September 2016: Planes, Trains, and Toxic Chemicals


arlene-hiking-photo-cropped-september-newsletterWe have excellent news since our last newsletter on Troubled Waters: the U.S. Air Force will switch to using water during fire-fighting training exercises, instead of persistent and toxic highly fluorinated chemicals. This announcement follows extensive press coverage that began with our Madrid Statement and included our recent joint paper finding that the drinking water of at least 6 million Americans is polluted with these chemicals, and pointing to fire-fighting foam used at military bases and airports as a source. This shift will help to protect our country’s drinking water from one dangerous contaminant. Let’s hope more military branches and airports will also substitute water for practice drills.

I’m back from a busy two weeks in Europe. Avery and I presented four talks about the Institute’s work at the Dioxin 2016 meeting in Florence. Sixty four international scientists joined our day-long Science and Policy meeting to discuss strategies to reduce toxics. Together, we launched the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, a scientific consensus on the hazards of these widely used antimicrobials. With serendipitous timing, on September 2, after decades of efforts by NGOs and the FDA, the FDA banned these and other antimicrobials from use in consumer soaps.

For a pleasant change, colleagues joined me for a weekend of steep hikes amidst olive groves above the Mediterranean Sea, where we continued our discussions.

In Bratislava, Slovakia, I was inspired by the vision and cooperation among leaders from the 28 EU countries at the Transition to a Green Economy meeting. Instead of a linear economic model of “take-make-consume-dispose,” the EU is committed to a circular model where the use of resources and energy are minimized, and products are designed to be reused or recycled. My talk discussed the importance of reducing the use of the Six Classes of hazardous chemicals.

During my visit to Brussels, the European Furniture Industries Confederation launched their campaign for flame retardant-free furniture. Furniture manufacturers, NGOs, and firefighters came together to call for a harmonized standard for furniture across Europe–and then we shared our message at the EU Parliament and Commission.

In Europe, I felt honored to be a part of an international community of government, industry, scientists, and NGOs working to reduce toxics in a circular and green economy.

(And this reminds me to suggest–please do remember to register and vote.)

With this positive news, we wish you a happy autumn,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy Team

A Circular Economy for a Healthier World

Our planet is increasingly stressed meeting the growing demand for land, food, water, and other resources for a current global population of 7 billion. Population is now predicted to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. To address this most serious challenge, Europe is working to move their economy from the traditional model of “take-make-consume-dispose,” to a circular model where the use of resources and energy are minimized.

A circular economy “aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” Resources and energy are managed efficiently during their entire life cycle. This reduces adverse impacts from the extraction of new materials, emissions of hazardous substances, and waste disposal.

This diagram shows how materials and waste can be better managed with eco-design, reuse, and recycling. The desired flows of energy and materials are above the dotted line and those to be avoided are below. But to achieve a green and circular economy, the use of the Six Classes of chemicals of concern should be minimize; products containing them cannot safely be reused or recycled, and are also difficult to landfill or destroy.

Highlights from DIOXIN 2016


Image credit: Jorg Bittner Unna

The 36th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants in Florence, Italy, featured more than four days of presentations and discussions on new research about highly fluorinated chemicals, flame retardants, and other chemicals of concern. Presentation abstracts will be posted online.

Below are some highlights:

  • Researchers discussed decreased immune response to vaccines in people with higher exposures to highly fluorinated chemicals.
  • Researchers presented work on rapid screening for flame retardants in waste streams.
  • Christoph Koch, a researcher at University Duisburg-Essen, presented results on the degradation of PolyFR, a brominated flame retardant used in polystyrene insulation.
  • Researchers found highly fluorinated chemicals in dragonflies, an aerial invertebrate predator. This poster suggested that such persistent chemicals could cause problems throughout ecosystems.
  • An analysis of air in a textile manufacturing plant in China found extremely high levels of fluorinated chemicals, a concern for workers’ health.

Day in the Life at Green Science Policy: Veronica Chin

veronica-september-2016-newsletterOut with the old, in with the new! Swapping old couches for new couches sounds simple enough. But when you’re doing it for twelve homes it gets complicated: phone calls, delivery trucks, door-knocking, hauling, assembling, more phone calls. Lots of phone calls.

As Program Associate, Veronica Chin leads GSP’s role in the Foam Furniture Replacement Study, where we replace old furniture containing flame retardants with new, flame retardant-free furniture for low-income families in the Bay Area. In collaboration with UC Davis and Biomonitoring California, we are testing the old furniture for chemical content and measuring levels of flame retardants in house dust over time.

Veronica says, “It seems obvious that we should have this information but it hasn’t been done before. When we get the results, it’ll be the first time we can point to the numbers and see how flame retardant levels do or don’t change when furniture is swapped out.”

Read our blog to learn more about Veronica and the projects she works on at GSP.

From Products to Dust to Us: Two New Studies

couch-baby-semptember-2016-newsletterDo you know what’s in your couch? Since 2014, a free service at Duke University has been analyzing foam samples from furniture, car seats, and other products. According to a recent paper, 52% of all samples collected contained flame retardants. The chemicals were detected more frequently in furniture purchased before 2014, suggesting that updates to California’s furniture flammability regulation TB117 may have contributed to a decreased use of flame retardants. Prof. Heather Stapleton of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment will present a webinar on the findings on September 26.

In a separate study published last week in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers found that indoor dust consistently contains harmful chemicals from four of the Six Classes of chemicals of concern. These include phthalates (which were found at the highest concentrations), phenols (like BPA), flame retardants, and highly fluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware. You can learn more about their results – including an infographic that connects quantities in dust to paths of exposure – here. Given our widespread and continuous exposure to these chemicals of concern, it is important to reduce their use and to replace them with safer substances.

Doctors and Scientists: Add Your Support to the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban

florence-graphic-september-2016-newsletterAlthough triclosan and triclocarban can kill microbes, in many uses they do not provide a meaningful health benefit. Of concern is that they can persist for decades in the environment.

At the Dioxin 2016 meeting in Florence, we launched the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, a scientific consensus statement. If you are a scientist or a physician, consider signing it here. Similar to our 2010 San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants and 2015 Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs), both published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this statement documents reasons for reducing the use of triclosan and triclocarban.