One of the most comprehensive analyses yet of human exposure to PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, shows that the chemical — long used in everything from computers to sleeping bags — enters humans through their diets, not just their household.
“The more you eat, the more PBDEs you have in your serum,” said Alicia Fraser, an environmental health researcher at Boston University’s School of Public Health who headed the new study, published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives.
PBDEs are chemical cousins of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are known to cause birth defects and neurological impairments. PCBs were banned throughout the world by the mid-1970s, when PBDEs were gaining popularity as flame retardants. PBDEs were soon found in most plastic-containing household products.
By the late 1990s, trace amounts of PBDEs had been found in people all over the world, with the highest exposures measured in the United States. Researchers became nervous: Low doses caused neurological damage in laboratory animals, and the highest human PBDE levels were found in breast milk.
Whether PBDEs posed an immediate threat to humans was uncertain. Direct testing is unethical, and population-wide epidemiological studies are difficult to run. But there’s enough reason for concern that the European Union banned two of the three most common PBDE formulations in 2004.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which in January admitted that it lacked the ability to establish basic standards of chemical safety, has not followed suit, but three states — California, Washington and Maine — have banned PBDEs since 2007. Many manufacturers have either stopped or plan on stopping their use.
“They are persistent in the environment. They don’t get broken down. Therefore, it takes a really long time for the contamination to leave our environment and our bodies,” said Fraser. “Even though we don’t know the health effects at this point, most people would want policies that would stop us from being exposed to them.”
[Click to continue reading Potential Neurotoxin Could Be in Our Food | Wired Science | Wired.com]
I’m sure the plastic council has a different answer as to the toxicity of PBDEs, but they have zero credibility. If the EPA wasn’t such a corporate tool, they would have been actively removing PBDEs from our environment decades ago.
The real long term solution would be to adopt similar practices to the European model: prove that a chemical is harmless before it is allowed to be used. In the US, there have to be lawsuits and deaths1 before the EPA will even begin to study if a chemical is harmful. Years of litigation follow, yadda yadda. A system that totally and unequivocally favors chemical manufacturers in other words.
REACH requires all chemicals sold or used in Europe to be registered with the European Chemicals Agency. Manufacturers or distributors must supply the agency with the chemicals’ properties, materials safety data sheets (MSDSes), risk management guidelines, and safety measures for downstream users. Many hazardous chemicals (over 1,500 of them) will require permission from the European Commission to use; some chemicals will not be allowed at all. Consumers can also request (could be WWF, Greenpeace, or just person) chemical safety and environmental impact data from manufacturers. Perhaps most importantly, the government is not burdened with proving any chemicals are harmful, it falls to industry to test the toxicity of their chemicals, and the EU need only do monitoring and compliance-checking when they believe a company has submitted incomplete or bogus information. REACH covers all chemicals, both substances and mixtures, existing and new (new chemicals are less than 1% of market). It includes intentionally released chemicals (like inkjet ink) and non-intentionally released ones (like dye in jeans); anything that will have more than one metric ton per year produced or imported into Europe. It includes not only the chemicals a company makes, but all the chemicals contained in a product the company sells. It also includes chemicals used in manufacturing that don’t end up in products, if the manufacturing happens in Europe. Unfortunately the amount of time for questions was very limited, so I didn’t get to ask what they define as a “chemical”; I presume it’s any substance that isn’t elemental and requires processing to get out of the natural world.
[Click to continue reading Worldchanging: Bright Green: What Does REACH Mean For Products?]
The US EPA is just a sick joke. A joke that damages all of us.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to assess toxic chemicals is as broken as the nation’s financial markets and needs a total overhaul, a congressional audit has found.
The Government Accountability Office has released a report saying the EPA lacks even basic information to say whether chemicals pose substantial health risks to the public. It says actions are needed to streamline and increase the transparency of the EPA’s registry of chemicals. And it calls for measures to enhance the agency’s ability to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry.
Earlier in 2008, the Journal Sentinel revealed that the EPA’s Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program, which relies on companies to provide information about the dangers of the chemicals they produce, is all but dead. And it disclosed that the agency’s program to screen chemicals that damage the endocrine system had failed to screen a single chemical more than 10 years after the program was launched.
[Click to continue reading EPA a failure on chemicals, audit finds – JSOnline]
No wonder so many EPA officials get jobs in the chemical industry after their EPA tenure is over.
Richard Wiles, executive director of Environmental Working Group:
“The EPA joins the hall of shame of failed government programs,” Wiles said.
The EPA is at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement and needs a broad-based transformation, the auditors found.
“The EPA lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals that may be found in the environment – as well as on tens of thousands of chemicals used commercially in the United States,” the GAO report said. “EPA’s inadequate progress in assessing toxic chemicals significantly limits the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.”
I haven’t been able to locate the GAO report yet, but did find this:
Since 1976, the EPA issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals determined to present an unreasonable risk. Its 1989 regulation phasing out most uses of asbestos was vacated by a federal appeals court in 1991 because it was not based on “substantial evidence.”
In contrast, the EU and a number of other countries banned asbestos, a known human carcinogen that can cause lung cancer and other diseases. The GAO previously recommended that Congress amend the TSCA to reduce the evidentiary burden the EPA
[Click to continue reading GAO: EPA Needs Stronger Authority to Improve Effectiveness of Toxic Substances Control Act]
Five substances in over 30 years? Yeesh, that’s pretty lame.Footnotes:
- or at least lots of negative publicity [↩]