Archives for posts with tag: chemicals

Greenwire: Prenatal exposures prompt EPA to re-examine chemical regulations.

U.S. EPA regulators convened with scientists last month to discuss how to design regulations for chemicals based on emerging science that connects exposures during pregnancy with disease much later in life.

A mother exchanges with her child in the womb chemicals that have remained constant for much of human evolution. They dictate which genes will be turned on and off in the child, which proteins the child will make in his body and how much of them.

New research, in a field called epigenetics, now suggests that these changes, made during the earliest part of gestation, could spell out the child’s longer-term medical record. It could determine his propensity for mood swings, his tendency to gain weight into the realms of obesity, his risk of developing cardiovascular disease or cancer when he hits 50, and his propensity of passing on his genes to his children.

The idea is that the child adapts to environmental cues in the womb that will reflect the chemical composition of the world, thus conferring a Darwinian fitness advantage.

The mix of chemicals a fetus is exposed to has exploded in the past 200 years, heralded by the Industrial Revolution. Technology has outstripped evolution, said Robert Chapin, senior research fellow in drug safety research and development at Pfizer Inc. People were suddenly surrounded by particulate matter from cars, coal-plant emissions, metals, organic molecules from hand sanitizers, body lotions and other chemicals, some of which could cross into the placenta and merge into the child’s aqueous world.

Some, such as folic acid, were intentionally given to moms as beneficial; others such as bisphenol A became common in the modern environment and had the ability to mimic hormones that are naturally present in humans. Yet others, such as arsenic and tin, are naturally present in some places.

Scientists now suspect that the altered chemical cues during the critical windows of pregnancy — at stages when gender is still developing and the human is little more than a collection of cells — could trigger pathways that manifest as disease well into adulthood.

More . . .

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From CHE Blog (post by Sarah Howard):

The UK nonprofit organization CHEM Trust (Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust) just released a report on the links between chemicals and diabetes/obesity. Studies published in recent years provide compelling evidence that human chemical contamination can play a part in both conditions. The report concludes that the chemicals that we accumulate throughout life, via our everyday lifestyles, is likely to contribute to these modern epidemics. This is the same conclusion reached by the National Toxicology Program’s review of the scientific evidence on chemicals and diabetes/obesity, published last month.

The CHEM Trust report, entitled Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, is written by two of the world’s leading experts: Professor Miquel Porta, MD, MPH, PhD, of Spain and Professor Duk-Hee Lee, MD, PhD, of South Korea.

The report focuses on endocrine disrupting chemicals in both obesity and diabetes. Exposures to these chemicals in the womb, at other critical periods of life, and in adulthood may be linked to obesity and disruption of the normal functioning of insulin in later life. Evidence of the role of hormone disrupting chemicals comes from both laboratory studies and studies on human populations.

In one example, the report describes a study from the general US population that found that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in fatty tissue, even more than the fat itself, plays a critical role in the development of diabetes. People who were obese did not have an increased risk of diabetes if their levels of POPs were low. People who were thin did have a higher risk of diabetes if their POP levels were higher. And those with higher POP levels who were also obese had the highest diabetes risk of all.

The chemicals suspected of increasing weight gain or diabetes in humans include a variety of chemicals, including numerous POPs, arsenic, BPA, phthalates, pesticides (including atrazine, organophosphorous and organochlorine pesticides), brominated flame retardants, metals (including cadmium, mercury, organotins), and more. Many of these are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and have the ability to disrupt our natural hormones which control both fat storage and blood sugar regulation, and hence can play a role in obesity and diabetes.

Professor Miquel Porta stated, “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying. The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable. We must encourage new policies that help minimize human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the fetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.

Elizabeth Salter Green, CHEM Trust Director stated, “If exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals is programming us to be fat, it is high time that public health policy takes into account cutting edge science. Obesity and diabetes are examples of the adverse health trends linked with endocrine disruption which need to be urgently addressed. We are talking about prevention, and in this time of financial squeeze, anything that can help with prevention is a good idea. CHEM Trust is calling for the UK Government and the EU to urgently identify hormone disruptors to ensure that chemicals suspected of playing a role in diabetes and obesity are substituted with safer alternatives.”

Summary of the report’s conclusions

  • Studies suggest that exposure to certain chemicals in the environment can play an important role in obesity and diabetes. The chemicals implicated include some to which the general population are exposed on a daily basis.
  • Substantial evidence exists to consider exposure to EDCs with estrogenic activity as a risk factor for the etiology of obesity and obesity-related metabolic dysfunction.
  • Evidence suggesting a relationship between human contamination with environmental chemicals and the risk of diabetes has existed for more than 15 years, with the volume and strength of evidence becoming particularly persuasive since 2006.
  • Obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, and chemicals that accumulate in body fat (e.g., POPs) may play a role in the causal relationship between obesity and diabetes.
  • Many of the chemicals that can cause weight gain and related metabolic effects have endocrine disrupting properties.
  • Embryonic, fetal, and infantile stages may be especially vulnerable to obesity from relatively low doses of EDCs. Nonetheless, the risk of obesity due to obesogenic pollutants can also increase during adolescence and adulthood.

Summary of the report’s recommendations

  • Action to reduce exposures to such chemicals is warranted on a precautionary basis, and is likely to be cost-effective.
  • National governments and the EU need to urgently put forward mechanisms to identify EDCs to ensure that currently used chemicals suspected of playing a role in obesity and diabetes are substituted with safer alternatives.
  • Health professionals, citizens’ organisations, companies, authorities and society at large need to be better informed of the role that chemical exposures may play in causing diabetes and obesity.
  • Individuals, industry, the agricultural sector, dieticians and the medical professions all have roles to play in reducing exposures both in the home and in occupational settings.
  • Personal changes in lifestyle are certainly important for the prevention of obesity and diabetes, but this should not obscure the need for government policies within and outside the health sector to decrease human exposure to obesogenic and diabetogenic environmental compounds.
  • As many of the chemicals implicated widely contaminate the animal and human food chains and some are also released from some food containers, dietary interventions ignoring the presence of contaminants in food may hamper the expected beneficial effects of dietary recommendations.
  • In order to protect fetuses and newborn babies, specific advice is needed for pregnant women and midwives regarding EDCs in the diet and in consumer products used by pregnant women and/or babies.
  • Public health policies, including those seeking to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, need to be implemented swiftly. To preserve quality of life, prevention in both cases is vastly preferable to treatment.
  • Evidence for the association between exposure to EDCs and obesity should lead to a paradigm shift in how to tackle obesity. The focus should be broadened from one based on individual lifestyle, diagnosis and treatment to one that includes population prevention measures.
  • Population-based biomonitoring must be strengthened to provide a better understanding of the extent of human contamination by environmental obesogens and diabetogens in the general population.
  • Progress is also needed in identifying the sources of exposure (e.g., which food products, which consumer products). Further research is particularly warranted on the role that food additives, contaminants in animal feed and human food, and packaging may play in obesity and diabetes.
  • Screens and tests to identify chemicals that can impact on obesity and diabetes should be developed, and certain chemicals should be required to undergo such testing.
  • More attention should be given to protecting populations in the developing world from exposure to environmental pollutants, including that arising from electronic waste, food contamination, air pollution and the erroneous use of certain pesticides.

CHEM Trust’s goal is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals. They have published previous reports on chemicals and the developing brain, breast cancer, reproductive health, and more.

This report as well as others are available at the CHEM Trust website.

Visit the CHE Blog.

From Toronto Star:

A new study has found early exposure to a chemical commonly used in dry-cleaning can increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress syndrome.

The study, published in the open access journal Environmental Health, examined the impact of the solvent — known as tetrachloroethylene or PCE — which leached into the water supply from vinyl-lined water pipes used in the Cape Cod area.

PCE and vinyl resin were used to attach liners to the water pipes. The pipes were dried for 48 hours before being shipped for use. It was thought that the PCE would evaporate before the pipes were installed. But that didn’t appear to be the case.

Quantities of PCE seem to have stayed on the liner and ended up leaching into the public water supply, said Ann Aschengrau, a professor and epidemiologist at Boston University School of Public Health who conducted the study.

Aschengrau and a team of researchers did a retrospective cohort study on 1,500 subjects, born between 1969 and 1983 in the Cape Cod area. They were traced through their current address and telephone number, credit bureau records, telephone books and the Internet.

Eight hundred and thirty-one of them were identified as being exposed to the solvent through drinking water either prenatally or in early childhood, Aschengrau said in an interview with the Star.

Through data linked to their mothers’ addresses and the water distribution companies’ information on where the pipes were located, the researchers were able to find who had been exposed to the PCE-laden water.

They sent questionnaires to all the participants, asking about a variety of things, including mental illness. They were asked if a doctor or health-care provider ever said they had depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In sifting through the data, the researchers found a high increased risk for bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

“There was an 80 per cent increased risk for bipolar disorder in those who were exposed to PCE,” Aschengrau said.

“And there was a further increase risk in those who were highly exposed — a 170 per cent increase for bipolar disorder.”

There was also a 50 per cent increased risk for those who were exposed to the PCE for post traumatic stress disorder and it rose to 70 per cent amongst those who were highly exposed, she said.

The number of cases of schizophrenia was too small to draw reliable conclusions, the study said. Nor was the risk of depression associated with prenatal and childhood PCE exposure.

“Prior studies have found increases in risk of depression and anxiety and mood disorders among people who are occupationally exposed to PCE. I think it’s the first time it has been examined,” said Aschengrau.

More research needs to be done and her study corroborated, she said. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Research Program.

In the meantime, she said that people should be wary of PCE, which is considered a serious carcinogen and a “well recognized animal and human neurotoxicant.”

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From The Collaborative on Health and the Environment:

DATE: Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 9:00 am Alaska Time/ 10:00 am Pacific/ 1:00 pm Eastern

RSVP: To join this free call and receive the dial-up instructions, please RSVP to Alaska Community Action on Toxics at diana@akaction.org or (907) 222-7714.

Emerging scientific studies suggest environmental chemicals may be contributing factors to the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Can a fetus’ exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb cause obesity or diabetes at age 5, 15, or 25? Is part of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. linked to chemical exposures that occur in childhood? A growing number of researchers are exploring how chemicals used in plastics, food packaging, pesticides and cosmetics can corrupt normal function of metabolic hormones and trigger dramatic increases in body fat. Guest speakers Bruce Blumberg, PhD and David O. Carpenter, M.D. will discuss the cutting-edge science linking chemical exposures to the growing epidemics of diabetes and obesity.

Featured speakers include:

Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., Professor in the Departments of Developmental and Cell Biology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering at University of California, Irvine. Bruce Blumberg received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1987. His postdoctoral training was in the molecular embryology of vertebrate development at the Department of Biological Chemistry in the UCLA Medical School. Dr. Blumberg’s current research at the Blumberg Laboratory at UC Irvine focuses on the role of nuclear hormone receptors in development, physiology and disease. Particular interests include patterning of the vertebrate nervous system, the differential effects of xenobiotic exposure on laboratory model organisms compared with humans, interactions between xenobiotic metabolism, inflammation, and cancer, and the role of environmental chemicals on the development of obesity and diabetes.

David O. Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at UAlbany’s School of Public Health. Dr. Carpenter previously served as director of the Wadsworth Laboratory of the New York State Department of Health.  He received his doctorate from Harvard Medical School and has hundreds of publications to his credit. Dr. Carpenter’s area of expertise is human health effects of environmental contaminants, including metals and organic compounds.

From the Sacramento Bee:

On a crisp winter day, look east from Orosi for a world-class view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada and California’s purest water on ice.

The snow melts, rushes down through granite canyons to reservoirs and eventually turns farmlands green in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

But somewhere between the glistening snowpack and the verdant countryside, a dangerous change takes place. The underground water becomes tainted with chemicals called nitrates. And the contamination winds up in tap water.

The county’s $4 billion farming industry is the prime suspect. And, since Tulare County is the biggest dairy county in the nation, cows and their prodigious waste often get most of the blame.

The animals create more waste than all the people in Los Angeles, says Elanor Starmer, San Francisco-based regional director of the nonprofit advocacy group Food & Water Watch. None of this nitrate-laden dairy waste is treated.

“I don’t believe there is any way to manage that much waste,” she said “It’s pretty obvious.”

But scientists haven’t conclusively shown that it’s the main source of the problem. A leading ground-water scientist, Thomas Harter of the University of California at Davis, suspects farm fertilizers, which have been applied for more than six decades. He is studying the sources of nitrates in the Valley.

He has heard the theories, like the one that says nitrates from decomposing trees and brush come streaming out of the Sierra Nevada. Another one says nitrates are carried in an upwelling of water deep beneath the Valley floor.

Harter says he doesn’t expect to find any mystery sources. The nitrates appear to come from farm fields, he said.

Although they also come from human sewage, “The largest source of nitrate in groundwater in this region is fertilizer and animal manure,” he said.

Not so fast, say farmers. Septic systems around rural towns are much closer to the drinking-water wells than most agriculture, they say.

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From ProPublica:

On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb went out into a neighbor’s field near her ranch in Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath, and collapsed, unconscious.

A natural gas well and a pair of fuel storage tanks sat less than a half-mile away. Later, after Wallace-Babb came to and sought answers, a sheriff’s deputy told her that a tank full of gas condensate — liquid hydrocarbons gathered from the production process — had overflowed into another tank. The fumes must have drifted toward the field where she was working, he suggested.

The next morning Wallace-Babb was so sick she could barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh. Within days she developed burning rashes that covered her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, any time she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb’s doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.

“I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside to tend to my animals,” Wallace-Babb said. “I closed up my house and got an air conditioner that would just recycle the air and not let any fresh air in.”

Wallace-Babb’s symptoms mirror those reported by a handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute, Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across the country that have seen the most extensive natural gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. Residents’ most common complaints are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.

ProPublica examined government environmental reports and private lawsuits, and interviewed scores of residents, physicians and toxicologists in four states — Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania — that are drilling hot spots. Our review showed that cases like Wallace-Babb’s go back a decade in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where drilling has taken place for years. They are just beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.

Concern about such health complaints is longstanding — Congress held hearings on them in 2007 at which Wallace-Babb testified. But the extent and cause of the problems remains unknown. Neither states nor the federal government have systematically tracked reports from people like Wallace-Babb, or comprehensively investigated how drilling affects human health.

“In some communities it has been a disaster,” said Christopher Portier, director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health. “We do not have enough information on hand to be able to draw good solid conclusions about whether this is a public health risk as a whole.”

Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather pollution data and to understand the root of health complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret, hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of contamination. The gas industry itself has been less than enthusiastic about health studies. Drillers declined to cooperate with a long-term study of the health effects of gas drilling near Wallace-Babb’s town this summer, prompting state officials to drop their plans and start over.

These factors make a difficult epidemiological challenge even tougher. Doctors and toxicologists say symptoms reported by people working or living near the gas fields are often transient and irregular. They say they need precise data on the prevalence and onset of medical conditions, as well as from air and water sampling, to properly assess the hazards of drilling.

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From The New York Times:

You might say Sen. Frank Lautenberg wants to be the grandfather of chemical regulation.

The New Jersey Democrat emotes the aura of a grandfather — so much so that even his staff pays him a reverence that goes beyond what senators typically receive from their aides.

And, like most grandfathers, Lautenberg is particularly concerned with children’s health. His eyes light up when asked about how chemicals in the environment or in day-to-day products may pose risks to children.

The 87-year-old lawmaker quickly rattles off statistics such as 5 percent of pediatric cancers, 10 percent of cognition problems in newborns and 30 percent of asthmatics are likely caused by chemical exposures. Not to mention possible links to rising autism rates.

Those statistics, Lautenberg said during a recent interview with E&E Daily in his Senate office, led him to become the chief advocate for reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — the nation’s only law for regulating chemicals.

“When you looked at TSCA and saw a piece of legislation that had almost no interest or no attention, I thought that was outrageous,” Lautenberg said. “I see families come to the Capitol. This week it was a group with diabetes. You see hundreds of kids sitting out there — not that their condition is necessarily tied to chemical presences — but when you see these children and you see the affliction that is put on them by something. That’s what gets us going.”

There is only one problem: Lautenberg’s numerous efforts at reforming TSCA so far have all failed.

But that is not stopping Lautenberg from trying again this year. The Democrat has introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,” (S. 847 (pdf)) which calls for a seismic shift in the way chemicals are regulated by placing the burden on manufacturers to prove a chemical is safe before it goes on the market.

Talking to Lautenberg, who has served in the Senate twice — dating back to 1983 — you cannot help but get the distinct impression that the Democrat only has a few more fights left in him. After all, his term ends in 2014, when he will be 90.

But this year Lautenberg appears more likely to get something done from his perch as chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee. He notably began holding stakeholder meetings on the issue with Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) recently — signaling the possibility of Republican support that has never existed before — and says this year may be different (E&E Daily, June 15).

“We’ve got ourselves in position,” he said. “Persistence is our mantra. We keep chipping away at it.”

Lautenberg’s resilience on the issue has made him a hero to environmental groups who say that the 1976 law, the country’s only major environmental statute to never receive a congressional update, is woefully inadequate. Such groups say that for Lautenberg — who has had such accomplishments as banning smoking from airplanes — TSCA reform has become his holy grail, his legacy.

“He’s really been dogged,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “This is a guy who has really been a courageous public health champion and this would be the environmental crown on his career.”

Family motivation

Lautenberg’s dedication to TSCA reform is deeply rooted in personal terms.

Many years ago, Lautenberg’s sister Marian Rosenstadt was diagnosed with asthma. She had a machine in her car, he said, that helped her during attacks.

At a school board meeting in Rye, N.Y., she felt such an attack coming on. She rushed out to her car but did not make it in time, passing out near the parking lot.

Three days later, she died at the hospital. She was 53 years old.

Lautenberg also has 13 grandchildren, some of whom have similar afflictions. One has severe asthma, another has diabetes.

“When you know how devastating some of these conditions can be, and you can prevent it …” he said, before his voice broke up slightly.

Lautenberg grew up poor, the son of Eastern European immigrants. His father died of cancer when Lautenberg was still a teenager. After serving in World War II, he went to Columbia University on the GI bill — and later started a successful paycheck processing company. One of the richest members of Congress, he has never forgotten where he came from — or the role government can play in improving people’s lives.

“I see lots of little children here,” he went on. “I love every one of these little ones. I’d like to see them healthy. … If I want my grandchildren to breathe clean air, I have to get everyone’s grandchildren to breathe clean air. Those are the fundamentals that move me along.”

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From Environmental Health News:

Exposure to chemicals early in life may alter how breast tissue develops and raise the risks of breast cancer and lactation problems later in life, scientists concluded in a set of reports published Wednesday.

The scientists are urging federal officials to add new tests for industrial chemicals and pesticides to identify ones that might disrupt breast development. In some cases, they said, mammary glands are more sensitive to effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals than any other part of the body, so low levels of exposure may be causing breast changes.

“Few chemicals coming into the marketplace are evaluated for these effects,” said one of the reports, based on the findings of more than 60 scientists who convened a workshop in Oakland, Calif., in 2009.

Although many experts have long debated the role of the environment in breast cancer, the possibility that chemicals are changing how and when breasts develop is a relatively new concern for scientists.

Recent animal tests show that when rodents are exposed to some hormonally active chemicals in the womb or as newborns, their mammary glands do not grow normally, and the changes can slow or speed up breast development, impair breastfeeding or cause cancerous tumors later in life. Included are estrogens used as pharmaceuticals, phytoestrogens in plants consumed as foods and synthetic compounds including bisphenol A, flame retardants and pesticides, according  to the report, which was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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From BBC:

Sperm quality significantly deteriorated and testicular cancers increased over recent years, a Finnish study says.

The study in the International Journal of Andrology looked at men born between 1979 and 1987.

The University of Turku research suggests environmental reasons, particularly exposure to industrial chemicals, may be behind both trends.

A UK expert said chemicals may affect the development of male babies.

Finnish men were studied as they have previously been shown to have some of the highest sperm counts in the world.

But scientists were never sure if this was because of their genetics or because they were exposed to fewer harmful chemicals.

‘Danger chemicals’

The researchers looked at three groups of men who reached the age 19 between 1998 and 2006.

Men who were born in the late 1980s had lower sperm counts than those who were born in the beginning of the decade.

Total sperm counts were 227m for men born in 1979-81, 202m for those born in 1982-83 and 165m for men born in 1987, respectively.

In addition, the researchers observed that there was a higher incidence of testicular cancer in men born around 1980 compared with men born around 1950.

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From The Daily Green:

President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator has made good on something she calls a top priority: Testing chemicals used widely in the U.S. that have never been assessed for the risks they might pose to human health or the environment.

It’s the same priority, in essence, that Congress set in 1976 when it passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, but 35 years later that act is “widely considered a failure” by watchdogs who note that the law exempted 62,000 chemicals already on the market in 1976, and another 22,000 have since been introduced without first undergoing rigorous testing for health and environmental risks.

Testing of human blood and urine routinely turns up dozens of synthetic chemicals, some with known toxic effects like cancer, developmental and reproductive problems and liver toxicity; but many more with unknown effects, but possibly including a range of health problems, from obesity to autism.

Which is why those watchdogs are expressing only reserved praise for Jackson’s announcement this week that the EPA would require companies to test 19 “high production volume” chemicals (so-called HPV chemicals are manufactured in excess of 1 million pounds every year). The 19 target chemicals are the stragglers: EPA managed to get information about 2,200 chemicals by asking companies to volunteer the information; the makers of these 19 chemicals did not comply with that request, so now the EPA is demanding it.

The 19 chemicals don’t have names that most Americans would recognize, but they are used in a range of consumer goods and industrial processes, from personal care products and dyes to metalworking, demolition and fingerprinting.

“This chemical data reporting will provide EPA with critical information to better evaluate any potential risks from these chemicals that are being produced in large quantities in this country,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Having this information is essential to improve chemical safety and protect the health of the American people and the environment.”

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From The New York Times: When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes

The iron, that relic of households past, is no longer required to look neat and freshly pressed. Why bother when retailers like Nordstrom offer crisp “wrinkle-free finish” dress shirts and L. L. Bean sells chinos that are “great right out of the dryer.”

Though it is not obvious from the label, the antiwrinkle finish comes from a resin that releases formaldehyde, the chemical that is usually associated with embalming fluids or dissected frogs in biology class.

And clothing is not the only thing treated with the chemical. Formaldehyde is commonly found in a broad range of consumer products and can show up in practically every room of the house. The sheets and pillow cases on the bed. The drapes hanging in the living room. The upholstery on the couch. In the bathroom, it can be found in personal care products like shampoos, lotions and eye shadow. It may even be in the baseball cap hanging by the back door. . . .

“From a consumer perspective, you are very much in the dark in terms of what clothing is treated with,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization. “In many ways, you’re in the hands of the industry and those who are manufacturing our clothing. And we are trusting them to ensure they are using the safest materials and additives.”

The United States does not regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing, most of which is now made overseas. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels. So sensitive consumers may have a hard time avoiding it (though washing the clothes before wearing them helps).

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently examined the levels and potential health risks of formaldehyde as required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Most of the 180 items tested, largely clothes and bed linens, had low or undetectable levels of formaldehyde that met the voluntary industry guidelines based on standards in Japan, which are among the most stringent. Still, about 5.5 percent of the items — primarily wrinkle-free shirts and pants, easy-care pillow cases, crib sheets and a boy’s baseball hat — exceeded the most stringent standards of 75 parts per million, for products that touch the skin. (Levels must be undetectable, or less than 20 parts per million for children under 3 years, and can be as high as 300 parts per million for products like outerwear that do not come into direct contact with the skin.) . . . .

A 2006 study that tested people with suspected skin allergies found that 9 percent of those tested were allergic to formaldehyde, but not all of those people will necessarily have a bad reaction to various compounds that release formaldehyde, said Dr. Peter Schalock, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School who runs a skin allergy patch testing clinic.

Critics of the government’s study say it could have incorporated a wider array of textiles, like drapes and upholstery. Others are calling for a closer look at the potential cumulative effects of exposure.

“Given all of the things we buy new that can release formaldehyde in our house, all of those things contribute,” said Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union, who noted that the Environmental Protection Agency was currently developing formaldehyde emissions regulations for pressed-wood products. “Over all, minimizing your exposure is a good idea.”

As for ridding clothes of wrinkles, she said, “We’re all for irons, to be honest.”

More. . .

Picture from Orvis.com

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