Get a Grip on Toxic Chemicals

Reps. Doyle and Murphy are well positioned to help protect us

Maureen Swanson
CHE Partner and Director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America

This letter was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s republished here with the author’s permission.

Imagine all the chemicals used in televisions, computers, upholstery, car seats, building materials, even children’s pajamas. Imagine that some of these chemicals migrate from products into dust and dirt, and build up in our bodies. They are found in the cord blood of newborns and in breast milk. Imagine that these chemicals are similar in structure to the notorious PCBs – carcinogens banned from use in the late 1970s.

Now wouldn’t you also imagine that these chemicals were tested and found to be safe to human health before they were allowed into our products and homes?

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Polybrominated diphyenyl ethers are flame retardant chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain and in people. Laboratory studies link exposure to PBDEs with lowered IQ and attention problems. This summer, a study of pregnant women found that those with higher levels of PBDEs had reduced levels of thyroid hormone, which is essential to a baby’s brain development.

But despite growing scientific evidence linking toxic chemical exposures to serious disease and disability, our government does not require that PBDEs – or any of the other 80,000 chemicals on the market – be tested for effects on human health.

That could be about to change, and two Pittsburgh members of Congress are in key positions to help make it happen.

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Brain Tumour Risk in Relation to Mobile Telephone Use: Results of the INTERPHONE International Case–control Study

Stelios A Zinelis
CHE Partner

The Interphone Study Group (2010)1 conducted a study on mobile telephone use has made this conclusion:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with the use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and errors prevent a causal interpretation.”

This study was completed in 2004, but for unknown reasons, the results were  published six years later, upon demand by scientific organisations such as the European Environment Agency and the European Union (2009)2 (which partially funded the study, along with the International Union against Cancer [Mobile Manufacturers Forum and GSM Association]),  who were concerned about the effects of mobile phone use on public health.

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Early Puberty: Another Sign of Our (Chemical) Times?

Elise Miller, MEd
Director

A major study released earlier this week in Pediatrics concluded that girls are starting puberty earlier than ever. (See the New York Times article or the full text of the study). Though early puberty is influenced by multiple and interacting factors, including heredity, socioeconomic status, obesity, premature birth, formula feeding and more, synthetic chemicals, particularly those that can disrupt our bodies’ normal hormonal messaging systems from conception onward, are increasingly considered contributors to this growing concern.

Controversy about whether earlier puberty was in fact happening was significantly heightened after a study suggesting similar findings was published in Pediatrics in 1997. However, questions about the association between chemical exposures and health problems from breast cancer to reproductive abnormalities can easily be dated back to the time of Rachel Carson’s research. Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s 2007 report, “The Falling Age of Puberty: What We Know, What We Need to Know,” commissioned by the Breast Cancer Fund, was based on a comprehensive review of the literature on the timing of puberty. Given the scientific evidence, the report recommended a set of actions—from improving the built environment to encourage physical activity to making healthy food more accessible to reducing the use of endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenol A, in consumer products. What is notable about these recommendations is that they could curb not only the worrisome implications of earlier and earlier puberty, but a plethora of other chronic diseases and disabilities that currently plague our country.

Given it is far harder to turn an ocean liner around than a row boat, many leading thinkers underscore the need for creative solutions to be generated on the community level in order to develop effective, sustainable models. One such person is Wilma Subra, a leading resource scientist for low-income communities in the Gulf Coast. Michael Lerner will interview Dr. Subra on our CHE Partnership call tomorrow (visit the call page to RSVP). Other leaders emphasize that reforming our chemical regulatory system on a national level must be a priority. Action is also being taken along those lines with the introduction of “Toxic Chemicals Safety Act” in the House just late last month (see CHE’s Chemical Policy Reform webpage).

At whatever level you choose to approach this work, the study on early puberty published in Pediatrics this week only affirms that we, in fact, already know what we need to do. The harder part is how to do it—how to implement effective and strategic interventions at all these levels of society. As a CHE partner, we hope you will continue to participate in our calls and working groups to help us collectively figure out what we can do now to ensure that health is a birthright, not an afterthought.