Top 10: 2nd Quarter 2015

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.

Safer Chemicals, Safer Products: Is Congress Up to Their Task?

written by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Ted SchettlerIf you are among those who assume that chemicals in your consumer products must first be tested for safety before being put on the market you have plenty of company. But you are wrong. Except for pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and some food additives, no Federal or state law requires safety testing of thousands of chemicals in consumer products that people come into contact with every day.
It’s easy to understand your assumption. After all, biomonitoring studies of blood and urine of newborn infants, children, and adults regularly detect hundreds of commercial chemicals from clothing, toys, house paint, kitchen floors, cleaners, carpets, televisions, furniture, shower curtains, and the other products we live with. They are in our food, water, air, soil, and house dust. Surely they must first be tested for safety. No, that is not required.

Continue reading on the Science and Environmental Health Network blog.

Top 10: 1st Quarter 2015

This quarter’s selections include a discussion of the role of bad luck in cancer, the continuing saga of federal chemical policy reform, the costs of hormone-disrupting chemicals, a couple of success stories, and plenty of research on the impacts of several common toxics on health. cover of A Story of HealthFind out more about many of the Top 10 topics in the new A Story of Health illustrated multimedia eBook developed by CHE and other partners. Through the lives of fictional characters and their families we investigate the multiple environmental factors that influence asthma, developmental disabilities and cancer. Each story features the latest scientific research about disease origin and prevention, key concepts on environmental health, and links to a wide range of additional resources and hundreds of scientific papers.

  1. The “bad luck” of cancer
    A study and its media reporting caused quite a stir among scientists and advocates, with conversation continuing for weeks.

    1. The study: The bad luck of cancer
    2. An initial media report: Most cancer types ‘just bad luck’
    3. Reiterated a few days later in the New York Times: Cancer’s random assault
    4. Response from Silent Spring Institute: Is cancer just bad luck? We don’t think so.
    5. Response from CHE: Cancer, Stem Cells, and Bad Luck
    6. Response from the International Agency for Research on Cancer: Most types of cancer not due to “bad luck”: IARC responds to scientific article claiming that environmental and lifestyle factors account for less than one third of cancers
    7. Reply by Science Magazine: Backlash greets ‘bad luck’ cancer study and coverage
    8. Response from Medscape: Why the ‘cancer due to bad luck’ story needs revision
    9. Response from Natural Resources Defense Council: No, cancer is not mostly bad luck—the role of environmental factors
  2. Chemical policy legislation introduced
    Two new bills have been introduced in Congress to update and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Substantial conversation and analysis has ensued, including these items:

    1. Udall introduces bill to reauthorize Toxic Substances Control Act
    2. 697 – Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act introduced by Senator Tom Udall
    3. 725 – A bill to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, and for other purposes Introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer
    4. Safer Chemicals’ Igrejas discusses competing Senate TSCA reform bills
    5. Eight key questions on chemical safety reform (Environmental Working Group)
    6. How best to strengthen chemical regulations (New York Times)
    7. Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Stronger State Health Protections at Risk in Efforts to Reform Federal Chemical Law (Center for Effective Government)
    8. The bizarre way the US regulates chemicals—letting them on the market first, then maybe studying them (Washington Post)
  3. Environmental contributors to autoimmune diseases
    While research into the role of environmental contributors to autoimmune diseases is not new, the specifics of contributors and their effects is difficult to pinpoint. We applaud these new discoveries:

    1. Mercury in seafood may raise risk of autoimmune diseases in women: study: To explore risk factors for autoimmune disorders, the study authors focused on government data that looked at women between the ages of 16 and 49 between 1999 and 2004. The study: Mercury exposure and antinuclear antibodies among females of reproductive age in the United States: NHANES.
    2. Environmental estrogen bisphenol A and autoimmunity: Here, we review the role of a specific environmental factor, bisphenol A (BPA), in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases. BPA belongs to the group of environmental estrogens that have been identified as risk factors involved in the development of autoimmune diseases.
    3. World Trade Center workers at increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases: A new study has found a strong link between prolonged work at the World Trade Center (WTC) site following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the development of various autoimmune diseases including arthritis and lupus. The study: Nested case-control study of selected systemic autoimmune diseases in World Trade Center rescue/recovery workers.
    4. Maternal intake of fatty acids and their food sources during lactation and the risk of preclinical and clinical type 1 diabetes in the offspring: Maternal consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, during lactation may increase the risk of type 1 diabetes.
  4. Chemical exposure linked to billions in health care costs
    Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (US) per year in Europe alone, according to a study. The four reports, plus two CHE calls, from the study:

    1. Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union
    2. Male reproductive disorders, diseases, and costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union
    3. Obesity, diabetes, and associated costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union
    4. Neurobehavioral deficits, diseases and associated costs of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the European Union
    5. March 24th call: A High Price to Pay: Burden of Disease and Costs of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union
    6. April 28th call: A High Price to Pay: Obesity, Diabetes, and Associated Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union
  5. Concerns about glyphosate and other herbicides
    Gyphosate, known by trade names Roundup, Accord, Rodeo and Touchdown, was under fire this quarter by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and several new studies. IARC also classified several other herbicides as to their carcinogenicity.

    1. International Agency for Research on Cancer: carcinogenicity of several herbicides: A monograph published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has branded the herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The insecticides malathion and diazinon received the same classification (Group 2A) while the tetrachlorvinphos and parathion were classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B) based on convincing evidence that these agents cause cancer in laboratory animals. The preliminary report: Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate.
    2. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies: A recent study on cows fed genetically modified Roundup®-Ready feed revealed a severe depletion of serum manganese (Mn). Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, has also been shown to severely deplete Mn levels in plants. Here, we investigate the impact of Mn on physiology, and its association with gut dysbiosis as well as neuropathologies such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and prion diseases.
    3. Study links widely used pesticides to antibiotic resistance: A study published by mBio has linked glyphosate and two other widely-used herbicides — 2,4-D and dicamba — to one of the most pressing public health crises of our time: antibiotic resistance. The study: Sublethal exposure to commercial formulations of the herbicides dicamba, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, and glyphosate cause changes in antibiotic susceptibility in Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium.
    4. Drinking well water and occupational exposure to herbicides is associated with chronic kidney disease, in Padavi-Sripura, Sri Lanka: The current study strongly favors the hypothesis that CKDu epidemic among farmers in dry zone of Sri Lanka is associated with, history of drinking water from a well that was abandoned. In addition, it is associated with spraying glyphosate and other pesticides in paddy fields.
  6. Nation’s biggest furniture retailer drops flame retardants
    Ashley Furniture, the nation’s largest furniture retailer, is purging flame retardants from its product lines, the strongest evidence yet that the toxic, ineffective chemicals are on the way out of household couches and chairs. This is a success for public health.
  7. Developmental origins of health and disease: a paradigm for understanding disease cause and prevention
    The evidence in support of the developmental origins of the health and disease paradigm is sufficiently robust and repeatable across species, including humans, to suggest a need for greater emphasis in the clinical area. As a result of these data, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular morbidity, and neuropsychiatric diseases can all be considered pediatric diseases. Understanding the origins of disease is the first step in prevention.
  8. Effects of arsenic
    From blood pressure and heart disease to gestational diabetes, hypothyroidism, chickenpox, early childhood growth, infant mortality and neurobehavioral effects, arsenic is much under investigation. Because arsenic exposure is widespread and often natural in origin, these effects are quite concerning.

    1. Blood pressure and heart disease:
      1. Blood pressure changes in relation to arsenic exposure in a US pregnancy cohort: In our US cohort of pregnant women, arsenic exposure was associated with greater increases in blood pressure over the course of pregnancy. These findings may have important implications as even modest increases in blood pressure impact cardiovascular disease risk.
      2. Blood pressure, left ventricular geometry, and systolic function in children exposed to inorganic arsenic: Early-life exposure to inorganic arsenic was significantly associated with higher blood pressure and left ventricular mass and with lower ejection fraction in our study population of Mexican children.
      3. Association between lifetime exposure to inorganic arsenic in drinking water and coronary heart disease in Colorado residents: Lifetime exposure to low-level inorganic arsenic in drinking water was associated with increased risk for CHD in this population.
    2. Diabetes
      1. A nested case-control study indicating heavy metal residues in meconium associate with maternal gestational diabetes mellitus risk: The present work implies that exposure to some of the selected metals (noticeably arsenic) may contribute to maternal gestational diabetes mellitus risk during pregnancy.
      2. Arsenic exposure, arsenic metabolism, and incident diabetes in the Strong Heart Study: Arsenic metabolism, particularly lower monomethylarsonate percentage, was prospectively associated with increased incidence of diabetes.
    3. Hypothyroidism
      1. Association of hypothyroidism with low-level arsenic exposure in rural West Texas: The prevalence of hypothyroidism was significantly higher in Hispanics or non-Hispanic whites of this rural cohort than the national prevalence. Measures should be taken to reduce arsenic in drinking water in order to prevent hypothyroidism in rural areas.
    4. Varicella zoster virus, cause of chicken pox and shingles
      1. Arsenic exposure and prevalence of the varicella zoster virus in the United States: NHANES (2003-2004 and 2009-2010): In this cross-sectional analysis urinary arsenic was inversely associated with VZV immunoglobulin G seroprevalence in the US population. This finding is in accordance with clinical observations of zoster virus reactivation from high doses of arsenic.
    5. Pregnancy/infant outcomes
      1. Association of arsenic with adverse pregnancy outcomes — infant mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis: Arsenic is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and infant mortality. The interpretation of the causal association is hampered by methodological challenges and limited studies on dose-response.
      2. Association between maternal urinary arsenic species and infant cord blood leptin levels in a New Hampshire pregnancy cohort: These results suggest in utero exposure to low levels of arsenic influences cord blood leptin concentration and presents a potential mechanism by which arsenic may impact early childhood growth.
    6. Neurobehavioral outcomes
      1. Neurobehavioral effects of arsenic exposure among secondary school children in the Kandal Province, Cambodia: Arsenic-exposed school children from the Kandal Province of Cambodia with a median hair As level of 0.93 µg/g among those from the highly contaminated study site, showed clear evidence of neurobehavioral effects.
  9. BPA and neurodevelopment
    1. BPA exposure linked to autism spectrum disorder, study reports: A newly published study is the first to report an association between bisphenol A (BPA), a common plasticizer used in a variety of consumer food and beverage containers, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. The study: Bisphenol A exposure in children with autism spectrum disorders.
    2. Bisphenol A exposure and behavioral problems among inner city children at 7-9 years of age: These results suggest BPA exposure may affect childhood behavioral outcomes in a sex-specific manner and differently depending on timing of exposure.
    3. Autistic features associated with prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors: Exposure during pregnancy to a combination of fire retardant chemicals and phthalate chemicals, which are present in the average home, may contribute to autistic-like behaviors in offspring, according to a new Canadian study.
  10. Cleaner air linked to bigger, stronger lungs in Southern California children
    Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings from a two-decade study in Southern California. This is another success story. The study: Association of improved air quality with lung development in children.

Another Cry for Primary Prevention

Elise Miller, MEd
CHE Director

Elise MillerHow many of us have sat with loved ones in the throes of cancer? No doubt way too many. My cousin just passed away two days ago from lung cancer, having never smoked in her life. She joins several other family members and close friends who have died of one form of cancer or another in the last few years. Unfortunately, all of you likely have similar stories to share, and not just about older people in your lives, but about those younger and younger—including those who exercise regularly and have healthy diets.

One would think this untenable situation would catapult our society into action—it would move us to do whatever it takes to implement primary prevention strategies, not just look for cures. But instead the President’s Cancer Panel report on environmental contributors to cancer sits on the proverbial shelf collecting dust. As do other seminal reports that provide clear analyses of the science linking chemical contaminants and other chronic diseases and disorders as well as how to address these issues—such as Endocrine Society’s statement on endocrine disrupting chemicals, the joint opinion issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) on environmental chemicals and reproductive health, and the National Academy of Sciences “Science and Decisions” report which offers concrete recommendations to contend with the inadequacies of current risk assessment practices—to name just a few.

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Top 10: July 2013

For the second quarter of 2013, we collectively selected ten topics from several dozen candidate news articles, journal articles, policy decisions and reports that have had a significant impact or are likely to have a significant impact on thinking and action in the field of environmental health. We consider these selections to be the biggest contributors toward new insights, toward changing the conversation or expanding the scope of the conversation on a topic to a new audience or awareness, or toward defining a new trend. Comments are welcome.

The selections, in no particular order:

  1. Chemical policy reform
    A significant development in federal chemicals policy reform occurred in late May when  Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a new, bipartisan bill called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). The introduction of the CSIA took many by surprise. Senator Lautenberg, who had been a champion for chemical policy reform for many years, passed away about a week later. CHE has compiled a selection of responses to this bill as well as links to other relevant sites for additional information: Chemical Policy Reform.
  2. Autism: New insights
    Several new studies have provided further understanding of environmental and genetic contributors to autism spectrum disorders. We list what we view as some of the most significant of these studies:

    1. Autism study finds link to environment, even in womb: A new study of twins suggests that environmental factors, including conditions in the womb, may be at least as important as genes in causing autism. See the study abstract: Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin pairs with autism and related studies: Quantitative trait loci for interhemispheric commissure development and social behaviors in the BTBR T+ tf/J mouse model of autism and Methylomic analysis of monozygotic twins discordant for autism spectrum disorder and related behavioural traits.
    2. Study links autism with antidepressant use during pregnancy. See the study abstract: Parental depression, maternal antidepressant use during pregnancy, and risk of autism spectrum disorders: population based case-control study.
    3. Epilepsy drug in pregnancy tied to autism risk: Women who take the epilepsy drug valproate during pregnancy are three times more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, suggests new research based on close to 700,000 babies born in Denmark. See the study abstract: Prenatal valproate exposure and risk of autism spectrum disorders and childhood autism.
    4. US kids born in polluted areas more likely to have autism. See the study abstract: Perinatal air pollutant exposures and autism spectrum disorder in the Children of Nurses’ Health Study II participants.
  3. EHN special report: ‘chemicals of high concern’ found in thousands of children’s products
    An Environmental Health News analysis of thousands of reports from America’s largest companies shows that toys and other children’s products contain low levels of dozens of industrial chemicals. See the database: Children’s Safe Product Act Reports.
    Continue reading

Chemical Policy Reform: A Major Spike in the Action on the Federal Level

Elise Miller, MEd, Director
with Davis Baltz, Co-coordinator of CHE Special Projects

While CHE’s primary mission is to bring attention to the emerging environmental health science, how that science is translated into public health policy is of course crucial to improving public health broadly. Along these lines, some unexpected and important developments have taken place on federal chemical policy reform over the last few weeks.

Senator Frank Lautenberg

On May 22, 2013, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S.1009 or CSIA) with broad bipartisan support. The introduction of the new bipartisan bill was closely followed by the passing of Senator Lautenberg, who died on June 3 of viral pneumonia at age 89. He has been widely remembered and lauded as a champion for public, environmental, and occupational health.

Senator David Vitter

Though CHE, as a whole, does not take a stand on any specific legislation, we wanted to ensure our full membership—on state, national and international levels—is aware of this significant and quickly evolving process.

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Getting the Questions Right

Elise Miller, MEd

With epigenetics on the cover of Time magazine this week, public awareness of the links between our genes, our environment and our health has never been so widespread. Throughout history, breakthroughs in understanding have been largely shaped and guided by the questions we choose to ask. After World War II, the questions most researchers as well as policymakers in the U.S. were asking focused on how to build infrastructures to catalyze the growth of large-scale industrial processes and products – from pesticides to plastics to pharmaceuticals. The underlying assumption was that we could improve on nature without necessarily understanding or abiding by the natural principles that have allowed life to be nourished and sustained for the previous tens of thousands of years.

In just the last generation, however, new and pressing questions have begun to emerge. For example, why – with the vast availability of food products, abundance of sophisticated technologies, and myriad advances in medicine – are more and more people facing chronic diseases and other health problems in the U.S. as well as experiencing a lower quality of life? Why – if being successful means driving bigger cars and having bigger houses – would we be seeing glaciers melting at unprecedented rates and millions of new climate refugees?

Clearly, we can no longer delude ourselves that ‘improving on nature’ is predicated on disregarding it – and instead, ask how can we work within the systems and imitate the processes that have made this planet life-sustaining to date?

Fortunately, there are more and more researchers and others who are asking just that, and perhaps none more energetically than those in the increasingly robust field of green chemistry. Just a couple weeks ago, Paul Anastas, PhD, who is considered by some ‘the father of green chemistry’, was finally appointed Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. For some years now, he and other colleagues – including many of you – have suggested that a number of the major problems we see today, such as the adverse health consequences of toxic exposures and climate change, are in large part due to not asking the right questions in the first place (or perhaps, as some would argue, there were simply too few people in power asking those essential questions). By contrast, those in green chemistry are urging us to ask a set of principled questions before creating new products and technologies, so that, ultimately, the trajectory of our choices can be as biologically and ecologically benign as possible. 

This month CHE is hosting or co-sponsoring three national/international calls that are intended to help us ask better questions so that our pursuits can be more in keeping with the natural systems in which we have evolved and in which future generations will live. The first is a CHE Café Call with Elizabeth Grossman, author of the recently published book Chasing Molecules, which describes how green chemistry has the potential to not only lead to safer products and materials, but reduce the health impacts of climate change. The next is a CHE Partner call on the potential health impacts of chemicals that can disrupt thyroid dysfunction and how chemical policy reform can help address these concerns. And the third call will be co-sponsored with SeaTrust and IGI and feature two colleagues working at the intersection of climate change and health and attended the recent Copenhagen climate change talks. For more information on these calls and how to register, please view the left-hand column on CHE’s home webpage.

I truly look forward to collaborating with you in the New Year in order to hone our capacity to get the questions right as we work towards a healthier tomorrow.