risk when they evaluate a compound’s safety.
Normally, they test an individual chemical on laboratory animals, exposing them to progressively smaller amounts until it no longer causes malignant tumors to grow. Then they take that dose, determine the equivalent for humans, and apply what is called a “margin of safety” by declaring that some small fraction of that low dose is safe for people.
The big assumption driving the margin of safety is that a smaller amount of a chemical is less dangerous than a larger amount. (Think of the familiar axiom, “The dose makes the poison.”)
But that’s not true for all chemicals, experts say. Some chemicals, such as those that mimic hormones, may actually be more dangerous at lower doses because the human body is exquisitely attuned to respond to minute amounts of natural hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.
And regulators haven’t required testing of mixtures of chemicals at all.
“Everybody had been working under the assumption that when we tested these chemicals individually and they didn’t cause cancer below a certain dose, then we’re fine to spray that particular pesticide on your breakfast cereal before it goes into the box,” said Leroy Lowe, president of Canadian nonprofit Getting to Know Cancer and leader of the report published this week by the journal Carcinogenesis.
The new report raises questions about whether this approach is adequate.
Lowe has been making this point for years. One of his organization’s primary aims is to change the way regulators assess the health effects of chemical mixtures.
Humans are exposed to about 80,000 man-made chemicals over their lifetimes, experts say. These chemicals are in the foods we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
“We live in a chemical soup,” said toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, who was not involved in the new study.
The research team — a coalition of 174 researchers from 28 countries — set out to determine whether mixtures of these chemicals, at the very tiny concentrations found in the environment, could plausibly trigger the formation of cancerous tumors. They focused on 85 particular chemicals that were impossible to avoid in modern life, that were likely to disturb biological function and were not thought to pose cancer risks at the very low doses that people tend to ingest them.
“We were only looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Yasaei said.
The researchers scoured the scientific literature to understand how each of these chemicals could affect 10 important processes that are essential to cancer development. Among them: tumor-promoting inflammation, resistance to cell death and the formation of new blood vessels to feed malignant cells.
In addition, they categorized whether each of the chemicals exerted biological effects at very low doses to which humans are ubiquitously exposed. (These doses are so small that they tend to be measured in parts per million or parts per billion.)
Of the 85 chemicals researchers examined, 50 were found to affect cancer-causing processes in the body, even at very low doses.
These 50 everyday chemicals included bisphenol A (used in manufacturing plastics), triclosan (often found in hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap) and atrazine (a commonly used herbicide). Since each of these chemicals affects different processes that could lead to cancer — bisphenol A makes cells less sensitive to signals to stop reproducing, for example, while atrazine encourages inflammation — it’s plausible that consuming mixtures of these chemicals is riskier than consuming any one individually.
“To me, it’s not a surprise,” said Birnbaum of the NIEHS. Scientists know that small effects from many chemicals can add up to cause other diseases, she said. For instance, chemicals known as endocrine disruptors can lead to neurological, immune system and reproductive problems, among others.
Considering the safety of individual chemicals is a lot like looking at the trees, but missing the forest, Birnbaum said. When doing research to determine chemical safety, “we’ve got to start thinking more about what reality is,” she said.
This could mean sweeping changes in rules about the levels of chemicals considered safe in drinking water, food, and air.
“I’d like to see regulators and policy makers start looking at the totality of the exposure instead of one chemical at a time,” she said.
Source : LA Times
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Researchers link endocrine disrupting chemical exposure to altered gene function in pregnant women’s placentas, which could hamper fetal growth
By Brian Bienkowski - Environmental Health News
Women exposed to widely used chemicals while pregnant are more likely to have altered gene function in their placentas, according to a new study.
It is the first study to show that exposure to phenols and phthalates may alter how genes are expressed in the placenta of pregnant women and suggests that such exposures may hamper fetuses’ proper development and growth.
“Altered expression of a gene is of concern because we will have more or less of a protein,” said senior author of the study, Karin Michels, a professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard University School of Public Health, in an emailed response. “Proteins have essential function, for example, as hormones in the body.”
"The placenta is vital for nutrient transport to the fetus, regulation of oxygen, transport of waste out of the fetal compartment ... preventing infection."-Jennifer Adibi, University of PittsburghThe researchers tested the urine of 179 women in their first trimester of pregnancy for eight phenols, including widely used bisphenol-A (BPA), and 11 phthalate metabolites, substances formed after the body processes phthalates. Then they tested how certain genes were expressed in the placenta. The women were enrolled in a study cohort at Harvard University.
They found that exposure was associated with altering certain molecules that regulate the expression of genes in the placenta. The study is concerning because the placenta is a lifeline for the fetus and properly functioning genes are crucial for the health of both the placenta and the growing fetus.
“In the early stages, the fetus doesn’t have a functional endocrine system, it does not produce the hormones it needs to develop, and the placenta actually provides those,” said Adibi, who was not involved in the study.
Phenols and phthalates are widely used. Phthalates are used in vinyl products, in cosmetic as fragrances and in other plastics to make them pliable.
Phenols have a wide variety of uses including plastic resins, pesticides, and cleaning and personal care products. One of the most common, BPA, is ubiquitous and used to make polycarbonate plastic and found in some food cans and paper receipts.
Both phthalates and phenols are found in most people and the compounds are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with people’s hormones. Disrupted hormones can lead to numerous defects and diseases.
During pregnancy, various hormones rise to ensure that the fetus is carried to term. “Phthalates and phenols may interfere especially with these hormones by either mimicking their effect or blocking them,” Michels said.
The first trimester is a “critical window of exposure for implications in adverse health outcomes later in life,” Michels and colleagues wrote in the study published this month in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.
Adibi said the study is more evidence that human placentas respond “very uniquely” to chemicals such as phthalates. “This kind of challenges that historical view of the placenta—that chemicals pass through it in a passive way and interact with the fetus directly,” she said.
The study had “numerous shortcomings,” according to a statement from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents chemical manufacturers.
“This study does not provide enough information about the source of potential exposures and the study participants themselves to draw conclusions about the findings,” the statement said.
The ACC also pointed out that the study did not draw any conclusions about negative health effects associated with potential exposures, as the researchers did not find any associations between the expression of genes and birth weights or lengths.
However the altered gene expression may affect other aspects of long-term health such as metabolism or hormones, which may not directly impact birth weight or length but could manifest later in childhood or adult characteristics, Michels said.
Source : Environmental Health News
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Toiletry chemicals linked to testicular cancer and male infertility cost EU millions, report says
Nordic Council calls on EU to ban damaging compounds found in household products that cost millions due to their harmful impact on male reproductive health
The hormone-mimicking chemicals used routinely in toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, plastics and pesticides cause hundreds of millions of euros of damage to EU citizens every year, according to the first estimate of their economic impact.
The endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) are thought to be particularly harmful to male reproductive health and can cause testicular cancer, infertility, deformation of the penis and undescended testicles.
The new report, from the Nordic Council of Ministers, focuses on the costs of these on health and the ability to work but warns that they “only represent a fraction of the endocrine-related diseases” and does not consider damage to wildlife. Another new study, published in a medical journal, showed an EDC found in anti-perspirants reduced male fertility by 30%.
The Nordic Council, representing the governments of governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, is demanding the European Union speeds up its plan to identify, assess and ban harmful EDCs. Sweden is already taking legal action against the EU over its missed deadlines, which it blamed on lobbying by the European chemical industry.
“I am not happy that taxpayers have to pay for the damage caused by EDCs, while industry saves money by not investigating their chemicals properly,” said Danish environment minister Kirsten Brosbøl on publication of the new report.
Michael Warhurst, of campaign group Chem Trust, said: “Companies should focus on developing and producing products that don’t contain hormone disruptors and other problem chemicals. This will give them a competitive advantage as controls on these chemicals become stricter around the world – and as consumers become more aware of this issue.”
The report, called The Cost of Inaction, uses the extensive health records collected by the Nordic countries to determine the incidence of the male reproductive health problems linked to EDCs and then uses Swedish data to estimate costs. These are extrapolated to the population of the EU’s 28 nations.
The report also assesses the proportion of the health problems attributable to EDCs, with a central estimate of 20%, leading to a conclusion that the male reproductive health problems cost the EU €592m (£470m) a year. The report states: “Minimising exposure to endocrine disruptors will not only remove distress and pain for the persons (and the wildlife) affected, it will also save the society from considerable economic costs.”
The EU, which would be the first authority in the world to regulate EDCs, is currently conducting a public consultation on a scientific method to identify the chemicals, which ends on 16 January. In 2011, the UK and German governments lobbied to EU to restrict the definition of EDCs to only the most potent chemicals, a proposal described as a “loophole” by critics.
Peter Smith, executive director for product stewardship at CEFIC, which represents the European chemical industry, said the Nordic report attribution of health problems to EDCs was “arbitrary”. He said: “The link between exposure to a chemical and an illness has not been shown in many cases. The authors themselves say they have some trouble with causality.”
Smith said the delays to EDC regulation in the EU did not suit the industry. “Nobody is happy with the delays. But we would prefer it to be permanent and right rather than temporary and wrong.” He said case-by-case rigorous assessment was needed and that any precautionary action had to be proportional to the evidence of harm.
However, Professor Andreas Kortenkamp, a human toxicologist at Brunel University London in the UK, said the epidemiological work needed to prove causation is very difficult. For example, he said, analysing links to birth defects would having taken tissue samples from mothers before they gave birth.
“Hard evidence for effects in humans is difficult to demonstrate, though there are some exceptions,” he said. “But there is very good, strong evidence from animal and cell line test systems. The chemical industry only likes to emphasis the first part of that.” He said precaution was the only safe approach and said the Nordic report was good work.
“Industry lobbying has put regulation back by 3-5 years, which was entirely the intention,” said Kortenkamp, who led a 2012 review of EDCs for the EU which found new regulations were needed. “Every year of no regulation means millions of euros to the industry. That is what it is all about.”
In 2012, the World Health Organiation and the UN environment programme published a major report on the state of EDC science, which concluded that communities across the globe were being exposed to EDCs and their associated risks and that urgent research on the health and environmental impacts was needed. Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for public health and environment said at the time: “We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.” Another review in 2012 by the European Environment Agency advised “a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood.”
Source : The Guardian
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Higher urinary heavy metal, phthalate and arsenic concentrations accounted for 3–19% of the population attributable risk for high blood pressure: US NHANES, 2009–2012
Ivy Shiue1,2,3 and Krasimira Hristova4
- 1School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
- 2Owens Institute for Behavioral Research, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
- 3Alzheimer’s Scotland Dementia Research Centre, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
- 4Department of Noninvasive Functional Diagnostic and Imaging, University National Heart Hospital, Sofia, Bulgaria
The link between environmental chemicals and human health has emerged, but has not been completely examined in terms of its risk factors. Therefore, we aimed to study the relationships of different sets of urinary environmental chemical concentrations and high blood pressure (BP) in a national, population-based study. Data were retrieved from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 2009–2012, including demographics, BP readings and urinary environmental chemical concentrations. Analyses included χ2-test, t-test, survey-weighted logistic regression models and population attributable risk estimation. Urinary cesium (odds ratio (OR) 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.06–2.18,P=0.026), molybdenum (OR 1.45, 95% CI 1.04–2.02, P=0.029), lead (OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.12–1.98, P=0.009), platinum (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.14–2.21,P=0.002), antimony (OR 1.44, 95% CI 1.12–1.86, P=0.008) and tungsten (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.22–1.79, P<0.001) concentrations were observed to be associated with high BP. Similar results were observed for mono-2-ethyl-5-carboxypentyl (OR 1.29, 95% CI 1.04–1.59, P=0.024), mono-n-butyl (OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.11–1.67, P=0.005), mono-2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.01–1.46, P=0.041), mono-n-methyl (OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.01–1.46,P=0.014), mono-2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.01–1.45, P=0.036), mono-benzyl (OR 1.41, 95% CI 1.15–1.74, P=0.002), dimethylarsonic acid (OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.08–1.76, P=0.012) and trimethylarsine oxide (OR 2.56, 95% CI 1.29–5.07, P=0.010) concentrations. Each chemical could account for 3–19% of the population attributable risk for high BP. A small sex difference was found. However, there are no associations between environmental parabens and pesticides and high BP. Urinary heavy metal, phthalate and arsenic concentrations were associated with high BP, although a causal effect cannot be established. Elimination of environmental chemical exposure in humans still needs to be pursued.
Source : Hypertension Research
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Plastics chemical linked to changes in baby boys' genitals
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.
“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.
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.
Source : Environmental Health News
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Kids exposed in the womb to plasticizers more likely to have asthma
New York City children exposed in the womb to moderate levels of two plasticizers had a 72 to 78 percent higher chance of developing asthma, according to a new study published today.
The study is the first to link childhood asthma, which has been increasing in recent decades, to prenatal exposure to phthalates.
“These results suggest that phthalates may be one of the factors associated with that increase,” said Robin Whyatt, a Columbia University environmental health scientist who led the study. She added, however, that more studies are needed to understand how important a risk factor these chemicals may be.
Phthalates, used in the manufacture of vinyl and some cosmetics, have been connected to a number of health effects in lab animal and human studies, including airway inflammation, altered male genitalia, attention and learning problems and premature births.
Nationally, one in every 11 children has asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma rates more than doubled between 1980 and the mid-1990s, and have remained high.
“We don’t have a good answer for why asthma and allergies have increased dramatically. Looking at the role of environmental exposures is an interesting and important question,” said Dr. David Bernstein, an allergist at the University of Cincinnati and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Previous studies reported an association between childhood exposures to phthalates and asthma, but no one until now had examined risk related to exposures before birth. “The prenatal period is likely the greatest window of susceptibility for lung development,” Whyatt said.
The researchers measured four phthalate metabolites in the urine of 300 pregnant women in the South Bronx and Northern Manhattan between 1998 and 2006. All of the women were African American or of Dominican descent.
“We don’t have a good answer for why asthma and allergies have increased dramatically. Looking at the role of environmental exposures is an interesting and important question.” –Dr. David Bernstein, University of Cincinnati Just over half of the study children visited a doctor for asthma symptoms between the ages of 5 and 11. Of those, 94 children, or 31 percent of the entire group, were diagnosed with the disease.
The children in the study had asthma at a rate three times higher than the U.S. average, and roughly double the national average for black children. They likely have such a high rate for a multitude of reasons, including cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust.
“We don’t know how applicable these [phthalate] findings are to groups with much lower rates of asthma,” Whyatt said.
Kids whose mothers had the highest levels of di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) were 78 percent more likely to have an asthma diagnosis than kids whose mothers had the lowest levels. In addition, kids with mothers who had high levels of butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) were 72 percent more likely to have asthma. Children also were 39 to 44 percent more likely to have asthma symptoms, such as wheeze, if their mothers had higher levels of DnBP and BBzP during pregnancy. No association was between asthma and two other phthalates used in cosmetics and food packaging.
The phthalate levels measured in study mothers are comparable to levels found in adults throughout the United States, Whyatt said.
The findings “raise new concerns that the presence of relatively ubiquitous environmental exposures may have deleterious respiratory effects,” according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
BBzP, used to soften plastics, is commonly found in PVC plastics such as vinyl floor tiles and artificial leather. DnBP is used in food packaging and some cosmetics.
A 2013 study reported that levels of both chemicals are dropping in Americans. They were banned from some children’s products in 2008. DnBP, once widely used in nail polishes, has been removed from most formulations.
The new study builds on 2012 studies of the same group that reported that children exposed to BBzP or diethyl phthalate (DEP) had elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation. Prenatal exposure to BBzP also was associated with elevated risk of childhood eczema.
While the new study, taken alone, isn't conclusive, “there is mounting evidence linking phthalates to a number of diseases and chronic conditions,” said Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved in the study.
It’s unclear how phthalates may be increasing asthma risk. One theory, Whyatt said, is that they may make airways overly sensitive – essentially programming them to respond to common environmental stimuli, such as pollen or animal dander.
Representatives of plastics and chemical manufacturers declined to comment on the new findings.
Based on a handful of studies conducted between 2003 and 2009, the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers of phthalates and other chemicals, concluded that, “phthalates do not cause, and are not likely to exacerbate, asthma.”
But Whyatt said that conclusion is “remarkably incomplete” and misses more recent findings.
Nearly everyone in the U.S. is exposed to phthalates. Whyatt said pregnant women can reduce their exposures by avoiding numbers 3 and 7 plastics, storing food in glass containers and never microwaving food in plastic containers.
Source : Environmental Health News
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Toxic gulls: Quebec's contaminated bird colony offers clues about flame retardants
By Brian Bienkowski
DESLAURIERS ISLAND, Quebec – There are no homes, few trees and no real reason for any human to visit this 45-acre hunk of clay and dirt. Gulls run this island, their screaming audible for miles, their guano covering every square foot.
“There are about 100,000 of them,” says Jonathan Verreault. “And they’re pretty loud.”
An avian toxicologist, Verreault has ventured to this island in the St. Lawrence River about two miles off the tip of Montreal dozens of times over the past four years.
From afar it seems inconsequential, a barren landscape crumbling around its edges after decades of battering from high water and giant ships. Yet it is a focal point of research exploring the health effects of widely used chemicals that have contaminated animals, people and the environment around the globe.
The gulls that inhabit Deslauriers Island every summer are the most contaminated colony in Canada when it comes to flame retardants, including one compound that has accumulated in their eggs at concentrations up to 44 times higher than elsewhere.
Although several of these flame retardants were banned a decade ago, they are still showing up in gulls, kestrels and other winged creatures from the Great Lakes to China, prompting scientists to examine where they are lingering, what hidden health effects they are having on birds and what this all might mean for humans.
Research on Deslauriers and in Canadian laboratories indicates that flame retardants are altering birds’ thyroid hormones, reducing their clutch sizes, damaging their eggs, changing their behavior, shifting their gender ratio toward males and weakening their bones.
“Unfortunately for birds they’re the sentinels,” said U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Director Linda Birnbaum, a toxicologist who specializes in the health effects of environmental contaminants.
“If we ignore what we see in birds we ignore real risk.”
Shrieking chemical monitors
The Jacques-Cartier Bridge is packed with honking cars and aggressive bicyclists trying to squeeze into Montreal. But on this late-spring morning, Verreault, an associate professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, is headed west, toward a different kind of chaos.
About 5 percent of the world’s ring-billed gulls – about 48,000 pairs – inhabit Deslauriers Island. Their namesake comes from the black ring around the tip of their yellow bill. Orange rings circle their intense yellow eyes, a sharp contrast against their white body and drab gray wings.
The gulls, which winter mostly in the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States, arrive on the island around March to have babies and, like the tourists in nearby Old Montreal, enjoy the local urban dining options.
Verreault is greeted at a makeshift boat launch by Francis St-Pierre, a wildlife technician in charge of getting people to the island and back in one piece.
“You should’ve been here yesterday. Yesterday it was like summer,” St-Pierre says, tossing out winter coat-sized life preservers. “It’s rough out there today … Wind out of the north.”
The St. Lawrence River bounces the boat around as St-Pierre zigzags through the choppy current. Deslauriers takes shape in the distance. They hear the island before they reach it – a piercing cacophony of gulls swirling over the island and water.
Some gulls sit on crumbling nests of green and brown speckled eggs about the size of a chicken’s, biting each other whenever one gets too close. Others scurry around, occasionally taking flight. They all shriek maniacally, seemingly annoyed by the humans prying around their business.
“They don’t really attack or anything,” Verreault says, as he greets his team of graduate students and steps carefully so as not to step on any eggs. Chloé Desjardins, a graduate student of Verreault’s, smiles and pulls up a poncho sleeve to expose a fresh purple bruise from a snapping gull.
Using the gulls as chemical monitors for the region, Verreault and his team have been coming here during the late spring and early summer since 2010. A human presence in Montreal helps this colony – where there are people, there’s food. Flame retardants from furniture and electronics have permeated a landfill on the mainland where the gulls feed, the small fish they pluck out of the St. Lawrence River and a Montreal sewage treatment plant where they congregate.
“If something’s not in ring-billed gulls, it’s likely not in other species,” Verreault says.
Verreault has put in his time doing the dirty work and is now mostly an observer at Deslauriers. Four graduate students speak in clipped French to one another and weave around masses of gulls. They carry a remote control from a toy car and a metal case with wires protruding. Anthony Francois and his bird poop-covered colleagues set the trap – thin fishing line circling a bird nest connected to a battery and a trigger – and walk away with their remote to wait for a gull to plop back down on its eggs.
“We have about an 80 percent success rate in catching them,” Verreault says, proud of the homemade contraption. The numbers are on the scientists’ side today. The gull ambles back to its nest and is soon caught up in the line.
They capture, draw blood and then kill some gulls from the island every spring before the babies hatch. In a makeshift laboratory sheltered from the gulls by tall reeds, the students kill the bird using a horse castrator then use miniature razor blades to slice up the thyroid glands, liver and brains, storing all of the organs in nitrogen to bring back to the lab later that evening to test for contaminants.
All the gulls they test contain traces of flame retardants. Since the 1970s companies have added these chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, to furniture cushions, electronics and clothing in an effort to slow the spread of flames if they catch fire.
The chemicals quickly built up in people and the environment. The world took notice in 2000 when Swedish researchers found that PBDEs were doubling in women’s breast milk every five years.
Over the next decade, regulations aimed at curbing PBDE use culminated in 2009 when two common mixtures, penta and octa, were added to a United Nations treaty, the Stockholm Convention, as persistent pollutants to be phased out by 152 countries.
"If something's not in ring-billed gulls, it's likely not in other species." –Jonathan Verreault, Université du Québec à MontréalFlame retardants stay in the environment for a long time and accumulate in wildlife tissues by moving up food chains. For birds, the original worry was for species that ate a lot of contaminated fish, such as the Great Lakes’ herring gulls.
However, researchers a decade ago found flame retardants in Sweden’s peregrine falcons, a land-based bird of prey. It was quite a shock because most experts thought PBDEs would act like the infamous industrial chemicals called PCBs, and accumulate mostly in fish, not in land creatures, said Cynthia de Wit, a Stockholm University professor who studied the falcons.
“We found them in cow tissues and such and I started thinking, what other animals in the terrestrial environment could end up with high levels?” de Wit said. “Everyone thinks of eagles and falcons because of DDT. And then wow, we found it.”
Dosing captive kestrels
Examining wild birds, however, wasn’t enough to figure out whether the chemicals were harming them.
By dosing captive kestrels – North America’s fierce little falcon – with levels found in wild birds, Kim Fernie and her colleagues have spent more than a decade pumping out evidence that flame retardants could be damaging kestrels' health and reducing their populations.
“We can’t do cause and effect studies with wild birds,” said Fernie, a research scientist with Environment Canada. “Birds are exposed to so many different types of stressors and to a whole slew of chemicals.”
Most of their findings have shown changes to kestrels’ reproduction. Exposure to PBDEs as an embryo caused enlarged testicles and decreased testosterone for male birds. When male kestrels ate a diet containing a newer flame retardant, called TBECH, before mating, 47 percent of the nests had at least one failed egg, compared with 23 percent of the non-exposed males. The exposed kestrels had about half as many male offspring.
During egg hatching in the laboratory, exposed kestrels had lower nest temperatures, which are critical for baby birds to develop properly. And when the birds were fed PBDE amounts found in wild birds, higher levels of the chemicals meant smaller eggs with thinner shells and delayed egg laying.
It seemed to span generations, as male kestrels that were exposed to PBDEs through their mothers grew up and couldn’t reproduce as well – 43 percent of their female pairs failed to lay eggs, and the males made fewer mating calls. Work with other birds corroborated such generational impacts, as zebra finches exposed to PBDEs while still in their eggs grew up to have smaller clutch sizes. Their baby birds also were born smaller than those of unexposed birds.
Then there’s the weird behavior.
When male kestrels dosed with PBDEs had their nestlings “they entered the nestbox less often and retrieved food less often” than non-exposed birds, Fernie said. The females made fewer mating calls and ate less. In unpublished research, male kestrels’ aggression levels were two times higher during courtship and incubation if they had been exposed to TBECH, Fernie reported at a toxicology conference.
“Anytime you see interference with reproduction or development, especially in captive populations like this, it should be a big red flag,” said Michael Fry, an environmental contaminant specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
American kestrels declined about 1.5 percent a year between 1966 and 2010, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. But it’s complicated when trying to pin a population decline on a specific contaminant, Fry said. Kestrels also struggle with habitat loss and other chemicals.
"Anytime you see interference with reproduction or development, especially in captive populations like this, it should be a big red flag." –Michael Fry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceJust because chemicals harm one bird species doesn’t mean it harms others, said Rob Letcher, a research scientist with Environment Canada. Nevertheless, PBDEs seem to affect thyroid hormones in glaucous and herring gulls.
And some initial evidence at Deslauriers suggests the flame retardants might mess with ring-billed gulls’ hormones, too. Gulls with high levels of flame retardants, especially the PBDE mixture called deca, are more likely to have altered thyroid hormones and lower bone mineral density, Verreault said. Thyroid hormones have been varied – both high and low – in Deslauriers’ ring-billed gulls with a lot of flame retardants, especially deca, in their blood.
While moseying around the island, Verreault picks up a handful of gull eggs from a scrappy little nest of sticks, grass and moss. Unlike other birds, gulls won’t abandon eggs if humans touch them. The colony’s population is strong but it has declined over the past few years. Verreault worries that if chemicals are messing with different hormones, bones and proteins it could mean trouble for the gulls.
“It’s all very subtle,” he said. “But all of this can add up to lower the health of the bird.”
What’s happening in captive kestrels and observed in wild gulls should be a warning, said Birnbaum of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She said there is “clear evidence” from studies of birds and other animals that PBDEs interfere with the endocrine system.
“Nature’s inherently conservative – the endocrine system was basically conserved throughout the vertebrate kingdom. When we see impacts on behavior in birds, nesting, impacts on survival, and behavior … the question becomes, why would we expect this would not be relevant to us?” Birnbaum said.
In human observations and rodent studies, PBDEs have been linked to reproductive problems, hampered brain development and reduced attention, motor skills, coordination and IQ.
“Whether it’s a bird or a person, thyroid hormones are critical to brain development, and some of these flame retardants impact the conversion of testosterone to estrogen,” Birnbaum said. “The developing brain needs this estrogen.”
“They don’t eat furniture”
While Francois draws blood from a hooded gull, Verreault pokes at the ground nearby. He picks up a small pile of puke-splattered plastic – the same type of stuff he found in the gastrointestinal tracts of some gulls in his lab last year. He holds up part of a plastic bag and points out small plastic pellets on the ground.
“Ring billed gulls regurgitate non-digestibles like plastic bags, pellets,” Verreault says. “However, the birds can still absorb some of the contaminants from them before their system throws it up.”
The Deslauriers gulls are essentially a terrestrial bird and what Verreault calls an “opportunistic eater,” which leaves them with a plethora of contaminants. “We do not have access to a non-contaminated ring-billed gull,” Verreault says. “This is the real problem. We just don’t have a reference.”
"Whether it's a bird or a person, thyroid hormones are critical to brain development, and some of these flame retardants impact the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. The developing brain needs this estrogen." –Linda Birnbaum, U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesOne compound stands out in the colony: a PBDE called deca that’s most often used in televisions and computers.
North American manufacturers of deca stopped making the chemical last year, and it is banned in Europe. It is currently under evaluation for international phaseout under the Stockholm Convention.
The penta and octa mixtures are declining for the most part across the globe since they were banned, de Wit said. “Penta going down is proof, if you do stop using something, it will improve the situation,” she said.
For deca, however, the trends are still upward. Part of the problem is that “these compounds were not used in transient products,” said Robert Hale, a chemist and professor at the William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “With deca we’re talking furniture, electronics. We keep these things a long time, and then, when we’re done with them, there will still be releases.”
Birds’ chemical loads are largely dependent on where they sit in the food chain, Letcher said. Traditionally scientists have assumed most of birds’ exposure comes from fish. But “all of these species eat from different parts of the ecosystem,” Fernie said.
Verreault does find some fish in the Deslauriers’ gulls – the processed kind found in supermarket fish sticks. When he checked out the insides of some gulls last year he found French fries, meat, rice, corn, soybeans, worms, bugs and plastic.
"These compounds were not used in transient products. With deca we're talking furniture, electronics. We keep these things a long time, and then, when we're done with them, there will still be releases." –Robert Hale, William & Mary Institute of Marine ScienceThey have a human-like signature of pollutants in their tissues. “Essentially it’s a human with feathers,” he said.
He suspects it’s not what they’re dining on that’s leaving them with loads of flame retardants but where – at the landfills and wastewater treatment plants. “They don’t eat furniture,” he says.
Flame retardants end up in landfills when people trash furniture, TVs, carpet padding and electronics, said Heather Stapleton, a Duke University associate professor of environmental sciences and policy who specializes in flame retardants. Deslauriers Island is about 18 miles from Lachenaie dump, North America’s third largest landfill, which handles about one-third percent of Montreal-area garbage, with hills of trash up to 130 feet high.
“When these things sit in the landfills they start breaking down and leaching into the landfill,” Stapleton said. “Wildlife, birds feeding in the areas can pick them up through food.”
Flame retardants also latch onto dust particles in the air, she said. The birds can inhale them or they can get stuck on their feathers so when they preen, they gulp down chemicals.
Sewage is another concern as Deslauriers Island is right in the path of the treated wastewater released in the St. Lawrence River by the Jean-R. Marcotte treatment plant, the largest in North America. PBDE concentrations doubled over the past two decades in nearby Lake St. Pierre, most likely due to Montreal’s wastewater.
The loads in landfills and sewage treatment plants “are coming from our homes,” Stapleton said.
Deca, in particular, is a different beast from PCBs and other contaminants that end up in fish, Hale said. “It’s in computers and fabric coatings, we have much more intimate exposure potential, it’s in our homes and offices,” he said.
Finding the deca mixture in the ring-billed gulls has international significance because it proves that the chemical can build up in animals and people, said Joe DiGangi, senior science and technical advisor for the International POPs Elimination Network, which advocates for safe chemical policies.
“During recent Stockholm discussions at the screening phase, industry kept pushing back and saying [deca] is too big of a molecule to bioaccumulate, which is what they’ve said for years,” DiGangi said.
“And everyone would hold up scientific papers of birds.”
Verreault will probably only take one more trip to Deslauriers this summer. He will bring his children, including his 5-year-old son, who will have to be closely monitored because he tries to “add to the genetic diversity” by moving eggs from nests.
But now the hard part begins. Francois, Desjardins and others will run tests on the body parts and blood to check for PBDEs and their replacement chemicals, which also are starting to show up in the ring-billed gulls as well as in people and creatures around the world.
It’s a cat-and-mouse game: Just as researchers start to understand what a chemical might do to people or wildlife, a bunch more hit the market.
“The flame retardant story is especially illustrative of regrettable chemical substitutions,” DiGangi said. “Industry has been playing this game since the 1970s, substituting one bad chemical for another.”
Source : Environmental Health News
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Flame retardant linked to obesity in mice.
Mice fed high-fat diets gained about 30 percent more weight than other mice eating the same foods when they also ingested high doses of a flame retardant, according to a new study out of Japan.
It’s the first study to show that a brominated flame retardant may accelerate weight gain, raise blood sugar and contribute to metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
The flame retardant, hexabromocyclodecane (HBCD), is used in building materials and insulation. It accumulates in the tissues of animals and humans, and previous animal studies have shown that it may disrupt hormones, metabolism and immune systems.
Too many calories plus not enough exercise are major obesity drivers but emerging evidence suggests that exposure to some hormone-disrupting chemicals, particularly in early development, may also play a role. Some evidence, mostly with lab animals, suggests that prenatal exposure to these “obesogens” can reprogram metabolism, leading to more fat cells and raising the risk of obesity later in life, particularly in those eating high-calorie or high-fat diets.
The findings suggest that HBCD “may contribute to enhancement of diet-induced body weight gain and metabolic dysfunction,” the authors wrote in the study published online last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
In the study, researchers split 46 adult male mice into groups receiving either a high-fat or normal diet with or without a flame retardant over a 15-week period.
The mice fed a high-fat diet with a high dose of the flame retardant gained an average of 21 grams while mice fed the same diet without the chemical gained about 16 grams. While 5 grams doesn’t seem like much, to a mouse, the difference is substantial. At the onset, the mice weighed on average 21 grams. That means mice fed the high-fat diet plus high levels of flame retardant doubled their weight.
No link to obesity, however, was found in the mice that ate a normal diet even if they were dosed with the flame retardant. “In contrast, no alterations in body and liver weight were observed in normal-diet fed mice with or without HBCD,’ the authors wrote.
The daily doses of HBCD associated with the increased weight gain were substantially higher than the average estimated dietary intake of people. Diet is considered the most important route of exposure for people, although they also are exposed through indoor dust and air, the study authors wrote.
The mice fed the flame retardant also had higher blood sugar and higher insulin levels than the unexposed mice. Their livers also weighed more and their adipose tissues were inflamed. Changes also were noted in the gene expression of their glucose transporters. The authors said this metabolic dysfunction can accelerate obesity. “These results suggest that HBCD may contribute to metabolic dysfunction via an interaction with diet, i.e., HBCD may be an ‘enhancer obesogen,’ ”they wrote.
The mice on the high-fat diet got more than 60 percent of their daily calories from fat. For people it’s recommended that 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat. The high-fat diet was also higher in calories than the normal diet.
The U.S. is investigating alternatives to HBCD, and the United Nations has recommended that it be phased out. However, it is still used in large volumes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 50 million pounds were manufactured or imported in the U.S. in 2005.
Other chemicals linked to obesity or diabetes in animal or human studies include phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, bisphenol A, arsenic, tributyltin and chlorinated compounds such as dioxins, PCBs and DDT.
Source : Environmental Health News
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Chemicals Tied to Reduced Fertility in IVF
Phthalates, chemicals found in plastics, fragrances, and cosmetics, may affect the chances of successful in vitro fertilization, researchers reported.
In a prospective cohort study, urinary metabolite levels of the phthalates in the family of di-2-ethylhexyl-P (DEHP) were associated with significantly increased risks of implantation failure across increasing quartiles of the metabolite (P=0.031 for trend), according to Irene Souter, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues.
They presented their findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in London.
"Our data support the hypothesis that exposure to specific phthalates might lead to adverse female reproductive outcomes," Souter said in a statement.
Phthalates are used in a host of plastics, including PVC and vinyl, to soften them, and in personal care products and aerosols with fragrances in them. These products are ubiquitous in the environment and studies have shown them to be linked with reproductive issues in men, since they have been known to mimic the hormone testosterone.
But the effects of phthalates are less well-studied in women, particularly with regard to reproductive health.
Specifically, Souter and colleagues questioned whether phthalates had an impact on various factors among women having IVF, such as ovarian response, oocyte yield, embryonic development and implantation failure.
They followed 231 women ages 18 to 45 who'd had a total of 325 fresh treatment cycles at Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center between 2004 and 2012.
The researchers took urine samples at the start of treatment and either at the early/mid-follicular phase or at oocyte retrieval. They looked for urinary metabolites of several phthalates, including mono(2-ethylhexyl)-P (MEHP), monobutyl-P (MBP), and the sum of di-2-ethylhexyl-P phthalates (sum-DEHP).
They also assessed various markers of response to IVF, including serum peak estradiol, implantation failure, and the number of retrieved, mature, and fertilized oocytes.
Overall, the researchers detected urinary phthalates in more than 95% of the samples.
They found significant increased risks of implantation failure across increasing quartiles of sum-DEHP levels (P=0.031):
- Q2 -- OR 1.41
- Q3 -- OR 1.76
- Q4 -- OR 2.05
- Q2 -- 1.96
- Q3 -- 2.02
- Q4 -- 1.85
They reported a similar trend with increasing sum-DEHP quartiles, although it was not significant (9.09%, 9.46%, 10.2%, P=0.074).
There was also a decrease in the number of mature oocytes with increasing MEHP quartiles (P=0.016) and sum-DEHP metabolites (P=0.018).
However, there were no associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and peak estradiol, rates of fertilization, or embryonic cleavage, they reported.
They cautioned that the study was limited because it precluded assessment of long-term exposure to phthalates, and because the results may not be generalizable to women who are conceiving naturally.
Still, Souter and colleagues concluded that their results support the hypothesis that phthalates may have an adverse effect on female fertility, particularly when it comes to IVF
Source : MedPage Today
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EHN Special Report: 'Chemicals of high concern' found in thousands of children's products
Cobalt in plastic building blocks and baby bibs. Ethylene glycol in dolls. Methyl ethyl ketone in clothing. Antimony in high chairs and booster seats. Parabens in baby wipes. D4 in baby creams. An Environmental Health News analysis of thousands of reports from America’s largest companies shows that toys and other children’s products contain low levels of dozens of industrial chemicals, including some unexpected ingredients that will surprise a public concerned about exposure. The reports were filed by 59 large companies, including Gap, Mattel, Gymboree, Nike, H&M and Wal-Mart, to comply with an unprecedented state law.
Cobalt in plastic building blocks and baby bibs. Ethylene glycol in dolls. Methyl ethyl ketone in clothing. Antimony in high chairs and booster seats. Parabens in baby wipes. D4 in baby creams. An Environmental Health News analysis of thousands of reports from America’s largest companies shows that toys and other children’s products contain low levels of dozens of industrial chemicals, including some unexpected ingredients that will surprise a public concerned about exposure.
The reports were filed by 59 large companies, including Gap Inc., Mattel Inc., Gymboree Corp., Nike Inc., H&M and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to comply with an unprecedented state law.
"Children are uniquely vulnerable to exposures given their hand-to-mouth behaviors, floor play and developing nervous and reproductive systems." -Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, University of Washington Stronger than any other chemical disclosure law in the United States, Washington state’s Children's Safe Product Act, enacted in 2008, has changed the right-to-know game around the country. For the first time, since September of last year, consumers have access to a searchable, online database revealing which companies report “chemicals of high concern” in products made or marketed for children.
The 66 chemicals, gleaned from lists compiled by U.S. and international agencies, were chosen because studies have linked them to cancer or to reproductive, developmental or neurological effects in animals or people.
In most cases, no one knows what, if anything, exposure to small doses of these chemicals may do to people, especially babies and toddlers who tend to chew on items or rub them on their skin. For many of these compounds, there has been little or no research to investigate children’s exposure to them.
But some health experts worry about unknown risks because it is now clear that dozens of chemicals untested for potential health effects are found in everyday items, such as clothing, footwear, furniture and toys.
"Children are uniquely vulnerable to exposures given their hand-to-mouth behaviors, floor play and developing nervous and reproductive systems," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric researcher at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children's Research Institute who advised state officials when they wrote the disclosure rules.
Manufacturers say the presence of a chemical in a product does not mean it is harmful to human health or that any safety standard is being violated.
"If a substance on the Washington state list is found in a toy or game, it doesn't automatically mean there is a risk or cause for concern. There may be no exposure to the substance whatsoever," said Alan Kaufman, senior vice president of technical affairs for the Toy Industry Association.
Officials with the state agency agree. "Simply the presence of a chemical in a product does not really say it’s causing harm to anyone," said Alex Stone, a chemist in the Washington Department of Ecology and part of the team that wrote the regulations.
Nevertheless, trying to get to the bottom of hidden chemicals in children's products was the driving force behind Washington's pioneering law. The Legislature enacted it in the wake of recalls of lead-tainted Thomas the Train sets and Sesame Street’s Elmo, among others.
Shoppers cannot look up specific toys and other items, but they can see which companies report chemicals in general categories of products. There are hundreds of searchable product types, such as train sets, clothing, baby bibs and dolls. Consumers also can search by chemicals.
Seattle mother Rachel Koller, who campaigned for the law, said she tries to avoid buying products for her 5-year-old daughter that contain certain chemicals. But most compounds don't have to be included on ingredient lists, so there is little information available. She said the new database helps, although it raises lots of unanswered questions about risks.
“We use the research we have, and make the best decisions," Koller said.
The first reporting, due last August, required companies with gross annual revenues of $1 billion to report chemicals in products that could be put into the mouth by children under 3 years old, and those intended to be put in the mouth or rubbed on the skin for children under 12 years old. The second reporting, due last February, included products intended for prolonged contact with the skin, including clothing, jewelry and bedding. Reporting by smaller companies comes next August.
The new law already is driving changes in products. Some companies, including Wal-Mart, Gap, Nike and VF Corp., have filed documents with the state stating that they would eliminate some chemicals on the list.
Nike, Lego Systems, Gap and Wal-Mart did not respond to EHN's requests for comment. In e-mail messages, Gymboree stressed that all of its products met or exceeded federal and state safety requirements, while H&M said it meets all standards and that it works to limit, and find substitutes for, hazardous chemicals. Mattel referred calls to the Toy Industry Association.
Cobalt rises to the top
Cobalt, an element used in many blue dyes and other pigments, turns out to be a favorite with manufacturers. Surprisingly, it was the most commonly reported substance, turning up so far in 1,228 individual products in 40 different categories.
Lego reported cobalt in the pigment of some plastic building blocks, while Mattel reported it as a surface coloration in a powered ride-on toy, drawing boards and role-play toys. Cobalt and its compounds also were reported in pigments and inks of baby feeding bibs sold by Gap and Gymboree, and in synthetic baby changing mats by the VF Corp., which represents two dozen brands, including Nautica, Wrangler and JanSport. New Balance and other companies used cobalt in surface coatings as well as in synthetic polymers and textiles of footwear.
Traces of cobalt have been found in the urine of nearly all children and adults tested in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sources are unknown, however.
Understanding cobalt's human health effects comes primarily from metal workers, who develop bronchial asthma and lung disease, including cancer, linked to their workplace exposure. In autopsies, exposed workers generally had higher levels of cobalt in kidney, lung and spleen tissue than unexposed workers.
Rodent studies showed lung and other cancers, testicular atrophy, reduced fertility and accumulation of cobalt in organs that affected their function, particularly in young animals. Exposure to fish damaged sperm and hampered reproduction. But there are no published studies of people routinely exposed to cobalt from consumer products.
Cobalt is “not on the radar of researchers,” said David Bellinger, a Harvard professor of neurology who studies the effects of metal exposure on children’s developing brains. “I do not think that I have ever seen a study on its potential toxicity in children – or adults. If it is a common exposure and it is bioavailable, then it should be looked at.”
A solvent in polyester
The second most common chemical was an industrial solvent named ethylene glycol, which was reported in more than 1,000 products, mostly plastics. Known for its use as an antifreeze, ethylene glycol also is used to make polyester and plastic water bottles.
Gap, Gymboree and VF Corp., among others, reported it in baby feeding bibs, dolls and soft toys. Gymboree and H&M reported it in educational and developmental toys and in fancy dress costumes. MGA Entertainment/Little Tikes found it in toys and games.
Like cobalt, little to nothing is known about whether there are any high exposures or health effects from traces of ethylene glycol in consumer products. The state of Washington listed it because the National Toxicology Program concluded that it may harm human development if oral exposures are high enough. Regulators knew it was an ingredient in a diaper ointment, body cleansers and other children’s products.
Breathing it for prolonged periods can irritate airways. But in lab animals, the kidneys are the most vulnerable organ to damage from high doses of ethylene glycol. It also harms animal fetuses at high doses, but “no information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of ethylene glycol in humans,”according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other commonly used substances include two metals, antimony and molybdenum, often used in yellow, red and orange pigments for children's toys. They were reported in nearly 800 products, including dolls and building blocks.
A powerful industrial solvent, methyl ethyl ketone, was reported in more than 400 products, including the plastics and textiles of infant toys and children's clothing.
Several others that can disrupt hormones – phthalates,bisphenol A, parabens, nonylphenol and D4 – turned up in textiles, skin products, plastics and other children’s items. Low levels of phthalates were found in more than 700 products.
The risks of the various chemicals depend on the amount that ends up in a product, and whether it's transferrable in a way that would result in exposing people, said John Meeker, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Some of the listed chemicals, including the metals, phthalates and BPA, are known to get into the bodies of children who inhale, touch or consume them. Traces are detected in their bloodstream and urine in national testing conducted by the CDC.
"Over the years it's been demonstrated that some of these chemicals are making their way into the bodies of children. We don't want to wait too long to find out if they cause disease later in life,” Meeker said.
“There is enough evidence now to show we should limit exposure to some chemicals, including certain phthalates, certain pesticides and certain flame retardants," said Meeker, who studies the health effects of chemicals, particularly those that interfere with hormones.Decades ago, some chemicals, such as lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were widely used in products until they were recognized as harmful to people even at low levels. They were common ingredients in gasoline, paint and electrical equipment.
"It makes you wonder what chemical we'll be looking at in the future and asking how it could have been so widely used,” Meeker said.
Little known about health risks
Investigating health effects of consumer products, which contain many different chemicals, presents a challenge.
"It's hard to do a study because you cannot dose kids with chemicals and then see what happens to them. So when we're doing these kinds of studies, we look at what they're exposed to and try to parse health outcomes," Sathyanarayana said.
With so little understanding of the risks, "we should be trying to reduce the exposure to young children. They have developing organ systems, and these chemicals can affect the developing organ systems,” Sathyanarayana said.
Researchers at Silent Spring Institute have measured chemicals in consumer products, and in the air and dust in homes, with the goal that the knowledge would lead to reduced exposure. "Now it's time to look at how these consumer products affect chemical levels in the body," said research scientist Robin Dodson.
"We could measure the effect on asthma. But cancer? That would take 30 years,” she said.
Washington state officials said while the mere presence doesn't necessarily mean these products are harmful, it does mean that regulators can follow up, and ask why these toxics are there and whether the products can be made without them.
"What we're hoping to do is see what's being reported frequently. We can examine the data and decide based on the chemical's toxicity whether we want to take more action through the legislative process," said Stone, a state toxicologist.
A case in point is the regulators’ move to collect more information on a group of five related chemicals – four parabens and para-hydroxybenzoic acid – used widely as preservatives in creams, powders, adhesives and fragrances. The European Union classes them as endocrine disruptors. Children's products often contain mixtures of two or more parabens, and the government scientists want to consider the synergistic effects.
"Rather than ask, `Is this product good? Is this product bad?' we’re trying to understand how pervasive a chemical is in the supply chains of all products," said environmental planner John Williams, the agency's lead writer of the law.
"Otherwise, you're in the dark about all the different ways a chemical could get to you,” he said. “For example, if you have a plastic Lego, a plastic button on your coat and a plastic doll head. If there is the same toxic chemical in all of them, that might be a chemical worth looking at. If we found an alternative for the chemical that is less toxic, and can still serve that function, we would have a broader impact across all the product categories.”
Companies say database causes confusion
But manufacturers say compiling the database isn’t helpful to consumers.
"Reporting mere content without risk for the sake of reporting is not productive, and there remains much confusion about such reporting,” according to a statement by the 250-member Juvenile Product Manufacturing Association.
AlphaGary Corp. global business manager Dave Kiddoo agreed. The specialty plastics manufacturer has a seat on the state's advisory committee that shaped the Massachusetts toxics-reduction law.
"It's irresponsible throwing these lists out there, and saying a certain chemical is wrong for all applications. An appropriate approach is to look at each application and look at the hazard and the exposure in each application,” Kiddoo said.
Consumer advocates acknowledge that the chemical listing does not answer questions about health risks. But they see the value in Washington's first step by identifying problematic chemicals in children's products, and seeing which industries use them.
“You do get a sense for what types of chemicals are in what types of products. The 'chemicals of concern' list becomes a do-not-use list for manufacturers because no one wants consumers to know their products contain a harmful chemical. These lists are essential in helping transform the marketplace away from toxic chemicals," said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, a spokeswoman forSafer States, a coalition of nonprofits lobbying for more disclosure. The coalition supports federal legislation that would modernize the federal Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, including making more chemical information open to the public.
Several other states, including New York, Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and Minnesota, are considering various types of legislation that would force industries to disclose their use of some chemicals in consumer products.
After Washington’s law went into effect, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Vi-Jon Inc., Western Family Foods, among others, indicated that their suppliers would reformulate children's products to eliminate parabens. Gap reported it was phasing out the phthalate DINP, which had been in clothing.
Kaufman, of the toy industry group, said phthalates are being replaced in toys. Even if the federal government doesn't recommend banning the three under study – DINP, DIOP and DIDP – toy makers probably won't use them, he said.
"I think people have some substitutes and wouldn't suddenly switch back,” he said.
But Kaufman cautioned that some other chemicals on the list are more difficult to replace. They may be the materials that give toy products the strength to be dropped, pulled, bitten and subjected to compression. Bisphenol A, the substance used to make tough polycarbonate plastic in safety goggles and bicycle helmets, is one example, he said.Megan Schwarzman, a University of California, Berkeley, research scientist who specializes in policy issues related to green chemistry, called Washington's effort "a profound departure from the status quo."
"A lot of people have been asking for this information for a long time, to find out what chemicals are in our daily lives. In terms of everyday products, the information just isn't in the public domain. No one has ever required manufacturers to report that," Schwarzman said.
"Ultimately, public disclosure can motivate companies to start asking about the safety of the chemicals in their products, and speed up the shift from hazardous chemicals to safer ones.”
Source : Environmental Health News
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You Are a Guinea Pig: What Happens to Your Body As It's Bombarded by Toxic Chemicals in Your Home
Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds
A hidden epidemic is poisoning America. The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them. We can’t escape it in our cars. It’s in cities and suburbs. It afflicts rich and poor, young and old. And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name -- and no antidote.
The culprit behind this silent killer is lead. And vinyl. And formaldehyde. And asbestos. And Bisphenol A. And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “ better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.
Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat. None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment. None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment -- and so our bodies -- could be. Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce.
How Industrial Toxins Entered the American Home
The story of how Americans became unwitting test subjects began more than a century ago. The key figure was Alice Hamilton, the “mother” of American occupational medicine, who began documenting the way workers in lead paint pigment factories, battery plants, and lead mines were suffering terrible palsies, tremors, convulsions, and deaths after being exposed to lead dust that floated in the air, coating their workbenches and clothes.
Soon thereafter, children exposed to lead paint and lead dust in their homes were also identified as victims of this deadly neurotoxin. Many went into convulsions and comas after crawling on floors where lead dust from paint had settled, or from touching lead-painted toys, or teething on lead-painted cribs, windowsills, furniture, and woodwork.
Instead of leveling with the public, the lead industry through its trade group, the Lead Industries Association, began a six-decade-long campaign to cover-up its product’s dire effects. It challenged doctors who reported lead-poisoned children to health departments, distracted the public through advertisements that claimed lead was “safe” to use, and fought regulation of the industry by local government, all in the service of profiting from putting a poison in paint, gasoline, plumbing fixtures, and even toys, baseballs, and fishing gear.
As Joe Camel would be for tobacco, so the little Dutch Boy of the National Lead Company became an iconic marketing tool for Dutch Boy Lead Paint, priming Americans to invite a dangerous product into their children’s playrooms, nurseries, and lives. The company also launched a huge advertising campaign that linked lead to health, rather than danger. It even produced coloring books for children, encouraging them to paint their rooms and furniture using lead-based paint.
Only after thousands of children were poisoned and, in the 1960s, activist groups like the Young Lords and the Black Panthers began to use lead poisoning as a symbol of racial and class oppression did public health professionals and the federal government begin to rein in companies like the Sherwin-Williams paint company and the Ethyl Corporation, which produced tetraethyl lead, the lead-additive in gasoline. In 1971, Congress passed the Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act that limited lead in paint used for public housing. In 1978, the Consumer Products Safety Commission finally banned lead in all paints sold for consumer use. During the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency issued rules that led to the elimination of leaded gasoline by 1995 (though it still remains in aviation fuel).
The CDC estimates that in at least 4 million households in the U.S. today children are still exposed to dangerous amounts of lead from old paint that produces dust every time a nail is driven into a wall to hang a picture, a new electric socket is installed, or a family renovates its kitchen. It estimates that more than 500,000 children ages one to five have “elevated” levels of lead in their blood. ( No level is considered safe for children.) Studies have linked lost IQ points, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, dyslexia, and even possibly high incarceration rates to tiny amounts of lead in children’s bodies.
Unfortunately, when it came to the creation of America’s chemical soup, the lead industry was hardly alone. Asbestos is another classic example of an industrial toxin that found its way into people’s homes and bodies. For decades, insulation workers, brake mechanics, construction workers, and a host of others in hundreds of trades fell victim to the disabling and deadly lung diseases of asbestosis or to lung cancer and the fatal cancer called mesothelioma when they breathed in dust produced during the installation of boilers, the insulation of pipes, the fixing of cars that used asbestos brake linings, or the spraying of asbestos on girders. Once again, the industry knew its product’s dangers early and worked assiduously to cover them up.
Despite growing medical knowledge about its effects (and increasing industry attempts to downplay or suppress that knowledge), asbestos was soon introduced to the American home and incorporated into products ranging from insulation for boilers and piping in basements to floor tiles and joint compounds. It was used to make sheetrock walls, roof shingles, ironing boards, oven gloves, and hot plates. Soon an occupational hazard was transformed into a threat to all consumers.
Today, however, these devastating industrial-turned-domestic toxins, which destroyed the health and sometimes took the lives of hundreds of thousands, seem almost quaint when compared to the brew of potential or actual toxins we’re regularly ingesting in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
Of special concern are a variety of chlorinated hydrocarbons, including DDT and other pesticides that were once spread freely nationwide, and despite being banned decades ago, have accumulated in the bones, brains, and fatty tissue of virtually all of us. Their close chemical carcinogenic cousins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were found in innumerable household and consumer products -- like carbonless copy paper, adhesives, paints, and electrical equipment – from the 1950s through the 1970s. We’re still paying the price for that industrial binge today, as these odorless, tasteless compounds have become permanent pollutants in the natural environment and, as a result, in all of us.
The Largest Uncontrolled Experiment in History
While old houses with lead paint and asbestos shingles pose risks, potentially more frightening chemicals are lurking in new construction going on in the latest mini-housing boom across America. Our homes are now increasingly made out of lightweight fibers and reinforced synthetic materials whose effects on human health have never been adequately studied individually, let alone in the combinations we’re all subjected to today.
Formaldehyde, a colorless chemical used in mortuaries as a preservative, can also be found as a fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant in, for example, plywood, particle board, hardwood paneling, and the “ medium density fiberboard” commonly used for the fronts of drawers and cabinets or the tops of furniture. As the material ages, it evaporates into the home as a known cancer-producing vapor, which slowly accumulates in our bodies. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health suggests that homeowners “purchasing pressed-wood products, including building material, cabinetry, and furniture... should ask about the formaldehyde content of these products.”
What’s inside your new walls might be even more dangerous. While the flame retardants commonly used in sofas, chairs, carpets, love seats, curtains, baby products, and even TVs, sounded like a good idea when widely introduced in the 1970s, they turn out to pose hidden dangers that we’re only now beginning to grasp. Researchers have, for instance, linked one of the most common flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, to a wide variety of potentially undesirable health effects including thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, and the early onset of puberty.
Other flame retardants like Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate have been linked to cancer. As the CDC has documented in an ongoing study of the accumulation of hazardous materials in our bodies, flame retardants can now be found in the blood of “nearly all” of us.
Nor are these particular chemicals anomalies. Lurking in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, for instance, are window cleaners and spot removers that contain known or suspected cancer-causing agents. The same can be said of cosmetics in your makeup case or of your plastic water bottle or microwavable food containers. Most recently, Bisphenol A (BPA), the synthetic chemical used in a variety of plastic consumer products, including some baby bottles, epoxy cements, the lining of tuna fish cans, and even credit card receipts, has been singled out as another everyday toxin increasingly found inside all of us.
Recent studies indicate that its effects are as varied as they are distressing. As Sarah Vogel of the Environmental Defense Fund has written, “New research on very-low-dose exposure to BPA suggests an association with adverse health effects, including breast and prostate cancer, obesity, neurobehavioral problems, and reproductive abnormalities.”
Teflon, or perfluorooctanoic acid, the heat-resistant, non-stick coating that has been sold to us as indispensable for pots and pans, is yet another in the list of substances that may be poisoning us, almost unnoticed. In addition to allowing fried eggs to slide right onto our plates, Teflon is in all of us, according to the Science Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency, and “likely to be carcinogenic in humans.”
These synthetic materials are just a few of the thousands now firmly embedded in our lives and our bodies. Most have been deployed in our world and put in our air, water, homes, and fields without being studied at all for potential health risks, nor has much attention been given to how they interact in the environments in which we live, let alone our bodies. The groups that produce these miracle substances -- like the petrochemical, plastics, and rubber industries, including major companies like Exxon, Dow, and Monsanto -- argue that, until we can definitively prove the chemical products slowly leaching into our bodies are dangerous, we have no “right,” and they have no obligation, to remove them from our homes and workplaces. The idea that they should prove their products safe before exposing the entire population to them seems to be a foreign concept.
In the 1920s, the oil industry made the same argument about lead as an additive in gasoline, even though it was already known that it was a dangerous toxin for workers. Spokesman for companies like General Motors insisted that it was a “gift of God,” irreplaceable and essential for industrial progress and modern living, just as the lead industry argued for decades that lead was “essential” to produce good paint that would protect our homes.
Like the oil, lead, and tobacco industries of the twentieth century, the chemical industry, through the American Chemistry Council and public relations firms like Hill & Knowlton, is fighting tooth and nail to stop regulation and inhibit legislation that would force it to test chemicals before putting them in the environment. In the meantime, Americans remain the human guinea pigs in advanced trials of hundreds if not thousands of commonly used, largely untested chemicals. There can be no doubt that this is the largest uncontrolled experiment in history.
To begin to bring it under control would undoubtedly involve major grassroots efforts to push back against the offending corporations, courageous politicians, billions of dollars, and top-flight researchers. But before any serious steps are likely to be taken, before we even name this epidemic, we need to wake up to its existence.
A toxic dump used to be a superfund site or a nuclear waste disposal site. Increasingly, however, we -- each and every one of us -- are toxic dumps and for us there’s no superfund around, no disposal plan in sight. In the meantime, we’re walking, talking biohazards and we don’t even know it.
David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz are co-authors and co-editors of seven books and 85 articles on a variety of industrial and occupational hazards, including Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution and, most recently, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, (University of California Press/Milbank, 2013). Rosner is a professor of history at Columbia University and co-director of the Center for the History of Public Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.Markowitz is a professor of history at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Source : Alternet
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Chemical widely used in antibacterial hand soaps may impair muscle function
Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical widely used in hand soaps and other personal-care products, hinders muscle contractions at a cellular level, slows swimming in fish and reduces muscular strength in mice, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Colorado. The findings appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
"Triclosan is found in virtually everyone's home and is pervasive in the environment," said Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator of the study. "These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health."
Triclosan is commonly found in antibacterial personal-care products such as hand soaps as well as deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste, bedding, clothes, carpets, toys and trash bags. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 estimated that more than 1 million pounds of triclosan are produced annually in the United States, and that the chemical is detectable in waterways and aquatic organisms ranging from algae to fish to dolphins, as well as in human urine, blood and breast milk.
The investigators performed several experiments to evaluate the effects of triclosan on muscle activity, using doses similar to those that people and animals may be exposed to during everyday life.
In "test tube" experiments, triclosan impaired the ability of isolated heart muscle cells and skeletal muscle fibers to contract. Specifically, the team evaluated the effects of triclosan on molecular channels in muscle cells that control the flow of calcium ions, creating muscle contractions. Normally, electrical stimulation ("excitation") of isolated muscle fibers under experimental conditions evokes a muscle contraction, a phenomenon known as "excitation-contraction coupling" (ECC), the fundamental basis of any muscle movement, including heartbeats. But in the presence of triclosan, the normal communication between two proteins that function as calcium channels was impaired, causing skeletal and cardiac muscle failure.
The team also found that triclosan impairs heart and skeletal muscle contractility in living animals. Anesthetized mice had up to a 25-percent reduction in heart function measures within 20 minutes of exposure to the chemical.
The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic," said Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and a study co-author. "Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models."In addition, the mice had an 18-percent reduction in grip strength for up to 60 minutes after being given a single dose of triclosan. Grip strength is a widely used measure of mouse limb strength, employed to investigate the effects of drugs and neuromuscular disorders.
Finally, the investigators looked at the effects of triclosan exposure on fathead minnows, a small fish commonly used as a model organism for studying the potential impacts of aquatic pollutants. Those exposed to triclosan in the water for seven days had significantly reduced swimming activity compared to controls during both normal swimming and swim tests designed to imitate fish being threatened by a predator.
"We were surprised by the large degree to which muscle activity was impaired in very different organisms and in both cardiac and skeletal muscle," said Bruce Hammock, a study co-author and professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "You can imagine in animals that depend so totally on muscle activity that even a 10-percent reduction in ability can make a real difference in their survival."
The UC Davis research team has previously linked triclosan to other potentially harmful health effects, including disruption of reproductive hormone activity and of cell signaling in the brain.
Chiamvimonvat cautioned that translating results from animal models to humans is a large step and would require further study. However, the fact that the effects were so striking in several animal models under different experimental conditions provides strong evidence that triclosan could have effects on animal and human health at current levels of exposure.
"In patients with underlying heart failure, triclosan could have significant effects because it is so widely used," Chiamvimonvat said. "However, without additional studies, it would be difficult for a physician to distinguish between natural disease progression and an environmental factor such as triclosan."
Pessah questioned arguments that triclosan -- introduced more than 40 years ago -- is safe partly because it binds to blood proteins, making it not biologically available. Although triclosan may bind to proteins in the blood, that may not necessarily make the chemical inactive, he said, and actually may facilitate its transport to critical organs. In addition, some of the current experiments were carried out in the presence of blood proteins, and disrupted muscle activity still occurred.
Although triclosan was first developed to prevent bacterial infections in hospitals, its use has become widespread in antibacterial products used in the home. However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other than its use in some toothpastes to prevent gingivitis, there is no evidence that triclosan provides other health benefits or that antibacterial soaps and body washes are more effective than regular soap and water. Experts also express concern about the possibility of resistant bacterial strains developing with the overuse of antibacterial products.
Because the chemical structure of triclosan resembles other toxic chemicals that persist in the environment, the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are conducting new risk assessments of the chemical. Based on their study outcomes, the researchers argue that the potential health risks call for greater restrictions.
"We have shown that triclosan potently impairs muscle functions by interfering with signaling between two proteins that are of fundamental importance to life," said Pessah. "Regulatory agencies should definitely be reconsidering whether it should be allowed in consumer products."
Said Hammock: "Triclosan can be useful in some instances, however it has become a ubiquitous 'value added' marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful. At the very least, our findings call for a dramatic reduction in its use."
Source : UC Davis Health System
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Laundry Toxins Linked to Cancers, Genetic Damage - US Doctor
Are any hazardous substances coming out of your dryer vents? Dr. Anne Steinemann has done diverse research into what chemicals are released from laundry by-products, air fresheners, cleaners, lotions and other fragranced consumer products. Could doing your laundry be hazardous to your health? Dr. Joseph Mercola reveals that toxic substances in laundry presents hidden dangers. These dangers include cancers, and a variety of other serious health problems. “The familiar "clean" scent of fabric softeners actually comes from a deceptively toxic blend of chemicals that have escaped regulation and are silently contributing to a number of health problems for unsuspecting consumers,” states Dr. Mercola in his article entitled “The Household Appliance that Releases 600 Potentially Dangerous Chemicals into the Air.”
His research covers the following key points: -- A new study finds more than 600 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are being emitted from dryer vents from commonly used laundry products, two of which are known carcinogens and unsafe at any level; -- Long-term cumulative effects of these chemical blends have never been studied so they’re largely unknown; however, potential adverse effects of fragrances used in commercial laundry products include respiratory, neurological, endocrine, immune system, and damage to virtually every organ system in your body; -- Fragrance reactions in the workplace are now so common that effects are being compared to those of secondhand smoke; -- The fragrance industry is unregulated, and companies are not required to list all chemical ingredients on labels or on MSDS sheets, making it impossible for you to know what’s in your products. Dr. Joseph Mercola elaborates: According to the Guide to Less Toxic Products by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, fabric softeners often contain quaternary ammonium compounds, or "quats," and imidazolidinyl, both of which are known to release formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chronic pain, and a variety of other symptoms.
Fabric softeners can also contain carcinogenic coal-tar dyes, ammonia, and very strong fragrances. One fragrance can be made up of literally hundreds of chemicals, none of which has to be disclosed or tested in any way. All are derived from petroleum products, which means high potential for human toxicity. Fragrances are one of the leading causes of allergic reactions. As humans, we are being conditioned by large corporations to buy toxic substances. Should we think twice about using products with industrially manufactured fragrances? Anne Steinemann, PhD reveals that “natural” and “organic” are deceptive labels in areas associated with laundry detergents and fabric softeners. [video attached] In her research, Dr. Steinemann further reveals that the so-called “organic”-labelled and “natural” laundry products were ironically more toxic than the regular products.
Source : Digital Journal
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