Archives for category: Green Chemistry

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Not sure which dangerous, toxic chemicals are in your household products? Neither is your government. See where hidden dangers may lurk in common household products, then tell Congress to pass legislation to protect our families from toxic chemicals. Because what you don’t know CAN hurt you.

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From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Long a pacesetter in efforts to control dangerous chemicals, California is moving toward sweeping new rules to reduce toxins in cleaning products, cosmetics, electronics, toys and possibly many other consumer goods.

They are among the most cutting-edge codes of their kind since 1986, when voters passed Proposition 65. That law set a national precedent by forcing businesses to warn customers if they “knowingly and intentionally” expose people to chemicals the state determined to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Otherwise, regulators often deeming chemicals or other compounds safe until proven harmful.

The newly proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulations will be debated by industry, academics and environmentalists for months as they move toward final form in late 2012.

They would roughly quadruple the number of chemicals targeted by the state and require companies not just to notify consumers, but to look for less-damaging alternatives. Companies must phase out toxins, do more research, take other measures approved by regulators or face fines of $25,000 per day.

The still-evolving plan was created to minimize “regrettable substitutions,” swapping one risky compound for another.It should help prevent scenarios like the one in which jewelry manufacturers traded lead for cadmium, another dangerous metal.

“This is revolutionary stuff. This is a real sea change in chemical policy,” Tim Malloy, an environmental law professor at UCLA, told regional business leaders at a forum last week in San Diego.

On Monday and Tuesday, the state’s Green Ribbon Science Panel will meet in Sacramento to assess the strategy as it moves through the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

There’s something in the draft rules for almost everyone to embrace and everyone to question. The proposal faces criticism from business backers concerned about the state driving companies away with “chemophobia,” along with myriad practical questions about how a regulatory program will work.

It’s not clear how much compliance will cost, which chemicals and products will be targeted first, how to balance company secrets with demands for transparency, which kinds of human harm will take precedence in ranking health problems and how the toxics control department will develop a rigorous oversight program without additional money.

“Industry wants clarity and certainty. DTSC wants something that’s enforceable,” said John Ulrich co-chairman of the Green Chemistry Alliance, a business-based group. “Somehow or another, we have got to find the balance.”

Kathryn Alcántar, California policy director for the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, says the rules could create significant benefits for consumers but she fears the current version gives businesses too much ability to hide product information.

“If there is not enough transparency … then people are not going to have faith in the program,” she said.

Once implemented, the new rules will influence manufacturing around the world to the extent that companies align their entire product lines with California law to avoid raising questions about differences between products. They also could foster of a new industry in the state devoted to finding safer products.

“There is an equal feeling across the planet — an unease — with evidence of harm that we are seeing in the natural world, the buildup of chemicals in our bodies that we were never evolved to deal with, and a realization that the source of those chemicals probably isn’t only the manufacturing but actually consumer products,” said Debbie Raphael, director of the toxics control agency.

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From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Scientists are learning that health is the function of genes and environment. The work of Milwaukee-based researchers suggests that this principle also applies to the health of a growing fetus and a premature infant.

Michael Laiosa, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Public Health, and neonatologist Venkatesh Sampath, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, want to understand how genetics and the environment affect the health of humans during the most vulnerable stages of development.

In Milwaukee, there were 807 infant and fetal deaths between 2005 and 2008, according to the city’s Fetal Infant Mortality Review. A disproportionate number were African-American. Of the 499 who were not stillborn, nearly 54% died from complications of being born too soon.

During gestation and early in life, infants reach developmental milestones at a rapid pace. But in the presence of a dysfunctional gene, toxic exposures, or a combination of both, development is prone to error.

According to Sampath, who is collaborating with colleague Ronald Hines, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College, some premature babies may be more susceptible to necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a leading cause of mortality and disability in very low birth-weight preterm infants weighing less than 3½ pounds.

What causes this disease is unknown, but doctors believe that an underdeveloped immune system or intestinal lining may leave a preterm infant’s bowel vulnerable to infection or injury. What results is severe inflammation, which can lead to a deadly infection. Between 25% and 40% of babies afflicted with NEC die.

In their recent study published in the Journal of Surgical Research, Sampath and Hines detected a variant of a gene called NFKB1, differing slightly from the normal form, which is involved in mounting an immune response. Investigators said premature infants with a genetic variant may be at higher risk for developing the potentially fatal NEC.

In the study of 270 very low birth-weight preterm infants, investigators reported that of the 15 infants diagnosed with NEC, all had at least one copy of the defective gene and were disproportionately African-American.

“African-American infants run a higher risk of NEC,” Sampath said of the study findings.

The defective gene turned up in 65% of infants not diagnosed with NEC, suggesting that other factors are involved in the onset of the disease. Sampath said it may be the presence of a particular bacteria, poor blood flow to the intestines, or another malfunctioning gene.

Infants with NEC experience pain, according to Sampath. “It’s a nasty disease,” he said.

Sampath added that those infants who survive a severe case of NEC are at greater risk for developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

Jackie Sevallius, supervisor of the newborn intensive care center at Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph hospital in Milwaukee, cares for infants with NEC and said signs of pain in a preterm infant are often subtle and manifest as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and color.

Very low birth-weight babies unable to muster a cry will express their pain through a facial grimace, said Sevallius.

Whether the variant gene can be used as a marker of NEC susceptibility in preterm infants is not yet clear.

“At this stage, it is preliminary, which means it needs to be addressed in a large amount of patients before we can tell for sure. It is worth further digging,” Sampath said.

David Hackam, professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said Sampath’s studies may one day offer doctors a way to screen premature infants for increased risk for NEC. Early screening could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, he said. Current treatments include changes in feeding, antibiotics and surgery. “These studies make a strong case for further genetic studies to understand this complex and devastating disorder,” Hackam said.

Sampath said he hopes to explore whether this genetic variant can be used to predict other diseases of prematurity.

Developmental origins

How the outside world leaves its imprint on a growing fetus and potentially affects health later in life is an emerging field of research. A pregnant woman’s lifestyle choices, nutrition, exposure to toxicants – and even stress – may modify when and how genes are expressed during the course of fetal development.

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From :

Investor Environmental Health Network presents this educational video on chemicals in products and green chemistry opportunities.

From Yale 360 (by Elizabeth Grossman):

New York City’s low-income neighborhoods and California’s Salinas Valley, where 80 percent of the United States’ lettuce is grown, could hardly be more different. But scientists have discovered that children growing up in these communities — one characterized by the rattle of subway trains, the other by acres of produce and vast sunny skies — share a pre-natal exposure to pesticides that appears to be affecting their ability to learn and succeed in school.

Three studies undertaken independently, but published simultaneously last month, show that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides — sprayed on crops in the Salinas Valley and used in Harlem and the South Bronx to control cockroaches and other insects — can lower children’s IQ by an average of as much as 7 points. While this may not sound like a lot, it is more than enough to affect a child’s reading and math skills and cause behavioral problems with potentially long-lasting impacts, according to the studies.

“This is not trivial,” said Virginia Rauh, one of the study authors, speaking from Columbia University, where she is deputy director of the university’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health and professor of population and family health. What is particularly significant, she said, is that these studies involved so many children from such different communities, yet produced consistent evidence of the pesticides’ effects on cognitive skills and short-term memory.

Rauh said that the new studies were prompted by the long-standing awareness of the neurotoxicity of these pesticides on animals and the chemicals’ widespread use. Given science’s growing knowledge about the measurable effects of neurotoxic chemicals and elements, such as lead, on children’s cognition and behavior, the three recent studies were a logical next step in such research, Rauh explained.

The studies in New York and California were a continuation of research that has been ongoing for 12 years. Two of the studies, led by researchers at Columbia University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, looked at more than 660 children, ages six to nine, living in the South Bronx, Harlem, and other inner city neighborhoods. The New York mothers were exposed primarily indoors, as they lived in buildings where these pesticides were used in public areas and inside apartments. Previous studies of pregnant women in the same New York City neighborhoods had found organophosphate pesticides in all indoor air samples and in the majority of umbilical cord blood taken from these women when they gave birth.

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Learning more about the specific mechanisms by which individual chemicals act — and and the effects they trigger — can point the way to which insecticides should be banned. In their next studies, Rauh and her colleagues plan to follow the children in their study group as they progress through school, using brain-imaging studies, blood analysis, and continued intellectual testing. Engel’s group plans to examine additional genetic factors that may help explain susceptibility to organophosphates.

Two generations after the U.S. stopped widely using the pesticides that Rachel Carson wrote about in Silent Spring, scientists are just beginning to get a distinct picture of how replacement pesticides are affecting the health of children. “We now have additional safety regulations for pesticides,” says Lanphear, ”but that doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

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Listen to TreeHugger Radio podcast interview of Elizabeth Grossman via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

From Environmental Health News:

A shift to a bio-based raw material can reduce several chemical hazards associated with making one of the most popular plastics – polyurethanes – in production today, researchers report in the journal Green Chemistry. The new process means polyurethane plastic may be less hazardous to make and easier to break down in the environment.

Polyurethanes are a family of commodity plastics very commonly encountered in everyday life. They are widely used in industrial, automotive, engineering and medical applications and are found in a large range of products, including paints, foams, adhesives and coatings.

The new process for making polyurethanes focuses on one class called polycarbonate urethanes. These are found commercially in coatings and medical devices.

Almost all polyurethanes are prepared from chemicals called isocyanates. Most isocyanates are acutely toxic and pose a health risk to workers during manfacturing and to people who live in the communities surrounding the facilities.

The manufacturing of polyurethanes usually relies on toxic metal catalysts that can be released from the products into the environment. Research has shown that environmental exposures to these chemicals can lead to disruption of hormonal processes in animals.

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From Daily Planet:

The evening of his two-year-old son’s funeral, John Warner looked back on his prolific career as a chemist, and had an epiphany of sorts.

“I had probably synthesized more molecules than anyone my age on the planet. I was at the top of my game as a synthetic organic chemist. But I asked myself, what if something I worked with, something that I made, caused my son’s birth defect and ultimate death?”

He realized that despite being a successful chemist, he had no idea what made a chemical toxic. That started him on a journey to discover just what it takes to create safer chemicals.

Considered in the science world to be one of the founding fathers of green chemistry, Warner was the featured speaker Friday at the “Adding Value Through Green Chemistry” conference . . . .

The event was intended to bring together leaders from the academic, nonprofit, government and business communities in discussion about the benefits and opportunities of green chemistry, which Warner says aims to “reduce or eliminate hazardous substances at the design stage.”

In order to be considered green chemistry, a substance must be safer than existing alternatives, be cost-effective, and ultimately, it has to work.

“People are not going to buy a cleaner that doesn’t clean just because it happens to be environmentally benign,” Warner said.

A spike in environmental regulations over the past 30 years demonstrates a growing public awareness of the need for safe chemical production. But a fundamental gap exists between what the public desires, and what scientists are capable of achieving, explained Warner.

Many professional chemists don’t know what makes a chemical toxic. That’s because universities do not require chemistry majors to demonstrate knowledge of toxicity and environmental impact in order to graduate – that is, not yet.

“Communities and states that can figure this out and create a workforce capable of supplying this unmet need, this missing element, have an opportunity to change the game,” said Warner.

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