arrow-up2 arrow-down2 arrow-right2 arrow-right3 search3 facebook twitter youtube checkmark cancel-circle cancel-circle2 cross2 play

February 2024: Science and Policy Wins Again...and Again

In this edition:

We hope you are having a good beginning to 2024. Arlene has enjoyed cross-country skiing a couple weekends amidst a wintery landscape. And even better, our Institute is celebrating three successes which our science and policy work helped put in motion.

PFAS found in makeup.

First, New Zealand is banning PFAS “forever chemicals” in cosmetics starting in 2026—the first country to do so. Four US states have passed similar bans, all following on from our landmark 2021 joint scientific study finding PFAS in much of the makeup we tested. The current movement of government and manufacturers stop the use of PFAS in personal care products exemplifies our Institute’s formula for change. We conduct research with scientist partners and communicate our findings widely to encourage manufacturing and regulatory change. We are delighted with the continued results from of our model, which has also helped prevent harmful chemicals in furniture and baby products, carpets, and food packaging.

Earlier this month, the US EPA proposed a new rule to designate nine PFAS as "hazardous constituents" under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This comes four years after we joined five community groups and the Environmental Law Clinic at UC Berkeley in petitioning the EPA to list long-chain PFAS as RCRA hazardous waste. Similar petitions from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the State of Mexico contributed to this rule.

Although the EPA action is for a smaller number of PFAS and not the designation for which we petitioned, the hazardous constituents designation is a big step in the right direction. We hope this proposal is adopted and expanded to the whole class of PFAS being listed under RCRA as hazardous waste. That would lead to the chemicals being considered hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law; corrective action at transfer, storage, and disposal points; and unlocking the funds needed to clean up contaminated sites.

Flame retardants out of furniture!

Finally, we were pleased to see a new study confirming that the 2013 change of California’s furniture flammability standard has indeed made furniture healthier. Read our Senior Scientist Lydia’s blurb below to learn more about this study and the years of work by our Institute and colleagues that led to firesafe furniture without the need for flame retardant chemicals across the US and Canada.

While appreciating these positive changes, we must remain vigilant for “regrettable substitutions” of chemicals that are similar in structure, function, and toxicity for phased out toxics. Notably, our past study is joined by a new study showing that organophosphate flame retardants—common replacements for halogenated flame retardants—are similarly problematic. Once again, flame retardants need to be considered as a class and only used when they provide a proven fire-safety benefit.

Wishing you a healthy and happy spring,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

Soap & Water are Best

Soap and water are best!

One of our goals this year 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. Not only are the chemicals (in large part quaternary ammonium compounds or QACs) in these products linked to health problems, but they provide no benefit over plain soap and water for routine use in public places.

Don’t believe this? Check out the CDC’s guidance for cleaning facilities that says the same. For example, according to the CDC, “Cleaning alone [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.

Healthier Homes Following Furniture Flammability Standard Update

The whole class of flame retardants is no longer in our furniture.

By Lydia Jahl

After years of work by our Institute and colleagues to change TB117, an outdated California furniture flammability standard leading to the use of harmful flame retardants (FRs) without a fire-safety benefit, we now have confirmation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control that FRs in consumer products substantially decreased after implementation of new California regulations.

More than a decade ago, Arlene Blum and other scientists shared withf oam, furniture, & fabric manufacturers, environmentalists, firefighters, parents, and policymakers that the TB117 standard led to harmful FR exposures for consumers and workers across the US and Canada. The FRs were associated with cancer and neurologic, reproductive, and hormonal harm—and they only delayed fires for a few seconds while increasing smoke and toxic gases. After several unsuccessful attempts at legislation, great investigative journalism, and a last-minute lawsuit from a major FR chemical manufacturer, the standard was updated so furniture and children’s products didn’t need FRs. This new flammability standard improves fire safety without exposure to harmful FR chemicals by stopping most fires in the fabric before they reach the more
flammable foam.

Researchers tested furniture samples taken before and after this regulatory change, finding that pre-2015 samples had a median FR concentration of 4.16%, while post-2015 concentrations decreased to 0.26%. Additional CA legislation in 2020 banned the use of FRs in upholstered furniture and children’s products. Levels in furniture are expected to continue decreasing with the official nationwide adoption of TB117-2013 in 2021.

This research is a great confirmation that new furniture is mostly FR-free, though building insulation, plastics, electronics, and vehicles still expose us to these chemicals. Our Institute has been working to change standards to maintain fire safety in these products with reduced use of harmful FRs. Stay tuned for the publication of our study on flame retardants in cars coming soon!

Chemical Industry Shenanigans in the Hoosier State

by Rebecca Fuoco

Are you a scientist who studies PFAS? Add your signature here to protect the scientific integrity of PFAS definitions used in policy. Scientists, not legislators, should define chemical classes.

Who should define PFAS: scientists or politicians?

A seed for bad PFAS policies might be planted in Indiana. The state senate is considering legislation that would significantly narrow the scope of which fluorinated chemicals are considered PFAS. This proposed
definition is not scientifically sound and would set a harmful precedent that may be followed by other states or governments.

That’s why more than 100 scientists to date have signed a new consensus statement stating the need for accurate and complete scientific PFAS definitions for government agencies and legislatures to use.

The Indiana legislation would exclude fluoropolymers and fluorinated gases—many of the most widely used PFAS—from the definition of PFAS. It follows on from efforts by the chemical industry’s lobbying group, the American Chemistry Council, to convince Indiana lawmakers that these chemicals are safe and essential, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Excluding polymers, liquids, and gases from the state’s
definition of PFAS would exempt them from future state policies restricting the use of PFAS.

All PFAS, including fluoropolymers and gases, are either extremely persistent in the environment or break down into extremely persistent PFAS. As such, the scientists’ statement recommends that governments use either the common US States’ “one fully fluorinated carbon atom” definition or the very similar Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2021 definition, both of which include the whole class.

Airborne PFAS Flying Under the Radar

You don't find what you don't test for.

By Lydia Jahl

In an unsurprising article, The Guardian revealed that emissions from a North Carolina PFAS manufacturing facility have not decreased as much as the manufacturer, Chemours, claimed. Chemours stated that their new air emission controls reduced PFAS emissions by “greater than 99.999-plus percent”, but this claim is more of a technicality than a success story.

Environmental contamination of nearby communities during PFAS manufacturing is one of the greatest problems associated with PFAS. The Chemours facility, Fayetteville Works, is so well-known for its contamination that researchers study the local community for PFAS exposure. A recent study detected a PFAS called PFO5DoA in 99% of participants. (Participants who drank treated Cape Fear River water had higher levels, likely because the Fayetteville Works facility that produces PFO5DoA discharges wastewater to that river.) The facility also emits PFAS into the air, with a 2019 state order legally requiring Chemours to reduce PFAS air emissions by greater than 99%. Both Chemours and state officials said that Chemours is now in compliance, but testing that The Guardian commissioned revealed elevated PFAS air contamination.

The discrepancy between these results lies in the fact that only certain PFAS decreased by >99%, while others continued to be emitted into the air, where they can still harm local residents and also travel great distances. When testing only looks for a subset of specific PFAS and ignores the thousands more, pollution like this can fly under the radar. This is why the scientists working with The Guardian used newer analytical methods that look for markers of PFAS as a class rather than individual chemicals, and is also why we continue to advocate for treating PFAS as a class.

Update: Are Forever Chemicals Hiding in Your Makeup?

Our work has made a dent on PFAS in cosmetics.

By Rebecca Fuoco

Even if you’re a strict label-checker like me, your makeup routine may be exposing you to potentially harmful PFAS. In 2021, our scientists were part of a team led by the University of Notre Dame that found high fluorine levels —indicating the probable presence of PFAS—in just over half of makeup tested. Some of these products underwent further analysis and were all confirmed to contain at least four PFAS of concern. The majority of products with high fluorine, including all but one of those confirmed to have PFAS, had no PFAS listed on the label.

These are not chemicals you want to be slathering on your face. Some PFAS have been associated with a wide range of serious health harms, from cancer to obesity to more severe COVID-19 outcomes, and they contaminate the drinking water of millions. PFAS in makeup may be ingested when worn on the lips or absorbed through the skin and tear ducts. On top of these direct exposure routes, PFAS can make their way into our drinking water, air, and food during the manufacture of makeup and after they are washed down the drain.

The potential harms of using PFAS in makeup far outweigh any waterproofing or smoothing benefits they may give these products.

Fortunately, since the release of our study, four US states, including California, have passed bills phasing out PFAS in cosmetics. With California being the world’s fifth largest economy, this should stop the use of PFAS in numerous products throughout North America and perhaps beyond. Most recently, the country of New Zealand has also passed a ban on PFAS in makeup.

You can learn about how we used collaboration and communication to translate this research into action here.

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.

  • A CNN article on the connection between phthalates and preterm births linked to our webpage on bisphenols and phthalates.
  • National Geographic interviewed our colleague Linda Birnbaum on the use of PFAS in kitchen products. The article lists our organization as one that provides expert guidance on avoiding PFAS.
  • Business of Home recommended designers refer to our website when building a sustainable materials library.
  • A profile of Arlene in the Nepali Times mentions her leadership of our Institute and resulting policy changes among her many accomplishments.
  • MindBodyGreen referenced our study on PFAS in cosmetics in its article about reducing PFAS and other harmful chemicals in your home.
  • The TC Palm cited our advice on reducing exposure to PFAS and our PFAS-free products list.
  • In the first installment of its series on harmful chemicals found in homes, Well Life, Lived Well linked to our Six Classes videos.
  • Our scientist Lydia Jahl spoke about dietary sources of the Six Classes at a webinar hosted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.


March 20, 2024, 12pm-1pm EST
Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition Webinar

Arlene will give a talk entitled “The Chemical Class Approach towards Healthier Products and People.” To register, visit here.

Receive Updates By Email

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get these updates delivered right to your inbox!