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May 2024: Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Cars?

In this edition:

After two years of collecting and analyzing data and writing our paper about flame retardants inside cars, the results of our joint study with Duke University were published this week. The unfortunate news is that flame retardants that cause cancer and other serious health harms were found in all of the cars we studied. Our good news is that this problem can be solved by updating a 1973 national vehicle flammability standard.

Can you help? Consumer Reports has launched a petition urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) to update their standard to maintain fire safety in cars without exposing vehicle occupants to harmful flame retardants. You can sign it here and please share with your friends. To learn more about our study, including tips for reducing your exposure, see our new webpage and read on below.

Flame retardants are added to foam and other materials inside cars to meet the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 302, an open-flame flammability standard that was first introduced in 1971 (when smoking while driving was still in vogue). Although this standard is commonly met with harmful flame retardants and has never been shown to save lives, it has been unchanged for 53 years.

If you have been following our work, this may remind you of California’s furniture flammability standard that also harmed the health of our population without a fire-safety benefit. We recommend that the National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA) should update its standard to be met without unnecessary flame retardants just as California did in 2014, after years of work by our Institute and colleagues. The modernized California furniture standard modestly increases fire safety and has led to much lower levels of flame retardants in U.S. homes. 

Watch the CBS News Report on our paper

The wide media coverage of this study (including by CBS NewsFast Company, and The Hill) should help encourage stopping the unnecessary use of flame retardants in vehicles.

On the PFAS front, EPA is making commendable policy progress. Our last newsletter discussed EPA’s finalized drinking water standards. Now the EPA has designated the two previously most commonly-used types of PFAS as hazardous substances making polluters responsible for paying for the clean-up costs.

And companies like Keen are continuing to lead the way in stopping the use of PFAS in their shoes and other products. You can learn more from my interview on the popular Outside Podcast

Finally, next weekend May 18 and 19 is the annual Himalayan Fair at Live Oak Park in Berkeley, California.  If you are near the San Francisco Bay area, consider coming to this fun festival with your family to enjoy the food, arts & crafts, song and dance of the Himalayas and learn about our Institute's work. Enjoy this less than two minute long video where I introduce the Fair.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy spring,

Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

P.S. Some personal notes: I’m looking for in-person administrative weekly help for a few hours on weekends or evenings. Also, I would like help at my Himalayan Fair booth May 18 and 19. Please contact [email protected]

You're Breathing Carcinogens Inside Your Car

By Lydia Jahl

The air inside all personal vehicles is polluted with harmful flame retardants—including those known or suspected to cause cancer—according to our new joint peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

A 1971 NHTSA standard is making driving a cancer hazard

Harmful flame retardants were found inside the cabins of 101 cars (model year 2015 or newer) from across the U.S. 99 percent of cars contained tris (1-chloro-isopropyl) phosphate (TCIPP), a flame retardant under investigation by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as a potential carcinogen. Most cars had additional organophosphate ester flame retardants present, including tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP) and tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), two California Proposition 65 carcinogens. These flame retardants are also linked to neurological and reproductive harms.

Flame retardants are added to seat foam to meet the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 302, an open-flame flammability standard that was first introduced in 1971 and remains unchanged. We are urging NHTSA to update this standard, similar to what California did so that flame retardants are no longer used in our furniture.

Epidemiological studies have shown that the average U.S. child has lost three to five IQ points from exposure to one flame retardant once commonly used in cars and furniture. Further, a recent research paper estimated those with highest levels of this flame retardant in their blood had about four times the risk of dying from cancer compared with people with the lowest levels.

“You may be able to reduce your exposure to flame retardants in your car by opening your windows and parking in the shade,” said co-author Lydia Jahl, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “But what’s really needed is reducing the amount of flame retardants being added to cars in the first place. Commuting to work shouldn’t come with a cancer risk, and children shouldn’t breathe in chemicals that can harm their brains on their way to school.”

You can tell NHTSA to fix its standard by signing Consumer Reports’ petition here.

How to Keep Gyms Both Clean & Healthy

By Anna Soehl

Gyms, dance studios, and other public places should be cleaned with soap and water rather than disinfected with harmful antimicrobials, such as Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs or quats). 

Soap and water are best!

QACs, which are often used by patrons to clean equipment following instructions in their gyms, can contribute to skin, lung, immune, reproductive, and developmental health harm and may play a role in antimicrobial resistance. Especially since the pandemic, QACs are overused. To be effective, QACs need to be applied to a clean surface and left wet for several minutes, which is unlikely in gyms.

Our new factsheet for gyms states that according to the Centers of Disease Control:

  • Cleaning with soap or detergent and water removes most types of harmful germs (like viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi) from surfaces.
  • Disinfection when there is a risk of disease transmission should be done by trained staff wearing protective gear and following directions rather than by untrained gym patrons.

If you’d like to help by sharing our factsheet with your local gym, please tell us what you learn. We are interested in success stories as well as obstacles you find to improving gym cleaning practices.

Neurotoxic Chemicals in the Fluid around our Brains

By Rebecca Fuoco

A new study in Environmental Health Perspectives detected many potentially neurotoxic substances in human cerebrospinal fluid, including those never documented before. The chemicals included PFAS, organophosphate esters, parabens, antimicrobials, bisphenols, phthalate ester metabolites, photoinitiators, and antioxidants.  

Harmful chemicals in cerebrospinal fluid around our brains could contribute to neurological diseases

“The presence of these chemicals in cerebrospinal fluid is a potential red flag for a wide range of neurological disorders,” said Da Chen, senior author and scientist at Jinan University. “Cerebrospinal fluid is like a protective cushion for our brain and spinal cord. If neurotoxic chemicals infiltrate this cushion, they can cause direct harm to delicate nerve cells or disrupt the finely tuned balance necessary for optimal brain function.”

What was specifically interesting to us at the Institute was the detection of the organophosphate flame retardant TCIPP, which we detected in 99 percent of cars in our recent study. This flame retardant and other organophosphate esters have been identified by scientists as causing neurodevelopmental harm. Moreover, a recent study from Case Western Reserve University found that organophosphate ester 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. 

Check Out Our New PFAS Resource

Take a drive around our new database of PFAS resources

By Ariana Spentzos

We're excited to unveil our latest addition to the PFAS Resources page! Designed for ease of use, our page allows you to filter resources by audience category, ensuring that you find exactly what you need. Whether you're a researcher, policymaker, business professional, scientist, medical expert, journalist, NGO representative, or concerned citizen, our resource page is a go-to starting place for all things PFAS.

We’ve broken down information on PFAS into the basics, scientific publications, media, PFAS in products, exposure guidance, and technical reports. Simply select your audience category and explore more than sixty curated and categorized documents and webpages on PFAS tailored to your expertise. Considering the confusing and often contradictory variety of information on PFAS available today, this resource is intended to be a starting point in your search, only including the most impactful documents.

If you have any suggestions for additional resources or ways to enhance the page, we'd be happy to hear from you here.

Please visit the PFAS Resources page today!

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.

●    Our new study on flame retardants in cars was covered by CBS NewsFast CompanyPeople Magazine, The HillEnvironmental Health NewsE&E NewsWRAL, and more.
●    Arlene was interviewed on the popular Outside Podcast, which has about 120,000 monthly listeners. They discussed her early Himalayan climbs—without PFAS—and how our Institute has been helping the outdoor industry stop using these harmful chemicals.
●    Ariana was interviewed by USA Today about the EPA’s new drinking water standards for PFAS. Other coverage of the standards often linked to our PFAS-free products list, including Business Insider.
●    Ariana was quoted by The Guardian about trifluoroacetic acid: “We’re following the familiar PFAS playbook by allowing reckless environmental contamination and only figuring out after the fact the trail of harm left behind. We are just beginning to understand the health hazards associated with TFA.”
●    Arlene was interviewed by the Outdoor Minimalist Podcast in three episodes about PFAS.
●    Ariana was interviewed by GearJunkie about PFAS in outdoor products and their supply chain.
●    Arlene was interviewed by the Joy Report in an episode about building a PFAS-free future.
●    Some coverage of a new paper from our colleagues on flame retardants in peregrine falcons mentioned our wildlife map, including in
●    Time magazine linked to our webpage on bisphenols and phthalates.
●    The Texas Tribune recommended our PFAS-free list.
●    The YouTube channel Home Performance created a short and helpful video explaining our Six Classes and where they’re found in the home.  


May 15, 2024 at 6:00pm PDT:
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera
Arlene will join Mimi Zieman, author of the reflective 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. Arlene's personal story is recounted in her memoir Breaking Trail.
Contact [email protected].

May 18 & 19, 2024:
Annual Berkeley Himalayan Fair 
Live Oak Park, 1300 Shattuck Avenue at Berryman, North Berkeley

Holy cow at the 1st Himalayan Fair, 1983

Learn more about the work of our Institute and enjoy the food, music, dance, crafts and arts of the Himalayas. Profits go to Himalayan charities. See the video or webpage for more information.
Get in touch with [email protected] to help out with the Fair.



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

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


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