January 2024: Chemical Conversations at the Capital
In this edition:
- Disinfection Products in Gyms: Health or Harm?
- The Staggering Cost of the Six Classes
- More PFAS Uses Uncovered
- Are the Six Classes in Your Body?
- Childhood Leukemia Linked to PFAS Exposure
- Green Science Policy Institute in the News
The Green Science Policy Institute hopes 2024 is off to a great start for you. Last year our Institute enjoyed notable successes in reducing the use of toxic chemicals from the passage of the No Toxics Tent Act to the FAA’s allowing the use of PFAS-free firefighting foam in domestic airports. This year we are continuing to share good science with decision makers to reduce chemical harm.
Last month Anna Soehl and I travelled to Washington, DC to meet with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and with Senate and House staff. We discussed unnecessary uses of the Six Classes of chemicals of concern in products and new ideas for reducing their use to protect people and ecosystems. These productive discussions will serve as springboards for some of our science and policy projects this year.
For example, we explained to CPSC commissioners and staff that a New York City e-bike flammability standard being considered for nationwide adoption would likely lead to the unnecessary use of harmful flame retardants. The cause of most e-bike fires is the malfunctioning of the lithium-ion battery. Once thermal runaway has begun, lithium-ion battery fires burn too hot and too quickly to be stopped by flame retarded plastic enclosures. Plus, flame retardants give off smoke, soot, and toxic gases when they burn. These harmful chemicals cannot slow or stop battery fires and instead make them more dangerous.
Bad flammability standards can be the result of flame retardant producers gaming standards-setting processes, as detailed in this op-ed. By stacking the volunteer committees that create codes with their paid consultants, these companies are finding ways to continue the unnecessary use of harmful flame retardants in products ranging from earbuds to automobiles. We plan to continue our educational efforts in DC to prevent further adoption of ineffective and harmful flammability standards.
A welcome surprise in DC was an invitation to the White House Holiday Open House just before I left for Nepal to lead a trek in the Annapurna region. My daughter Annalise and I very much appreciated seeing the White House decorated beautifully for visitors to enjoy the “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” of the holiday season.
During other DC meetings, we discussed ways to decrease the overuse of harmful antimicrobial sprays and wipes in gyms and elsewhere. We’ve found that many gyms are using Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs), a class of chemicals that can cause skin irritation, adverse respiratory effects, and may contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Unless QACs are left on wet surfaces for as long as instructed–often up to ten minutes–they can be ineffective or even harmful.
Hill staff agreed with us that the overuse of antimicrobials is problematic and we are collaborating on strategies to reduce their use. Read the blurb below and our blog to learn more.
With the Six Classes of chemicals of concern used in a variety of products, you might be concerned about your own exposure. Read below about a mail-in test kit from Million Marker to measure your levels of bisphenols, phthalates, and other endocrine disrupting chemicals. I took the test and was pleased to learn that I had among the lowest levels they had measured. That’s likely because I use few personal care products and eat little packaged food. Though it’s critical for manufacturers reduce the use of the Six Classes in products, it’s good to know that we can take steps to reduce our own exposure, and at all the while save time and money!
Best wishes for the new year,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy team
P.S. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy just signed into law S3176, a requirement for state regulators and drinking water experts to examine the feasibility of setting drinking water levels for PFAS as a class or as subclasses. The State Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill, a step toward New Jersey becoming the first state to regulate PFAS as a class.
P.P.S. Our team is delighted to note the enduring usefulness of the Six Classes concept over the decade since we first proposed it.
Disinfection Products in Gyms: Health or Harm?
As people head to the gym to make good on their New Year’s resolutions, they may be unnecessarily exposed to harmful antimicrobial chemicals. Most gyms ask patrons to wipe down equipment after each use, and we decided to find out what was being used to clean the equipment. Most of the gyms we surveyed use disinfectant products and many use quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs).
The Institute recently published a review article with studies that link QACs to health problems, including dermal, respiratory, immune, reproductive, and developmental harm. And these disinfectants do not provide clear benefits in gyms. To be effective, QACs should be applied to a clean surface and left wet for as long as 10 minutes. A several-minute-long wait between spraying and wiping down equipment is unlikely in a gym. Antimicrobials used for a shorter time can lead to survival of only the strongest microbes, potentially contributing to antibiotic-resistant germs.
Read our blog to learn more about the survey of local gyms and our rationale for suggesting gyms change to soap and water for equipment cleaning. Switching to milder cleaning solutions will benefit the health of gym patrons and staff, save gym owners money, and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
The Staggering Cost of the Six Classes
By Lydia Jahl
2024 has begun with a flurry of scientific research on many of the Six Classes of chemicals of concern. Notably, an economic analysis linked plastic chemical additives in the Six Classes to $249 billion – that’s billion with a B – of healthcare costs, just in the United States and for one year alone.
Researchers used existing scientific literature to attribute the costs of some polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE flame retardants), three phthalates, BPA, and some PFAS used in plastics to these chemicals’ adverse health impacts, such as cancer, obesity, IQ loss, infertility, cardiovascular mortality, and more. Importantly, the nearly $250 billion dollar calculation is a low estimate as it did not include the healthcare costs of similar chemicals, like other flame retardants, phthalates, BPS and other bisphenols, and PFAS other than PFOA or PFOS. As Dr. Jane Muncke told CNN, about 25% of the 16,000 chemicals used in plastics have been found (so far) to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction.
We are exposed to these chemicals because most are not bound to the plastics, escape into air, and drop into dust. We can breathe in contaminated air or get dust on our hands and then ingest it. However, we can also consume such chemicals in food. Consumer Reports recently detected phthalates in 99% of common foods, and a new scientific study found microplastics in all high protein foods that they tested, especially in breaded fish.
More PFAS Uses Uncovered
by Ariana Spentzos
Following a groundbreaking law requiring PFAS in products be reported in the small state of Maine, manufacturers are now providing data on intentionally added PFAS in a wide variety of products from ant killer to school supplies.
In 2021, Maine passed a landmark law prohibiting the sale of intentionally added PFAS in products, unless determined essential, starting in 2030. As part of this law, companies had an initial deadline of January 1, 2023 to report their products with PFAS, though it has since been extended to 2025. However, 64 manufacturers submitted reports before the extension, with 41 reports publicly available. These reports include product names, descriptions, specific PFAS usage, their function, and amounts.
Defend Our Health, a Maine-based nonprofit, compiled and analyzed the submitted data, uncovering nearly 60 different PFAS spread across around 1000 different products. Notably, legacy PFAS such as carcinogenic PFOA were reported, even though it has largely been phased-out of use in the United States and is no longer manufactured here. The data submitted thus far represents as little as two percent of the companies who must ultimately report.
While some of the reported products like nonstick cookware and certain apparel and cosmetics are unsurprisingly listed, others like water treatment filters, photo printers, and the tubing inside refrigerators are more unusual and highlight the expansive use of PFAS. This disclosure marks a crucial first step toward eventual phase-out, and some manufacturers mentioned ongoing work to reformulate their products without PFAS in the submissions--no doubt spurred along by legislation such as this.
Are the Six Classes in Your Body?
At the Institute, we are interested in how to detect and prevent exposure to the Six Classes of chemicals of concern. Million Marker, an environmental health and wellness company, has developed a mail-in urine test kit for bisphenols, phthalates, and other endocrine disrupting chemicals found in many consumer products.
After sending in a urine sample and a list of products used, participants receive a personalized exposure reduction report explaining ingredients of concern in their personal care and household products, advice on how to limit exposure, and suggestions for healthier product substitutions and lifestyle habits.
Million Marker collaborates with partners in academia, business, and the nonprofit sector. Their research program, now headed by Dr. Carol Kwiatkowski, former Senior Science and Policy Associate at the Institute, includes National Institute of Health funded clinical trials in which interventions are tested to help educate people to reduce their exposure. They will soon be launching a product testing service for companies to learn if their products contain endocrine disrupting chemicals. Reach out if you’re curious or want to discuss a potential partnership at [email protected].
To learn more, check out their website with information on their programs, and resources on sources of exposure and how to avoid them. Given that current laws are not sufficient to keep harmful chemicals out of products, it’s time for consumers to have the tools to protect themselves.
Childhood Leukemia Linked to PFAS Exposure
- Children born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when exposure levels to PFOS (a type of PFAS) were highest, had the highest risk of leukemia.
- PFAS, like other toxic chemicals, can be transferred from mother to baby through umbilical cord blood.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the type of cancer studied here, is the most common childhood cancer worldwide.
“Given the ubiquity of PFAS exposure and limited established childhood leukemia risk factors, these findings have important public health implications.”
Green Science Policy Institute in the News
By Rebecca Fuoco
Below are recent news articles, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and more that have featured our Institute’s work and expertise.
- Our PFAS-free Product List was featured in a USA Today investigation on PFAS in drinking water systems
- CTV News covered our map of flame retardants in wildlife, noting the many species in Canada. Our scientist Lydia Jahl and our colleague Kim Fernie were interviewed.
- Arlene spoke with Heatmap about efforts to replace PFAS in raincoats. “In all the cases that we’ve studied,” forever chemicals have been found “to be harmful in one way or another,” whether they’re short or long, she said.
- Our scientist Lydia Jahl was a guest on the Women in Environmental Science & Engineering podcast. She talks about her path to doing the work she does now at our Institute.
- “PFAS have been used for many decades before the scientific community discovered that they were harmful – and because PFAS are so persistent, they have built up in our bodies, wildlife, waterways, food and more,” Lydia told Technology Networks.
- Our PFAS Data Hub and PFAS-free Product List were included in a PFAS resource guide by Cleveland’s public radio station.
- CHEMTrust included our map of flame retardants in wildlife as one of the top stories of 2023.
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.
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