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Your Health: Perfluorinated Chemicals August 21, 2015

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Your Health.
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Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

It isn’t often that a class of chemicals is the subject of three independent news items on the same day, but the perfluorinated chemicals that have helped give Teflon and Stainmaster their nonstick properties received considerable attention yesterday.

The Intercept published a three-part series on DuPont and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is also called C8. According to The Intercept‘s article, the nonstick properties of the chemicals made them useful, and used, “in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eye glasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; fire-fighting foam; fast food wrappers; microwave popcorn bags; bicycle lubricants; satellite components; ski wax; communications cables; and pizza boxes” in addition to cookware. There’s a very high likelihood that you carry PFOA or related pefluorinated compounds in your body, for at least one such compound was detected in more than 98 percent of blood samples from a large study of Americans conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of their regular assessments. These chemicals have been found in virtually all newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood samples. Even though DuPont has stopped using PFOA, it will be with us for a long time, “expected to remain on the planet well after humans are gone from it.”

DuPont’s own internal experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showed that PFOA was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals. After years of research, a science panel convened as part of a lawsuit found that PFOA was associated with ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease in children, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (See the panel’s list of publications.)

cover of the EWG reportThe Environmental Working Group published a separate report yesterday, Teflon Chemical Harmful at Smallest Doses. The report summarizes research finding “that even very tiny concentrations of PFOA—below the reporting limit required by EPA’s tests of public water supplies—are harmful.”

Further recent research was highlighted in an article from Environmental Health News: Breastfeeding exposes babies to water- and stain-proofing chemicals. This study looked at five types of perfluorinated alkylate substances in the blood of 81 children who were born in the Faroe Islands between 1997 and 2000. Regrettably, breastfeeding was found to be “an important exposure pathway to some PFASs in infants.”

A search for ways to reduce exposures to PFOA is just as disheartening as the research about its effects: the US Environmental Protection Agency states: “At present, there are no steps that EPA recommends that consumers take to reduce exposures to PFOA.” Throwing out your Teflon pans won’t be very helpful, for as the American Cancer Society advises, “while PFOA is used in making Teflon, it is not present (or is present in extremely small amounts) in Teflon-coated products.” The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (DuPont has a large facility in West Virginia) recommends these steps in a 2009 fact sheet:

  • Public Health officials recommend that mothers potentially exposed to PFOA continue to breastfeed. More than two decades of research have established that breast milk is perfectly suited to nourish infants and protect them from illness.
  • To reduce exposures to infants, caregivers in the area should use premixed baby formula or reconstitute using alternative water sources not containing PFOA. Residents may contact their water supplier for more information about PFOA in their drinking water.
  • Pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, children, and the elderly should reduce exposures to untreated water containing PFOA as much as is reasonably achievable.

This post is part of a regular series that summarizes and highlights recent Your Health items and trends. Readers can follow CHE’s Your Health news feed or subscribe via RSS.

While individual actions to safeguard or improve health are important, we cannot individually address broad issues regarding pollutants, food supply, access to health care, poverty, climate change, infectious diseases and other issues that impact the health of individuals and communities. Join CHE to strengthen the science dialogue on environmental factors impacting human health and to facilitate collaborative, prevention-oriented efforts to address environmental health concerns.

Bringing attention to specific resources and findings does not mean CHE endorses or validates them. We highlight the emerging science and its implications for Your Health, knowing that thinking will continue to evolve as new studies are published.

Diseases, Vectors, Specific Chemicals or Life Phases: What’s Your Pleasure? July 15, 2015

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
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written by Elise Miller, EdM
Director

When many of us think of air pollution, images often come to mind of smoke stacks and diesel trucks spewing dirty fumes or thick brown smog enveloping cities. We think of people coughing or wearing masks on their faces to breathe, kids being rushed to emergency rooms for asthma attacks. These respiratory and lung conditions are of course part of our global reality today—and sadly so.

But I was truly struck by the plethora of new studies published during the last quarter implicating air pollution in a litany of other health outcomes. These conditions, not often associated with exposures to air particulates and other toxic airborne matter, include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, various forms of cancer, mental health, brain function, and birth defects. Nancy Hepp, CHE’s Research and Communications Specialist, compiled a long list of relevant studies (below) that appeared in journals and other media outlets from April through June 2015 highlighting these concerns.

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Top 10: 2nd Quarter 2015 July 6, 2015

Posted by Nancy Hepp in science pick.
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The ten biggest news or research stories of the last quarter, in CHE’s view.

  1. Climate Change
    Climate change continues to receive attention, from top-level activities to broad new investigations of health impacts.

    1. Pope delivers strong message on climate change in encyclical ‘Laudato Si’‘: In his much-awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis offered a broad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy, accusing it of plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and of future generations. The encyclical: Laudato Si’.
    2. Obama Administration announces actions to protect communities from the health impacts of climate change at White House summit: The White House hosted a first-ever Summit on Climate Change and Health, featuring the Surgeon General, to stimulate a national dialogue on preventing the health impacts of climate change. See the speaker presentations and other videos on the White House blog.
    3. EPA carbon emissions plan could save thousands of lives, study finds: New carbon emissions standards that were proposed last year for coal-fired power plants in the United States would substantially improve human health and prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to a new study. The study: US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits.
    4. Climate change set to take major toll on economy and children’s health, experts warn: Researchers have only scratched the surface of the complex effects climate change will have on children’s health and the economy, panelists said at a climate change forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
  2. Cancer risk from chemical cocktail
    Scientists looked at 85 chemicals not usually considered to have a role in causing cancer and found that 50 could play a part. The chemicals, at everyday exposure levels, were found to support mechanisms in the body that helped cancer to develop. They included chemicals found in items such as mobile phones, detergents and cooking pans, and pesticides used on fruits and vegetables. The study: Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead.
  3. Weed killers, bee killers, sperm killers?
    Research on a variety of pesticides is finding new effects and driving decisions to reduce use.

    1. Controversial insecticide use rises as farmers douse seeds: Since the early 2000s, US farmers have dramatically increased their use of controversial insecticides suspected of playing a role in the decline of pollinating insects, such as honeybees. The report: Large-scale deployment of seed treatments has driven rapid increase in use of neonicotinoid insecticides and preemptive pest management in U.S. field crops.
    2. Announcing new steps to promote pollinator health: In June 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing an interagency task force to create a Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. In May, under the leadership of the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Agriculture, the task force released its strategy. A summary and analysis: US plan to help bees focuses on more land.
    3. Pesticides on vegetables and fruit linked to lower sperm counts: A study found that those who consume fruits and vegetables that are known to have the highest quantity of pesticides have sperm counts that are 50 percent lower than those who eat the smallest amount of these items. The study: Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic.
    4. Health Canada looks to re-label weed killer Roundup: Health Canada announced on Monday that it will begin public consultations to update the product label to reduce human and environmental exposure. The consultation webpage: Consultation on Glyphosate, Proposed Re evaluation Decision PRVD2015-01
    5. France bans sale of weedkiller Roundup over UN fears it may be carcinogenic: French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal announced Sunday a ban on the sale of popular weedkiller Roundup from garden centres, which the UN has warned may be carcinogenic.
    6. Europe starts taking glyphosate off the shelves: Switzerland’s two largest retailers, Migros and Coop, have been listening to their customers and are already taking retail products containing glyphosate off their shelves. The Swiss retail withdrawal of glyphosate follows the announcement by German retail giant REWE that it will complete its withdrawal of glyphosate products from its 350 gardening outlets by September this year, at the latest.
    7. Chemical reactions: glyphosate and the politics of chemical safety: The IARC’s evaluation presents a dilemma for regulatory institutions. If they explicitly accept the validity of the IARC’s findings (and therefore acknowledge the choice-laden nature of safety evaluation) this might invite scrutiny and criticism of their own assessments, and regulatory decisions.
  4. Fracking/drilling and health
    Breathing problems, cancer, lower birth weight, earthquakes and other effects inform policy decisions on fracking.

    1. Contamination and geologic effects
      1. Fracking chemicals detected in Pennsylvania drinking water: An analysis of drinking water sampled from three homes in Bradford County, Pa., revealed traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids, according to a study published on Monday. The study: Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development.
      2. New study reveals potential Texas fracking contamination: A new peer-reviewed study reveals potential groundwater contamination in the Barnett Shale, a geological formation that underlies 17 counties in North Texas, including Denton County. But the cause is still under debate. The study: A comprehensive analysis of groundwater quality in the Barnett Shale region.
      3. Okla. science agency links quakes to oil: The state agency in charge of determining the cause of Oklahoma’s earthquake swarms announced today that it is “very likely” that the shaking has been caused by oil and gas activity. The statement: Statement on Oklahoma Seismicity.
    2. Health impacts
      1. Fracking produces air pollution that increases the risk of breathing problems and cancer, study claims: Researchers found that people living within three miles of a fracking site could be exposed to pollution levels that are significantly higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe. The study: Impact of natural gas extraction on PAH levels in ambient air.
      2. Lower birth weight associated with proximity of mother’s home to gas wells: Pregnant women living close to a high density of natural gas wells drilled with hydraulic fracturing were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights than women living farther from such wells, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis of southwestern Pennsylvania birth records. The study: Perinatal outcomes and unconventional natural gas operations in southwest Pennsylvania.
    3. Policy
      1. Fracking poses ‘significant’ risk to humans, says new EU report: A major new scientific study has concluded that the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking poses a “significant” risk to human health and British wildlife, and that an EU-wide moratorium should be implemented. The report: Chemical Pollution from Fracking.
      2. New York makes fracking ban official: The Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation announced the decision on Monday, saying a ban was the only reasonable alternative after years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts.
  5. DDT in pregnancy may raise breast cancer rates in daughters
    The researchers observed a sizable, statistically significant association between in utero DDT exposure and risk of breast cancer in young women and a possible association with more aggressive tumors. These findings are the first ever reported for a prospective observation of a large pregnancy cohort. The study: DDT exposure in utero and breast cancer.
  6. US government recommends lower level of fluoride in water
    For the first time in more than 50 years, the federal government has recommended lowering the level of fluoride in drinking water. The recommendation: U.S. Public Health Service Recommendation for Fluoride Concentration in Drinking Water for the Prevention of Dental Caries.
  7. Antibiotic use reduction
    After decades of warnings, the issue of antibiotic overuse and resistance is gaining traction.

    1. White House opens ‘superbug’ summit, orders federal cafeterias to use meat raised with ‘responsible antibiotic use’: President Obama kicked off the day-long, mostly-closed-door meeting by directing federal departments and agencies to begin a process to buy meat and poultry raised with “responsible antibiotic use.”
    2. What Tyson’s pledge to stop using human antibiotics in chicken means for the future of superbugs: The Natural Resources Defense Council called the Tyson news a “tipping point for getting the chicken industry off antibiotics.” Yet when it comes to protecting against antibiotic resistance, critics say the change may be too little and too late.
  8. US chemical regulation reform gets boost as House passes TSCA rewrite
    The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that would update the nation’s industrial chemicals regulations for the first time in nearly 40-years. The bill—which would make it easier for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to request new safety data on chemicals and regulate chemicals already on the market—takes a narrower approach than a competing bill in the Senate. See analyses of the bill: Who is looking out for the health of America’s children? House chemicals bill favors industry over families and The House passes TSCA reform!
  9. Parma consensus statement on metabolic disruptors
    A multidisciplinary group of experts gathered in Parma, Italy, for a workshop hosted by the University of Parma, May 16-18, 2014, to address concerns about the potential relationship between environmental metabolic disrupting chemicals, obesity and related metabolic disorders.
  10. Improving population-wide nutrition
    US agencies announced nutrition recommendations and a new ban.

    1. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee
      The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.
    2. FDA cuts trans fat in processed foods: The US Food and Drug Administration is taking a step to remove artificial trans fat from the food supply within three years. This step is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.
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