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.
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Nanotechnology – A Threat to Our Health and the Environment?

Vito Buonsante
Health and Environment Lawyer at ClientEarth

The smallest car in the world is one billionth of a metre. 60,000 times smaller than the thickness of a hair. And is self-propelled. Instead of carrying people or freight, it could transport molecules and atoms and be used to reconstruct damaged cells.

Nanoparticles can perform tasks that were previously never thought possible.

In recent years, nanomaterials have been increasingly used in consumer products, from sunscreens to food containers, heralded for making disinfectants that bit more effective or helping to disinfect your socks and underwear. They have even been used to clean up water contaminated with heavy metals.

But the shrinking of particles to a nanoscale can change their properties. As with many emerging technologies, we still have little understanding of the impacts these tiny particles have on our health and the environment. More and more studies are warning of the potential hazardous properties of nanoparticles. For example, nanosilver is known to wash through the sewage system into the water course and kill beneficial bacteria, which in turn disrupts ecosystems. Günter Oberdörster, a prominent expert on nanomaterials and author of the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) paper of the year in 2008, recently advised against any use of products containing nanomaterials in sprays, for cleaning surfaces or in self-cleaning materials.

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