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April 2024: TODAY – PFAS Pollution Prevented by the President!

In this edition:

We hope you are having a happy and healthy spring. At the Institute we are celebrating the outstanding news that today the Biden-Harris administration has finalized the first ever national drinking water standards to protect 100 million people from PFAS pollution. The EPA has set legally enforceable health protective levels for five PFAS that are known to occur in drinking water and also for mixtures. Our Institute's decade of science and policy work to reduce harm from PFAS contributed to this important victory for public health. You can learn more from the EPA press release.

We are also busy preparing for the May 7 publication of our study of flame retardants in 100 recent model cars in collaboration with the Stapleton lab at Duke University. We thank our newsletter readers who contributed to this important study by providing us with samples from their vehicles. Stay tuned for the surprising and troubling results. We would appreciate your suggestions on how to best use this paper to change government policy and vehicle manufacturing to reduce the unnecessary use of flame retardants—for cars that are both healthy and fire safe. Please respond to this newsletter if you have suggestions.

No more PFAS in food packaging

Also, we are celebrating the FDA announcement that paper fast-food wrappers and packaging that contain PFAS are no longer allowed to be sold in the U.S. This is the result of a voluntary agreement by manufacturers that we helped initiate with our joint 2017 PFAS in food packaging paper and workshop with the food packaging industry. According to Allen King, a food packaging executive who attended the workshop and is now an Institute board member, this “was an ‘aha’ moment that led us to commit to finding ways to cease using PFAS and find alternatives.”

This victory is a testament to the effectiveness of our formula: Research + Partners + Communications = Change. We communicated our peer-reviewed research to the press, public, government, and industry and now food packaging is healthier. Read our case study on food packaging to learn more details about how we successfully applied< our formula to this problem. 

We aim to facilitate similar progress on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs or quats), a group of common antimicrobials that are often unnecessarily added to products.

Avoid cleaning with antimicrobials

We helped sound the alarm about the health harms of QACs last year with our paper and our investigation into their use in gyms. Now, new research from Case Western Reserve University shows that QACs and also organophosphate flame retardants can damage the specialized brain cells that generate the protective insulation around nerve cells.

Loss of these cells could contribute to multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases, making stopping the overuse of these chemicals even more urgent than we realized. We are beginning to inform gym owners of the value of soap and water over QACs for customers to use in their gyms. More below and please get in touch if you’d like to help.

It’s important to remember that even after uses of harmful chemicals are phased out, exposure may continue from old products or from build-up in the environment. A sad example is the recent reporting of high levels of PCBs (banned the 1970's) in a North Carolina State University building. Since this contamination was revealed in October, 150 former students and staff who attended classes or worked in that building have come forward to report diagnoses of cancer and other serious illnesses. The building will remain closed through the rest of the year.

For a healthier built environment, we often collaborate with our colleagues at Healthy Building Network–which was just now renamed Habitable. With this exciting rebrand, the organization Is dedicated to reimagining the materials economy to rebalance the health of humans and our planet. Check out their new website at

Best wishes,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

PBDE Furniture Flame Retardant Linked to Four Times Higher Cancer Mortality

by Lydia Jahl 

It has been thought for decades that many flame retardant chemicals, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used for decades in foam in our furniture and our vehicles, can cause cancer, but can this be demonstrated on a population-level? A study published this month sadly confirms that yes, PBDE exposure is significantly associated with a four times higher risk of cancer mortality.

Furniture flame retardants linked to cancer

Researchers analyzed data from a survey of the US population that included PBDE levels in healthy adults and mortality outcomes across almost two decades. After adjusting for confounding factors like age, sex, race, and lifestyle, the adults with the highest third of PBDE levels had over four times higher risk of dying from cancer than those with the lowest PBDE levels.

While this study only confirms a correlation and not causation, it is supported by previous research. Other studies have found correlations between PBDE exposure and cancer risk, and there are biological mechanisms for how endocrine-disrupting< chemicals like PBDEs can play a role in the development and progression of< hormonally-impacted cancers like thyroid and breast cancer.

PFAS may have earned the nickname “forever chemicals,” but many flame retardants are also very persistent. The CNN article covering this new paper points out how PBDEs have been detected in infants long after their phaseout and how dangerously high levels are still found in fish and other high-fat foods. Readers can protect themselves from PBDEs and other persistent organic pollutants by dusting frequently, replacing old furniture, eating low on the food chain and voting for politicians who support science-based chemical regulations.

Keeping Gyms Clean & Healthy

One of our current goals is to reduce the widespread use of harmful antimicrobial sprays and wipes in gyms and other public places. Since the pandemic, their overuse has skyrocketed.

Soap and water are best!

Gym patrons should use cleaning products like soap and water or Safer Choice certified products rather than disinfectant sprays or wipes. If disinfection is needed, it should be done by trained staff.

Check out the CDC’s guidance for cleaning facilities that says the same. For example, according to the CDC, cleaning with “soap or detergent and water removes most types of harmful germs (like viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi)” from surfaces. 

Get in touch if you would like help by educating your local gym about the benefits of soap and water over QACs and other disinfectants or if you have other ideas for addressing this problem.

AFFF No More

by Ariana Spentzos

Earlier this year, New Jersey followed suit behind California, Washington, New York, and several other states in passing legislation banning the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam commonly referred to as AFFF (aqueous film forming foam). This type of firefighting foam is used for extinguishing fire from flammable liquids, like fuels, and is widely used for practices at airports and military bases. However, AFFF has led to PFAS contamination thousands of times higher than recent federal health guidelines in groundwater around military bases and airports.

A major step forward for reducing PFAS in drinking water

New Jersey now has two years to meet their compliance deadline. Airports may only use firefighting foams that are approved by the FAA and even though Congress directed the FAA to no longer require PFAS in their AFFF back in 2018, it was only until late last year that the FAA gave the all clear in approving a PFAS free foam and ending the requirement to use foam containing PFAS.

Notably, scientists here at the Institute helped bring that 2018 amendment into being by educating staffers in the House and Senate.

With this FAA approval, airports in New Jersey and all of the other states that previously passed AFFF legislation must now procure PFAS-free foam; a challenging process due to limited alternatives and the need for retraining and new equipment. This change will help end one of the greatest contributors to drinking water PFAS contamination for healthier drinking water and environment.

Peregrine Falcons Expose Lasting Harms of Flame Retardant Use

Peregrine falcon populations across North America are heavily contaminated with harmful flame retardants–including those that have been phased out for years–according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Falcons are canaries in a coal mine

Researchers measured concentrations of a suite of old and newer halogenated flame retardants in peregrine falcon eggs collected from multiple locations in the U.S. and Canada between 1984 and 2016. It is the largest investigation to date of flame retardants in peregrine falcons in terms of both time and space. In these falcons, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were the most commonly detected flame retardants and had the highest concentrations.

Despite the fact that production of the major PentaBDE and DecaBDE mixtures ceased in North America by the end of 2004 and 2013, respectively, PBDE concentrations did not decline over the study period in most regions. Similarly, although hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) has been phased out from the North American market since 2012, it was detected in the majority of eggs and concentrations did not decrease over the study period in any of the regions.

Continued exposure to old flame retardants comes from the release of these chemicals from in-use and discarded products produced before the phase-outs. Further, many flame retardants released from products accumulate up marine and terrestrial food chains over time, making apex predators like peregrine falcons more likely to build up high concentrations in their tissues. The flame retardants also end up in their eggs through maternal transfer.

Peregrine falcons are far from the only species polluted by flame retardants. Last year we released a map of more than 150 species of wild animals across every continent contaminated with old and new flame retardant chemicals. Polluted wildlife included killer whales, red pandas, chimpanzees and other endangered species.

Green Science Policy Institute in the News

We communicate our science to a wide audience. You can too.

By Rebecca Fuoco

Below are recent news articles, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and more that have
featured our Institute’s work and expertise.

● Arlene was interviewed by the Outdoor Minimalist Podcast in three episodes about PFAS.
● Rebecca co-authored an op-ed in Los Angeles Times that was named as one of the top op-eds of the week by Politico.
● Our PFAS-free list was featured in WFYI and UC Berkeley’s Wellness Letter.
● Rebecca was quoted on new microplastics research in MDLinx and Medical News Today.
Healthnews referred to our advice on avoiding flame retardants in older furniture.
● Our flame retardants webpage was featured in Forbes and our PFAS webpage was featured in The Hill.


April 17, 2024 at 2:15pm EST:
Arlene will speak about using science for improved policy on a panel about science based soil governance at the National Academy of Sciences. More information here.

May 15, 2024 at 6:00pm PDT:
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera
Arlene will join Mimi Zieman, author of the new mountain memoir, Tap Dancing on Everest, to discuss their high altitude adventures and the similarities between their challenging childhoods that brought them to the top of the world. Their conversation should provide new insights into the question of why would a woman risk her life to climb a mountain. Arlene story is recounted in her memoir Breaking Trail. For more information, contact Jessette Long at (415) 927-0960 x234.

May 18 & 19, 2024:
Annual Berkeley Himalayan Fair
Live Oak Park, 1300 Shattuck Avenue at Berryman, North Berkeley
Enjoy the food, music, dance, crafts and arts of the Himalayas. Profits go to Himalayan charities. More information here.

October 9, 2024 at noon EST:
Research Triangle Park, NC.
Arlene will present the NIEHS epidemiology branch seminar series talk

October 11, 2024 at noon EST:
Arlene speaking at Duke University Program in Environmental Health/Superfund Center seminar series.

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