We thought that the beginning of the year would be a good time to update you on bisphenol A (BPA): the ubiquitous chemical that is found in canned goods, register receipts, children's products, plastics and even dental sealants, and is linked with health impacts including behavioral impacts in young children, reproductive issues, miscarriage in pregnant women, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups nationally. At this point, eleven states had done the hard work of banning BPA from these products, including New York and California. Manufacturers realized this was a losing battle, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) took the unusual step of asking the FDA directly to ban the chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups. When asking for the ban, the ACCthe industry group that lobbies on behalf of chemical companiesdirectly cited the number of state bans that had passed as a reason for requesting an FDA ruling. This group had worked very hard to keep BPA bans out of the states, using industry tricks and millions of dollars. But they realized that the public and the tide were against them and requested the federal ruling.
But BPA is still present in so many products that we come into contact with every day, and we continue to learn about the health impacts associated with BPA.
"When Bobbi Chase Wilding looked for an environmentally safe, healthy mattress for children, she found a confusing blizzard of green-sounding claims, seals and logos."
"Of about 190 crib mattresses sold nationwide, manufacturers of more than half made environmental or health claims, often backed by one or more official-sounding certifications. Among those making green claims were 39 models that used potentially dangerous chemicals."
"'Words like natural, pure, green and eco sound reassuring, but they had no clear definition, and can be used by anyone,' said Wilding, director of Albany-based Clean and Healthy New York, who examined children's mattresses for a safety study last year. 'Some manufacturers are trying to profit without changing.'"
Nearly each day, four million people in the United States go to work as janitors, cleaners, maids, housekeepers, landscaping and groundskeeping workers, pesticide handlers and other maintenance occupations. Over 3% of the workforce is employed in these jobs, which are among the lowest paying jobs in the country.1 But the below-average wages aren't the worst thing about the job: these people are exposed to toxic chemicals in their workplace on a daily basis.
According to workers' compensation data, six out of every 100 custodians have a lost-time injury every year due to chemical exposure.2 The majority of injuries involve eye irritation and burns, skin irritation and burns, or breathing chemical fumes. And these are just the short-term effects.
The chemicals used to clean our schools, statehouses, libraries and office buildings in every town and city often contain caustic toxic chemicals linked with asthma, cancer, respiratory issues, hormone disruption, endocrine system issues and other negative health effects. Just the products used to clean commercial PVC floors contain a long list of toxic chemicals associated with all manner of health issues.3 And the problems don't stop there.
In a bipartisan victory for children's health, the New York State Assembly passed A. 9045, which expands the Tris-free Children and Babies Act to include the form of tris (TDCPP) that was removed from children's sleepwear in 1979 because it can mutate DNA. Studies have since shown that TDCPP can harm the developing brain, disrupt hormones, and cause cancer.
The State of California's Carcinogen Identification Council has determined it is a carcinogen. The diverse collaboration of health-affected organizations, environmental justice groups, teachers, nurses, business leaders and environmental health organizations, known as the JustGreen Partnership, praised the bill's passage, and urged the New York Senate to follow suit.
"I am proud to have accomplished one of my legislative priorities with the strong bi-partisan passage of the expanded Tris-free Children and Babies Act," said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair and bill sponsor. "New York must continue its leadership on this important issue and ensure babies and children no longer suffer continual exposure to TDCPP."
Senator Mark Grisanti sponsors matching legislation in the Senate, after championing the Tris-free Children and Babies Act through its passage in that house last year. New York is the first in the nation to address the problem of Tris chemicals being used in children's products. Several other states, including Washington, Maryland and Connecticut, are following suit this year with tris phaseout legislation.
Lead, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, mercury. These are some of the toxic ingredients that are found in products that we put on our skin, in our hair, and on our lips that ultimately make it into our bodies where they can wreak havoc with endocrine systems, neural development, reproductive systems and contribute to higher levels of cancer.
These ingredients are unreported and hard to track, even for the most scrupulous consumer. Annie Leonard, who produced The Story of Cosmetics in partnership with The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said it best: "It turns out the important decisions don't happen when I choose to take a product off the shelf. They happen when companies and governments decide what should be put on the shelves."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees regulations governing cosmetics. However, regulation is a term used loosely, as manufacturers can use nearly every chemical and ingredient, man-made or natural, in a cosmetic without approval from the FDA.1
Recent reports show that toxic chemicals are found in every corner of our lives. They are being found in everything from foam in children's products to household cleaners and canned foods. This month, we rounded up some of the most significant studies from our partner organizations. These studies outline the ubiquity of toxic chemicals, and point the way toward solutions.
Fortunately, not all the news is bad. It was discovered that some products don't contain the worst-of-the-worst toxic chemicals, proving that it is possible to create these products with safer alternatives.
And when The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics announced that Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo still contains a harmful, formaldehyde-releasing chemical, the pressure of the news caused Johnson & Johnson to finally agree to remove it. While getting a harmful chemical out of a baby shampoo shouldn't require such action, it is encouraging to see forward motion away from toxic chemicals in some situations.
Many nursery items contain toxic Tris flame retardants.
In a study released today by the Washington Toxics Coalition and SAFER states we learn that many foam products in children's nurseries contain high levels of toxic flame retardants. These chemicals are associated with health concerns such as lower birth weights, changes in thyroid hormone levels which affect critical metabolic functions, and lower IQ in children.
As we discussed on this site in September, the world of chemical flame retardants is an alphabet soup of names and chemical mixtures. As quickly as some chemicals are being banned, the chemical industry is creating new combinations which skirt the rules.
Washington Toxics Coalition in partnership with Safer States purchased foam-containing baby and children's items from major retailers in six states. They sent samples of the foam to a Duke University research laboratory for testing.
The study found:
Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP) was present in 16 of 20 products. TDCPP is the chemical that was voluntarily removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s because of health concerns.
The level of flame retardants in products was high. The 17 products that contained toxic flame retardants had an average of 3.9% by foam weight.
These flame retardants are not chemically bound to the foam, which means that they escape from the products and get into the air and household dust, endangering the health of all in the home.
The real key to banning toxic flame retardants is a comprehensive policy which identifies the worst-of-the-worst chemicals, and sets in place a plan for phase-out in favor of safer alternatives. The states have seen that using the laser-focus of an individual chemical ban hand-in-hand with sweeping comprehensive policy is the most effective way to reduce toxic exposure to adults and little ones alike. Several states will be taking up the charge of toxic flame retardants this year, following in the footsteps of states like New York, which banned TCEP, a toxic Tris flame retardant, in 2011.
It's no secret that the United States is battling overwhelming issues with obesity. Current statistics show that 34% of Americans are clinically obese, and 68% are overweight1, and the federal government has found that a third of American children are obese or overweight.
This is having a tremendous consequence on the nation as a whole, including an estimated economic cost of $270 billion per year in the United States, according to a report2 released this year. The costs come in need for medical care and the loss of worker productivity due to death and disability.
So, as a society, we are tackling obesity in all the expected ways. We are encouraging adults and children alike to eat less, eat better, move more, and to live healthy lifestyles. We are reevaluating school lunch programs, insisting that fast food restaurants provide healthy options, and encouraging healthy decisions at every juncture.
But what if some chemicals we were exposed to every day were making us fat? Enter obesogens. Science has recently uncovered that exposure to certain chemicals sets the stage for obesity.
Toxic flame retardants are one of the most common sources of toxicity in our homes and our lives. They are used on everything from computer casings, to furniture, to carpeting, to children's products. "The problem is, they don't stay put," says Rebecca Williams, a reporter for The Environment Report1. "They leach out of products and they get into us."
Health concerns surrounding these chemicals—including everything from cancer to thyroid issues to reproductive harm—are serious enough that many groups including fire professionals are interested in getting toxic flame retardants out of our daily lives.
From a letter2 released by the International Association of Fire Fighters:
"Many studies involving fire fighters exposed to these and other toxic gases during active fire fighting, overhaul, and long term exposure from these chemicals penetrating protective gear, have found that fire fighters have a much greater risk of contracting cancer, heart and lung disease, and other debilitating diseases. While we support the concept of flame retardant chemicals, there are [safer] alternatives."
When we talk about toxic flame retardants on Safer States, we are referring to a whole group of chemicals that are used on household products for the purposes of slowing down combustion. Unlike some chemicals (cadmium, for example), the concern isn't with a specific single chemical. Instead, we reference a group of chemicals intended for a single purpose, nearly all of which have been shown to have harmful effects on children, fire fighters, fish and wildlife.
Tomorrow, August 11th, is my daughter Olivia's birthday. My almost second-grader, who just finished reading "Harry Potter" book, is turning seven. It's hard to believe. Tomorrow we'll celebrate this milestone in the presence of family, give her gifts, and enjoy the Brune birthday staple: ice cream cake.
But today, while the rest of our family frolics in the sand at the Jersey shore, my daughter and I will travel two and a half hours by train to New York City to join other mothers and children in celebrating another important event: The National Stroller Brigade Day of Action in support of The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.
The New York event is one of several taking place across the country, to either thank Senators for being—or encourage them to become—a co-sponsor of this important chemical reform legislation. In New York, we will be thanking both Senators Gillibrand and Schumer for their early formal support for these common sense reforms. Senator Gillibrand, as another concerned mom, has been increasingly active around the need to better protect our children and has played a leading role in this effort.
Persistent, bioaccumulative toxics, commonly known as PBTs, are a group of toxic chemicals that are joined together by some common features. Common PBTs in our lives include mercury, DDT, cadmium, lead, and several groups of chemicals including PCBs, toxic flame retardants (PBDEs) and dioxins. While these chemicals have many different uses in our lives, and different effects on our health, they are joined together by the following facts:
PBTs are persistent. These chemicals are often used in manufacturing because of the exact features that cause great, great trouble in our environment: they don't break down, and they stay in the environment for a very long time. PCBs, for instance, are man-made mixtures of chlorinated compounds that are used in manufacturing because they are non-flammable, have a high boiling point, and are insoluble in water: all features that make them very difficult to dispose of.
PBTs are bioaccumulative. Once these chemicals are ingested by living creatures, they build up in fatty tissue, and move up the food chain as they are consumed by bigger creatures, eventually making their way into our diets.
PBTs are toxic. These chemicals have been associated with all manner of health effects: mercury affects the nervous system of developing fetuses, chronic exposure to DDT affects the liver and kidneys among other parts of the body, cadmium has been labeled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a probable carcinogen, lead exposure in adults results in neurological effects like seizures, PCBs pose a cancer risk, PBDEs have been found to be endocrine disruptors, and dioxins cause reproductive and developmental problems.