The study could pave the way for newborn screening — but the results still need to be corroborated by further research.
What's one gift you cherish from your mother? We want your story.
It's Mother's Day Sunday, and we want to hear about the one gift you've received from your mother and carry with you today.
Drop your one lesson here – make it one lesson, one sentence – and we'll share the most illuminative ones Sunday.
I'll share mine: How to cook healthy, interesting food regularly, and from scratch.
To have my children see me cook and want to help me prepare a meal and then eat robustly the results – that is a wondrous gift.
My mom, Rosemary Fischer, raised four kids on a tight budget (That's her on the left, above, with my daughter Georgi and my wife Stephanie, as Georgi models the wedding dress of my mother's grandmother).
I can count on one hand the times we ate out as a family. To improvise in the kitchen, to prepare something on the fly and with the clock ticking – that is the art and crux of cooking.
I didn't realize that's what Mom was teaching me every time she made dinner, but I see it now. And it is a wondrous gift indeed.
Share your mom's gift to you. We'd love to cherish it as well.
A H/T to Axios, which is conducting a similar poll and inspired this one.
PFAS are finding their way into “green” and “nontoxic” products, especially waterproof products marketed toward children and adolescents, according to new research.
The new study, published today inEnvironmental Science & Technology, shows that some children’s products with “green” or “nontoxic” labeling contain PFAS, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances—a group of toxic chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to health problems such as certain types of cancer, reproductive issues, and birth defects. The findings, the researchers said, point to the need for better understanding of how PFAS make their way into products, and more regulation to protect consumers.
The researchers tested 93 items marketed to or often used by children and adolescents, including clothing, face masks, mattress protectors, rugs, sheets, and upholstery. They detected fluorine, a PFAS indicator, in 54 of the 93 products. The 54 products shown to contain fluorine were then tested for specific PFAS chemicals.
“I was surprised to see how frequently PFAS showed up in a wide range of different consumer products,” Laurel Schaider, an author on the study and the lead PFAS researcher at the Silent Spring Institute, an independent, nonprofit research organization, told EHN.
The paper aimed to illustrate PFAS trends among products marketed as water- or stain-resistant, as well as those with and without “green” labeling or green certifications—third-party assurances that convey to the consumer that the product satisfies certain criteria for chemical safety. At least one item in every product category contained fluorine, while water- and stain-resistant products were most frequently found to contain evidence of PFAS.The research comes amidst an ongoing collaboration between EHN and wellness community Mamavation that has uncovered evidence of PFAS in clothes, food, and makeup—including in many so-called “green” and “organic” brands.
PFAS have been linked to delayed brain development and immune systems problems in children. (Credit: krakenimages/Unsplash)
Waterproof or stain-resistant products labeled with “green” language, such as “nontoxic” or “eco-friendly,” as well as products with green certifications, were found to have similar concentrations of fluorine, a PFAS indicator, to waterproof or stain-resistant products without “green” labeling. Some waterproof products with the green certifications Greenguard Gold and Oeko-Tex Standard 100, two certifications designed to reduce chemical risks to human health, were shown to contain evidence of PFAS.
“PFAS are a large class of substances and not all of them are currently regulated in the framework” of Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Dominik Kinschel, a product manager for Oeko-Tex, said in a statement to EHN. “Therefore, it is possible that a PFAS substance which is not regulated within [Oeko-Tex Standard 100] can be found on a [Oeko-Tex Standard 100] certified article.”
Additionally, he said, Oeko-Tex has the goal to phase out all PFAS chemicals for apparel textiles over the next few years.
Shaider said that while some products that contained the PFAS indicator were labeled “green” and “nontoxic,” green certification can still be a useful tool. Such certifications are often focused on keeping out other harmful chemicals, like pesticides, but not focused on PFAS specifically.
“Certifiers are becoming more aware of concerns about PFAS chemicals,” Schaider said. “[Certifications] are useful for helping consumers avoid certain types of products. But, as of now, they're not as helpful for helping consumers avoid PFAS in textile items.”
Schaider posited that most of the fluorine showing up in these items is added intentionally, though, she said, it is possible that the contamination is unintentional via manufacturing equipment.
PFAS in children’s products are particularly worrisome because, as a type of endocrine-disrupting chemical—meaning it disrupts or mimics proper functioning of hormones—PFAS have a profound impact on still-developing bodies, said Schaider. PFAS have been linked to delayed brain development and immune systems problems in children.
Most surprising to Schaider was the presence of long-chain PFAS in some of the products tested. Long-chain PFAS are an older version of PFAS chemicals that stay in the human body longer than newer, “short-chain” PFAS chemicals. Manufacturing of long-chain PFAS, like PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), for example, has been phased out in the U.S.
However, multiple products tested by the researchers, some of which were labeled with “green” language, contained PFOA. Schaider thinks the PFOA in these products is likely from international sources, such as China, where PFOA manufacturing is still widespread.
Some products tested also contained PFAS precursors—chemicals that break down or are converted into PFAS once they degrade in the environment or enter the human body. The amount of PFAS precursors found in the products was often higher than the amount of named PFAS chemicals detected.
Many PFAS precursors are volatile, meaning they can enter the air more easily than PFAS themselves. These volatile chemicals are more likely to end up in household dust and expose consumers through dust inhalation.
Consumers looking to avoid PFAS in children’s products can steer clear of water- and stain-resistant products, said Schaider. “Look for items that might be achieving that with a different type of barrier, like a more physical barrier, rather than relying on a coating,” she said.
The Silent Spring Institute has developed a smartphone app, called Detox Me, to help consumers make choices that impact their chemical exposure.
However, Schaider said, the research supports the need for comprehensive PFAS legislation in the U.S. “It shouldn't come down to individual consumers to have to think about toxic chemicals when they're purchasing items for their home.”
Banner photo credit: Ben Wicks/Unsplash
Many years ago, endocrinologist and medical doctor Robert Lustig had a patient, a 5-year-old girl, who was suffering from obesity. Unable to determine the cause of her obesity, Lustig scanned her for tumors.
The culprit was not a tumor, nor the girl’s diet, exercise, or family history. Rather, it was her body wash, said Lustig,a professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. A Victoria’s Secret bath gel, labeled “For Adults Only,” had been the source of a chemical — phytoestrogen — in the girl’s blood known to spur obesity.
Phytoestrogen is found in plants and acts on the body’s estrogen receptors, which induces the production of fat cells. It’s one of a class of chemicals referred to as obesogens, according to a set of new reviews published last month in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology.
As obesity rates rise in the U.S., scientists are working to understand what’s driving the epidemic. While diet and exercise are major factors, these reviews point toward obesogens as another important but under-studied contributor. The three reviews, which cover what obesogens are, how they cause obesity, and methods for studying them, point out how paying attention to obesogens can help shift focus in obesity research from treatment to prevention. Scientists also call for a reduction in exposure to obesogens, which are ubiquitous in everyday life, as a method to slow the obesity epidemic.
“They’re pretty much everywhere,” Jerry Heindel, a biochemist, founder and director of HEEDS, and lead author on one of the reviews told EHN. “Pretty much everybody is going to [be exposed to] some of these obesogens.”
Obesogens are a subset of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which disrupt a body’s hormone activity. Obesogens are generally defined as any chemical that can cause the human body to produce more fat than it normally would. These can include substances we usually think of as fattening, like sugars or artificial sweeteners.
However, many obesogens are not found in food, rather entering the body through other consumer products, like makeup, shampoos, soaps, plastics, and cleaners. Obesogens can also get into food from pesticides and food packaging. The chemicals are shed from such products and can accumulate in household dust, which people breathe in. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (toxic chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products) are another example of obesogens, as is bisphenol- A (BPA).
Obesogens can act on the body in many different ways. For example, said Heindel, different obesogens can disrupt metabolism, cause the body to produce new fat cells, alter our eating behavior, and even disrupt the gastrointestinal tract and the way food is digested.
Prevalence of self-reported obesity among U.S. adults by state, 2020. (Credit: CDC)
In the U.S., obesity has risen steadily over the past decades, from 30% of adults in 2000 to 42% of adults in 2018. Obesity in children has risen as well, from 14% in 2000 to 19% in 2019. People think about obesity mostly in the context of calories—if you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. To deal with obesity, many clinicians will advise reducing the number of calories eaten and increasing exercise.
Diet and exercise undoubtedly play a major role in obesity levels. However, the persistent rise in obesity in the U.S. indicates to Heindel that something besides diet and exercise is at play.
But with the lack of available tests to determine whether a person might be suffering from obesogen exposure or not, scientists are still unsure of the role that obesogens play in proportion to other factors like diet and exercise. “There are so many multiple different factors going on, that we can't pinpoint which one is doing what,” said Heindel.
Doctors and healthcare workers, he added, are “focused on the fact that obesity is due to over-eating. So if you are obese, you can take drugs, you can be on a diet, or you can have surgery. And that's supposed to take care of the obesity.”
Bruce Blumberg, a professor of developmental biology at the University of California, Irvine and an author on the reviews, agrees. “That’s still the view of the medical community, that obesity really has everything to do with calories and activity and not much to do with anything else,” he told EHN.
The Centers for Disease Control, for example, does not list obesogens as a driver of obesity; instead, it lists diet, activity, sleep, and genetics.
Ryan Baldwin, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, an organization representing more than 190 chemical companies, pushed back against the new reviews.
“The prevailing view among the mainstream medical community is that obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure caused by poor nutritional choices and insufficient exercise,” he wrote in a statement to EHN. “The evidence to support this view is much larger and of much higher quality compared to the evidence cited by Heindel [and co-authors] to support their obesogen hypothesis.”
While exposure to obesogens as an adult can cause weight gain, there are specific periods in development when people are most susceptible to obesogen exposure. Exposure is a particularly important consideration for pregnant people, the review warns, as the chemicals can pass through the placenta and affect the development of a fetus’s metabolic system in utero. That exposed fetus will have a higher risk of obesity later in life.
Young children are also more vulnerable to obesogens. During early childhood, the metabolic system is still under development, and susceptible to chemical influences. The changes that these metabolic systems undergo in early childhood — such as obesogen exposure — are carried through to adulthood, putting the child at a higher risk of obesity.
Individuals can reduce their exposure by avoiding pre-packaged or processed foods, which often come in containers made with obesogens like PFAS or other plastic additives. Avoiding fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides, or washing produce that has been sprayed, is another way to reduce exposure.
The authors of the reviews urge that obesogen exposure is such a widespread public health problem that it should be dealt with through regulation. For example, said Lustig, the Environmental Protection Agency should take responsibility for testing for and regulating such chemicals. That’s not happening, said Blumberg, because of a lack of will and funding within the EPA. “The EPA is heavily influenced by the industries that are regulated ... that’s not the way they’re supposed to work,” he said.
Regardless, said Heindel, “it’s hurting peoples’ health, and hopefully [governments] will pay attention to that and act accordingly.”
Banner photo credit: i yunmai/Unsplash
Four popular organic pasta sauces have detectable levels of fluorine, an indicator of toxic PFAS, according to a new report from Mamavation.
Partnering with EHN.org, the environmental wellness blog and community Mamavation tested 55 sauces and found levels of fluorine ranging from 10 parts per million (ppm) up to 21 ppm in four of the sauces: 365 Whole Foods Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce, Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Pasta Sauce, Organicville Italian Herb Pasta Sauce, and Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara.
EHN.org partially funded the testing and Pete Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes Environmental Health News, reviewed the findings.
While the testing doesn’t prove per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are in the sauces, fluorine is a strong indicator of the “forever chemicals”— which have been linked to everything from cancer to birth defects to lower vaccine effectiveness.
PFAS has been found in food before: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 reported PFAS in several types of food, including meats, seafood, and grocery store chocolate cake.
However, Mamavation found evidence of the chemicals in brands that are marketed as organic. It's unclear how PFAS make it into certain foods, but due to widespread use of PFAS across industries, the chemicals can contaminate consumer goods though manufacturing lubricants and coatings, misidentified raw materials, pesticides, personal protective equipment, and plastic packaging.
While the testing is concerning, 92% of sauces tested had no detectable fluorine.
“The good news is that only 8% of the tomato and pasta sauces contained PFAS. But why should there be any in our food?” Linda Birnbaum, who served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program for more than a decade and who also reviewed the investigation, told Mamavation.
The testing is part of an ongoing effort by Mamavation and EHN.org to identify PFAS in common consumer products. See the full results at Mamavation.
Whether in entertainment, sports, or schools, the U.S. is finally coming to the realization that mental health struggles are as real and ubiquitous as any other illnesses.
While this progress is welcomed, scientists, health advocates, and doctors need to further understand and probe one of the insidious triggers of mental illness: environmental pollution.
Last fall we co-published “Pollution’s mental toll” in collaboration with The Allegheny Front. The investigation found alarming evidence that residents throughout western Pennsylvania are likely suffering changes to their brains due to pollution in the surrounding environment.
The series made clear that air, water, and climate pollution leads to a wide range of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Some of the most damning reporting was what we didn’t find: Data on how pollution is altering our brains are surprisingly scarce. Generations of Americans have likely suffered changes to their brains that leave them more susceptible to mental illness, yet the scientific literature is largely blind to a root cause: environmental pollution.
Scientists conducting this kind of research have faced difficulty publishing their work because it spans both mental and environmental health—fields that have traditionally been siloed. Owing to that separation and the complexity of the causes of mental illness—which are an interplay between genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors—exposure to pollution isn’t even on the radar as a risk factor for many in the mental health field.
The study of obesity comes to mind. For years researchers focused on diet and exercise, neglecting to consider the influence of the constant rain of hormone-hacking chemicals that falls into our bodies and lives. Thanks to a concerted research push, we understood that widespread exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), parabens, and phthalates play a substantial role in obesity rates.
It is time we give the same focus to the environmental causes of mental illness.
Recognizing preventable causes of mental illness is an urgent issue. Roughly one in five U.S. adults and one in six U.S. children experience mental illness each year. And 50% of mental illness begins by age 14.
We hope our reporting continues to be a wake-up call for those who fund and conduct research on mental illness, as well as for policymakers in charge of regulating toxic chemicals.
No child—or adult—should suffer mental illness due to pollution. Our brains are complex, beautiful, and fragile. Let’s work to understand how we can best protect this gift.
Editorials represent the organizational views of Environmental Health News, as determined by members of the editorial team.
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