Archives for the month of: October, 2010

New York Magazine‘s blog, The Cut: Finally, People Are Protesting the Fragrance Abercrombie Uses to Constantly Gas Its Stores

You could walk by any Abercrombie or Hollister store blindfolded and know, from the gusts of suffocating, cologne-saturated air, just where you were. The company’s disturbing practice of pumping cologne through stores’ ventilation systems has already hurt business in Japan’s first Abercrombie, as well as stores in the States, probably, since plenty of people don’t even want to stand near an open Abercrombie door for more than a few seconds because of the stench. Organizations are finally mobilizing to battle this terribly unfair practice, which they believe could put helpless consumers in danger. . . .

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is also joining the fight. They say Abercrombie’s Fierce scent is made with eleven “secret chemicals” not listed on the label, some of which would lead to headaches, wheezing, asthma, and contact dermatitis. One such chemical could, ironically, harm male reproductive hormones.

“A&F’s image is that of the ideal strong young hunky man, yet Fierce has diethyl phthalate in it, shown to be linked to harm the manliest hormone,” says Alex Peaslee, co-president of Teens Turning Green, NYC, about the chemicals purported effects on testosterone. “It seems that the young guys are receiving exactly the opposite of what they hoped to gain by shopping there,” added Peaslee.

Abercrombie has responded, saying their ingredient-listing practices don’t violate any regulations. . .

Read more here.

More from Stylelist here.

More from Teens Turning Green here.

Environmental Health News: Children breathing fumes from water-based paints have high risk of asthma, allergies, new study says.

Children who sleep in bedrooms containing fumes from water-based paints and solvents are two to four times more likely to suffer allergies or asthma, according to a new scientific study. Scientists measured the compounds – propylene glycol and glycol ethers, known as PGEs – in the bedroom air of 400 toddlers and preschoolers, and discovered that the children who breathed them had substantially higher rates of asthma, stuffy noses and eczema. It is the first human study to link harmful effects of these chemicals to common exposures in households, and it suggests that they exacerbate or even cause allergic disorders and asthma, according to the team of scientists from Harvard University and Sweden’s Kalstad University. “Apparent risks of PGEs at such low concentrations at home raise concerns for the vulnerability of infants and young children,” according to the report, published Monday in the journal of the Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE. Read more here.

Greenwire: Enviro groups press for expanded EPA oversight of household toxins.

Seeking fresh momentum in their push for stronger federal toxics law, environmental groups today are homing in on a nearly universal path of human exposure to chemicals: the home. A new report by the Ecology Center, a member of the broader coalition lobbying for greater U.S. EPA power over hazardous substances, found that household flooring made with vinyl is nearly twice as likely as non-PVC tiles to contain detectable levels of chemicals such as lead, cadmium and chlorine. Separate tests found some flooring brands carried elevated levels of phthalates, controversial plastic additives, that were banned in children’s items in 2008. Read more here.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Kiddie Kollege owners, parents settle suit over tots’ exposure to toxin for $1 million.

The owners and operators of the toxic Kiddie Kollege Day Care in Gloucester County have settled a class-action lawsuit filed by parents for $1 million. The case made national headlines and triggered new laws and congressional hearings after New Jersey inspectors in 2006 discovered babies and children playing inside a building that was once a thermometer factory. Read more here.

National Geographic News: Plane exhaust kills more people than plane crashes.

There’s a new fear of flying: You’re more likely to die from exposure to toxic pollutants in plane exhaust than in a plane crash, a new study suggests.

In recent years, airplane crashes have killed about a thousand people annually, whereas plane emissions kill about ten thousand people each year, researchers say.

Earlier studies had assumed that people were harmed only by the emissions from planes while taking off and landing. The new research is the first to give a comprehensive estimate of the number of premature deaths from all airline emissions.

“We found that unregulated emissions from [planes flying] above 3,000 feet [914 meters] were responsible for most of the deaths,” said study leader Steven Barrett, an aeronautical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Airplane exhaust, like car exhaust, contains a variety of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Many of these particles of pollution are tiny, about a hundred millionths of an inch wide, or smaller than the width of a human hair.

So-called particulate matter that’s especially small is the main culprit in human health effects, especially since the particulates can become wedged deep in the lung and possibly enter the bloodstream, scientists say.

Read more here.

From All Things Considered (portions of a radio news story discussing a recent Nature article challenging the conventional wisdom about genetic inheritance):

We can’t change the genes we received from our parents. But our genes are controlled by a kind of instruction manual made up of billions of chemical markers on our DNA, and those instructions can be rewritten by our circumstances — for instance, by obesity. According to the new research, they can even be passed along to children.

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The Grammar Of DNA

[Andy] Feinberg thinks he knows how this may be happening. It’s an example of an “epigenetic” effect, which is his specialty.

This field — epigenetics — is getting a lot of attention these days. It refers to things in and around our DNA, such as billions of chemical markers that attach to it. Those markers are signals that turn genes on and off. They tell the genes of a liver cell to behave differently from genes in a blood cell, for instance.

The sequence of our DNA — the human genome — has been called the book of life. Feinberg has his own metaphor for the billions of added signals that he studies. If the genetic sequence is the words of the book, the epigenome is the grammar, he says. “It helps to tell what the genes are actually supposed to do, and puts them in context.”

Our genes don’t change, or if they do, it’s a rare and random event. But the grammar of the epigenome is changing all the time. It can also be disrupted by chemicals we eat or breathe.

Apparently it can also be disrupted by obesity, because Feinberg thinks those fat dad rats in Australia created sperm cells with a different pattern of epigenetic marks on their DNA; that’s how the effect showed up in their children.

Michael Skinner at Washington State University in Pullman says epigenetic effects are swinging the pendulum of scientific attention from the genetic code back toward the impact of environment.

“I think that we’re eventually going to have sort of a merger of this,” he says. “I think that we’re going to have an appreciation of the fact that there is an environmental influence on biology that probably through more epigenetic mechanisms. There’s also a baseline genetic element of biology. And the two combined will actually give us more information about how things work.”

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The entire story, the podcast, and related links can all be found here.

Bloomberg News: Flooring, wallpaper emit toxic chemicals, group says in urging regulation.

U.S. homes may contain flooring and wallpaper that emit the types of toxic chemicals the Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned from toys, an environmental group said in urging expanded regulation of the substances. The building materials may expose kids to chemicals such as phthalates that were banned in children’s products in a 2008 overhaul of the CPSC, said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which today released a study showing emissions from 3,000 products. Lead and cadmium also were found in some products, he said. “Toys aren’t the only source of exposure,” Gearhart said in an interview. “We really need a broader federal policy reform. We should be looking at chemicals in everything, not product by product.” Read more here.

Postmedia News: Feds should ban ‘dirty dozen’ chemicals: report.

Looking primped and polished can be hazardous to your health, according to a new report by the David Suzuki Foundation that’s calling on the government to do more to keep a “dirty dozen” toxic chemicals out of personal care products sold in Canada. The study looked at ingredient labels on more than 12,500 products ranging from makeup and lotions to deodorants and toothpaste. It found some 80 per cent of products contained at least one of 12 chemicals or groups of chemicals on a shortlist of common cosmetic ingredients deemed harmful to the environment and human health. Read more here.

Toronto Star: Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights.

Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world, according to a global study commissioned by an industry association but never made public.“Canadian companies have been the most significant group involved in unfortunate incidents in the developing world,” the report obtained by the Toronto Star concludes. . . . The problems involving Canada’s mining and exploration corporations go far beyond workplace issues. “Canadian companies are more likely to be engaged in community conflict, environmental and unethical behaviour, and are less likely to be involved in incidents related to occupational concerns.” Read more here.

“[W]e need to expand the national conversation about health to saying much more than providing health care access to all Americans. We have to pay attention to these broader, social determinants of health.”

~ Ichiro Kawachi

Ichiro Kawachi is Professor of Social Epidemiology, and Chair, Department of Society, Human Development, and Health. In this video he advises the next president to address the broad determinants of health — high-quality education, housing, work environments — in addition to improving health care access.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


The Disappearing Male is about one of the most important, and least publicized, issues facing the human species: the toxic threat to the male reproductive system.

The last few decades have seen steady and dramatic increases in the incidence of boys and young men suffering from genital deformities, low sperm count, sperm abnormalities and testicular cancer.

At the same time, boys are now far more at risk of suffering from ADHD, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and dyslexia.

The Disappearing Male takes a close and disturbing look at what many doctors and researchers now suspect are responsible for many of these problems: a class of common chemicals that are ubiquitous in our world.

Found in everything from shampoo, sunglasses, meat and dairy products, carpet, cosmetics and baby bottles, they are called “hormone mimicking” or “endocrine disrupting” chemicals and they may be starting to damage the most basic building blocks of human development.

In my recent interview of Drs. Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana Soto, I asked them about Bisphenol A (BPA). Below is the clip from that portion of the interview.

Drs. Sonnenschein and Soto respond to the following prompts:

  1. Describe why you changed your focus to BPA. 00:40
  2. What was the original purpose of BPA? 03:15
  3. Where do humans come into contact with these BPA-laden plastics? 04:30
  4. Do you think the public fully appreciates the magnitude of this problem? 06:35

In their responses, they discuss how they discovered several estrogenic chemicals and why BPA became the primary focus of their research in the 1990s.  They explain the origins of BPA, including the fact that it was originally synthesized to be an estrogen, though it was ultimately used in the synthesis of plastics.  They also describe the ubiquity of BPA in our products — including in plastic water bottles, dispersants in inks, and sealants in teeth.

The full, edited interview is now available on the Upstream Website.

From Fora.TV:

Peter Gleick, scientist and freshwater expert, talks about his latest book: Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. Tap water is safe almost everywhere in the U.S. It takes far more water to make the plastic bottle than it even holds. Most bottled water is simply water from somebody else’s tap! Why on earth does this industry continue to thrive?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Peter H. Gleick is co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. Dr. Gleick is an internationally recognized water expert and in 2003 was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his science and policy work on water issues worldwide. In 2006 he was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences. His research and writing address the critical connections between water and human health, the human right to water, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization and international conflicts over water resources.He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations and was elected an Academician of the International Water Academy in Oslo, Norway in 1999. Dr. Gleick is the author of many scientific papers and five books, including the biennial water report The World’s Water.

Reuters: The problem with phthalates.

Imagine a child sitting in his classroom, gazing through the window at the rain. He picks up his pencil and chews distractedly on the eraser at its top. Chemicals, classed in Europe as “toxic to reproduction,” dissolve in his saliva and enter his body. It’s a scenario that may not be unusual. A report published last week by a consortium of 140 environment groups shows that potentially risky chemicals are present in dozens of everyday plastic items for sale by European retailers — from shoes to erasers, from pencil cases to sex toys. Read more here.

Postmedia News: Kids’ jewelry shows high levels of toxic metal cadmium: Health Canada documents.

Three in 10 pieces of children’s jewelry tested by Health Canada for cadmium in the past year were made of as much as 93 per cent of the highly toxic metal, internal government test results show.The Health Canada records, released exclusively to Postmedia News under access-to-information legislation, show 28 of 91 samples tested since last fall contained cadmium levels greater than Health Canada’s established limit of 107 mg/kg. Read more here.

Politico: Industries heat up over boiler rules.

The biggest environmental battle of the year isn’t necessarily the most obvious. Industry lobbyists and lawmakers are working feverishly behind the scenes to water down rules aimed at slashing cancer-causing pollution and other toxic emissions from boilers that provide power or heat to refineries, shopping malls, and other facilities. Read more here.

From TimesRecord News:

Stephen Brock, the man who discovered he could ignite the water coming out of his kitchen faucet in July, has filed suit against Jack Grace Production Co. for possible contamination of the groundwater that serves the well at his home on the western edge of Bowie.

Stephen and Sharee Brock filed suit in 97th District Court to recover damages to real property, where they believe their water supply has been contaminated with hydrocarbons, chlorides, brine, metals and chemicals associated with injection and oil wells.

In July the ongoing water problems on Jack Grace Hill reached a dangerous new height. For about 30 years, complaints have been made to the Texas Railroad Commission and other state agencies about water quality along this short road. Residents say the water is salty and undrinkable in most cases as well as rusty and virtually untreatable for use.

Since the Brocks purchased their home in 2007, they say they have had to replace the plumbing and the hot water heater and buy the largest water softener available for home use.

However, they say they still have to go to another family member’s home to take a shower and they use bottled water to cook with.

While watching a TV documentary on how the groundwater in one town was contaminated by energy drilling, Brock saw similarities with his own water problems. When the person on TV used a lighter near his water faucet and it set aflame, he decided to try it in his own kitchen.

“I got a ball of flame in my sink; it scared me to death,” he said.

Brock began calling every agency connected with the issue, and officials with the Texas Railroad Commission arrived to take water samples for testing. Other agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency also took samples. During the investigation, TRC officials reportedly told Brock not to use the water.


From Living On Earth (portions of an insteresting radio discussion of New York’s attempt New York to revive a 1976 law requiring manufacturers to disclose chemical ingredients in household cleaners):

GELLERMAN: These days, finding out the chemicals in household cleaners is hit or miss. But 35 years ago, the New York legislature decided it was time for manufacturers of cleaning products to come clean and reveal their ingredients. The law was never enforced though – that is, until now. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is dusting off that long forgotten law and holding hearings on how to implement it. Urvashi Rangan is an environmental scientist and Director of Technical Policy for Consumer’s Union. Thanks for joining us.

RANGAN: Oh you’re so welcome; it’s a pleasure to be here.

GELLERMAN: So how is it that a 35 year-old law requiring disclosure of chemicals in products has never been enforced?

RANGAN: Yeah, it’s not really clear how it was never enforced. A group called Earth Justice, which is an environmental law firm actually came upon the statute and filed suit against four large cleaning manufacturers, to force them to disclose the ingredients on their formulations. They did not win that lawsuit, but they began efforts to encourage the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York to enforce the law in and of themselves.

GELLERMAN: So what are the benefits of disclosure? I mean, why disclose?

RANGAN: Most consumers think what they pull off the supermarket shelves is safe, or has been demonstrated as being safe. They would be surprised to learn that a number of the ingredients that are used in cleaning products today may not be as safe as they think. Beyond that, consumers want to be able to purchase the safest products on the market. And, without full ingredient disclosure, they simply can’t make informed or comparative choices.

GELLERMAN: What about federal laws? Aren’t there federal laws requiring disclosure of chemicals in compounds?

RANGAN: There are some federal laws regarding incredibly hazardous materials used in cleaning products. If you have a hazardous material, or the product itself is hazardous, you have to use certain types of labels. If you have an antibacterial cleaner, or a disinfectant, it’s actually a pesticidal product, and the active ingredients in these pesticidal products, have to be disclosed.

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GELLERMAN: More and more products are making a virtue out of using the quote, unquote, natural ingredients. I’m trying to find out what “natural” means, and, according to federal law, it’s kind of meaningless.

RANGAN: Yeah, unfortunately, the natural label is almost one of the top green-washing terms for us. There are very few standards behind what that term means. It only necessarily might mean that something came from a natural source. But, you can extract something from a plant and you can also chemically react that into an ingredient. And so, that term is very loosey goosey, and consumers shouldn’t rely on that term without doing some additional homework. Non-toxic is another one of those labels that just has no standards behind it and no verification what so ever.

And, in fact, in a report we did on cleaners and reported that non-toxic had no standardized meaning, we heard back from a company who sent us a lot of documentation to support their use of non-toxic. In review of that documentation, we actually came upon a carcinogen that’s used in the product, and so, it’s just sort of highlights how companies can use that term really any which way they want to, even if they have a little bit of carcinogen in their product to.

* * *

The entire transcript, links to the podcast, and related links can all be found here.

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I recently interviewed Drs. Carlos Sonnenschein and Ana Soto.

This video contains the introduction to that interview, in which they responded to the following prompts:

  1. Describe your work before you began studying environmental toxins. 00:00:40
  2. What caused you to shift the focus of your research? 00:02:35
  3. Please say more about the unexpected results in your lab and how you responded.00:04:25
  4. Without the manufacturer’s assistance, how did you discover what the contaminant was? 00:06:25
  5. What is the contaminant, and how is it used? 00:07:55

Through their responses, Drs. Sonnenschein and Soto tell the fascinating story of how a laboratory accident caused them to stop their research and pursue a new project that would eventually reveal to them how plastic tubes were producing estrogenic activity and set them down a new research path.  They also describe how they came to realize that the “problem [of estrogenic activity] was probably much more serious” than they first suspected.

The full, edited interview is now available on the Upstream Website.

London Daily Telegraph: Cancer caused by modern man, as it was virtually non-existent in ancient world.

Researchers looking at almost a thousand mummies from ancient Egypt and South America found only a handful suffered from cancer when now it accounts for nearly one in three deaths. The findings suggest that it is modern lifestyles and pollution levels caused by industry that are the main cause of the disease and that it is not a naturally occurring condition. Read more here.

Edmonton Journal: Dirty diapers may hold clues to asthma, allergies.

Over the next few months, researchers will be mining the seven-month-old’s diapers and mapping the DNA of the bacteria in her and thousands of other babies’ poop in hopes of eventually figuring out if antibiotic use, C-sections or environmental factors increase a child’s risk of asthma or allergies. The results could influence how parents and health professionals raise their children and treat their illnesses early in life, said Anita Kozryskyj, a University of Alberta medical researcher and co-lead investigator for a $12-million project funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and AllerGen, a Canadian centre of excellence that focuses on allergic disease. Read more here.

“The public fails to realize that some illnesses have an environmental influence and are preventable. We develop systems to treat them after they happen, but we don’t look upstream to see why we are having these problems. And we lose an opportunity to make some of them go away.”

~Dr. William Kincaid, former head of the St. Louis Health Department (source).

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