Researchers and consumers are calling on industries and institutions to phase out these chemicals and instead pursue safer alternatives that serve similar functions. But it's complicated.
Some 400,000 specimens from German citizens, collected over four decades and stored in an old military bunker, trace the rise—and sometimes the fall—of chemical pollutants in an industrial country.
That nice waxy glide as you floss your teeth? Turns out it could be courtesy of PFAS, the "forever chemicals" that hijacks hormones and is linked to reproductive problems, birth defects, testicular cancer and a host of other diseases.
Mamavation, the wellness site, and EHN.org tested 39 different brands of floss for PFAS and found evidence of the chemical in one third of the samples. Levels ranged from 11 parts per million, or ppm, to 248,900 ppm.
Four products had more than 70,000 ppm, or 7 percent, PFAS, with Oral-B Glide testing at 248,900 ppm, or nearly 25 percent.
"None of these contaminants are something our readers want in their products," Mamavation founder Leah Segedie wrote.
PFAS is a family of nearly 12,000 chemicals used to make products, like Teflon, slippery. It's also found in stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, cosmetics and firefighting foam.
PFAS are in the blood of nearly all Americans, and testing of umbilical cord blood and breast milk indicates that exposure begins before birth. Some PFAS bioaccumulate — build up — which means even low exposures are cause for concern over time as our bodies accumulate more and more of them.
Companies and trade associations like the American Dental Association should "stop approving of any dental product that contains any forever PFAS compound," said Terry Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.
"They should start educating their members about the insidious nature of low dose adverse effects from endocrine-disrupting chemicals."
Companies pushed back on the test results, with Oral-B telling Health.com that "none of the substances in the report are used in our dental floss. The safety of the people who use our products is our top priority. Our dental floss undergoes thorough safety testing and we stand behind the safety of all our products.”
EHN.org and Mamavation have teamed up to test ordinary products for evidence of the "forever chemical," finding it in everything from sports bras to toilet paper.
You can explore the reporting, "PFAS on our shelves and in our bodies," here.
The ongoing investigation of PFAS in everyday products has uncovered evidence of the toxics in our clothes, food and makeup— including in many so-called “green” and “organic” brands.
While many are aware of PFAS pollution in water, the testing finds that we’re also exposed by the things we wear or eat. The testing highlights the dangerous unknowns in many U.S. supply chains, as many brands are not intentionally adding PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which contribute to cancer, reproductive and immune systems damages, elevated cholesterol and other health issues.
It’s not all bad news: many products tested clean. In this guide you can quickly find PFAS-free products and those that were contaminated.
Mamavation's floss report ranked products by category – "Not our favorite," "Better" and "Best" – with smaller, "eco" companies like Tom's of Maine, the Humble Co., and Desert Essence falling into the latter.
Mamavation also tested several flosses marketed for children and found no evidence of PFAS in any samples.
Should you stop flossing? "Absolutely not," Segedie said. Dentists recommend flossing to keep teeth free from food debris, decay, dental plaque, gingivitis, periodontal disease, gum disease and bad breath.
The results suggest companies, trade groups and regulators need to take a more conservative approach in approving and using chemicals in consumer products, Collins said.
"The ADA needs to understand that the seductions of chemicals with high technical and cost performances, like most PFAS compounds, have to be resisted until the health, environmental and fairness performances have been quantified and assessed and integrated into the value proposition," Collins said. "From where I am looking, all PFAS compounds will fail competent scrutiny in this area."
Read more product test results from the Mamavation and EHN.org investigation.
People who live in areas that come with long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution face a 51% higher chance of dying from Covid-19, and thousands of lives could have been saved during the pandemic if air quality standards were met, a new public health research study has found.
The study, which focused on California residents, is the latest of several exploring the impacts of air pollution on the incidence and severity of Covid-19 infections. And the research adds to a growing body of global research highlighting the importance of reducing air pollution for overall health.
The researchers determined that 9%, or at least 4,250 Covid-19 deaths, could have been prevented if California met national air quality standards.
The most vulnerable people in terms of air pollution exposure were likely to be Latinos and those living in low-income areas, the researchers found.
The study, published in Environmental Advances, was authored by Paul English, director of the Public Health Institute and its “Tracking California” program, along with ten other researchers, including some affiliated with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) department of medicine and the UCSF department of epidemiology and biostatistics.
“People of color live in communities that have some of the worst air pollution, and also have greater chances of getting sick and even greater chances of dying from COVID,” English said in a release announcing the study.
“This is really concerning, especially in regions like the San Joaquin Valley where wildfires are occurring right now and contributing to greater air pollution. We can save lives by making sure families and schools have access to free and low-cost air cleaners, and that outdoor workers receive paid time off and adequate personal protection during high-pollution events like wildfires,” English stated in the release.
Vehicle emissions, including from commuters and from farm machinery in agricultural areas, were big contributors to the harmful air pollution, according to English. Dust from agricultural areas is also a factor, he said in an interview.
Farmworkers and other outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the pollution, he said.
The worst areas for air pollution were the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast air basin. Credit: The New Lede.
The authors examined data for 3.1 million SARS-CoV-2 infections and 49,691 COVID-19 deaths in California from February 2020 to February 2021, looking at where the people infected with the respiratory disease lived.
The study found that people living in the highest quintile of long-term exposure to air pollution – defined as particulate matter less than 2.5 pm in diameter (PM2.5) – had a 20% higher risk of contracting Covid-19 compared to people living in the lowest quintile.
The researchers said that for those people living in those highest exposure areas, the risk of death from COVID-19 was 51% higher when compared to people living in the lowest exposure areas.
PM2.5 describes fine inhalable particles that can lodge in the lungs and pass into the bloodstream, potentially also impacting an individual’s heart.
English said that while conducting the research, the study team saw a striking difference in the wide range of air quality in the state.
“When you compare the areas that have the cleanest air, the air quality is up to nine times [900 percent] better than in dirty air areas,” he said. The worst areas for air pollution were the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast air basin, he said.
Looking across the US, the ramifications literally translate to life and death.
“There’s probably 140,000 total deaths due to outdoor air pollution in the US,” said English. “If you say California is about 10% of that, that’s 14,000 deaths due to air pollution each year.”
Jose Luis Velez, founder of the southern California-based environmental justice group Comité Cívico Del Valle, said the statistics resonated with his experience of the pandemic.
“It’s a bad combination when you have a virus that attacks your respiratory system and your respiratory system is already compromised,” said Velez. “People aren’t understanding how deadly air pollution is. It’s out of control. We can’t just continue to ignore these issues. Our families, our kids, are getting sick. We have more respiratory problems than ever before.”
In Imperial County, where 85% of residents are Hispanic, there were 5,255 deaths from Covid-19 per million compared to 2,390 deaths per million statewide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
English said Imperial County was a “really highly polluted area with particulate matter.”
About 15.1% of Imperial County residents are affected by asthma and the county has twice as many pediatric, asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations compared to the state’s average, according to a 2021 study by the University of California, Riverside, California.
In 2009, Comité Cívico Del Valle sued the EPA for its failure to hold the county accountable for federal air standards compliance. “They let the county go on and drag their feet and never put together a plan of how they’re going to get to compliance,” he said. The suit was settled in 2010.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) commissioned the new study to get a detailed picture of the specific risks for people living in California, which ranks worst in air pollution in the nation.
The data should help inform new policies, said Bonnie Holmes, chief of the CARB health and exposure assessment branch.
“These studies underscore the critical importance of our air pollution control work, and that is the big policy implication,” she said.
California’s recent move to prohibit the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 should help reduce air pollution, but will not solve the problem.
The new study concludes with a warning: “With the growing evidence from studies worldwide that suggest there is additional risk of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality associated with air pollution, reducing concentrations of air contaminants is now even more critical to protecting public health,” the study concludes.
(This story was originally published in The New Lede)
Unless you've been off the grid, you know that Congress passed – and Biden on Tuesday signed – the biggest package of climate change legislation the United States (and the world) has seen.
At Environmental Health Sciences, we put news and science into context. What we're seeing right now is optimism:
Those in the trenches working on climate mitigation, climate solutions, clean energy and climate justice say goals that felt impossible yesterday feel achievable today.
There are caveats of course – and we will get to those in a minute. But today's not a day to let the bad news overshadow the good.
So much is happening, so quickly, you need a way to keep up. Our team works around the clock across 11 time zones to find the most consequential news about our health and environment.
Here's a quick roundup of some reporting you may not have seen amid the torrent of coverage.
Start with the basics.
One of the better overviews comes from vlogger Hank Green, who in 23 minutes dissects the bill, its flaws, the history of climate obstruction and how the Inflation Reduction Act overcomes them. There's even, as a friend noted, "a bit of cathartic rage" at the end as a bonus.
Green captures the optimism of the moment: "Nothing gets done if you don't believe it can get done. And I, for the first time in decades of this, have started to believe it can be done."
It's long, but graphics, factoids and an interview with EPA administrator Michael Regan make it worth your time.
The Inflation Reduction Act contains a number of provisions for home efficiency credits
How does the bill help you?
"One of the most damaging legacies of the intersection between racism and fossil fuels is how highways were built to cut through Latino and Black communities…. The Inflation Reduction Act includes a federal infusion of cash for community projects aimed at addressing some of the harmful effects of these projects."
A hiker crosses an alpine meadow in Montana's Lee Metcalf Wilderness
Credit: Douglas Fischer/EHS
Major news outlets have flooded the zone with coverage, and Politico and the Washington Post are no exception. They have two fine sidebars worth attention:
The Post's Brady Dennis looks away from high-tech solutions to focus on how the bill helps … Mother Nature.
"The Inflation Reduction Act includes an acknowledgement that land is a profound ally in the fight against climate change," he writes.
And Politico's Catherine Morehouse has a delightful little poke of GOP governors opposing the Democrat-driven climate bill – and how their states stand to gain.
North America's new 'battery belt' largely overlaps its old 'rust belt.'
Axios has a sharp piece looking at how investments in battery tech promise to revive America's heartland.
All is not roses.
This is a compromise bill, and while it pours $360 million into climate change efforts, people in neighborhoods already dealing with a lot of pollution fear they will face more harm, not less, NPR's Rebecca Hersher cautions in a piece worth reading.
EHS founder Pete Myers is particularly alarmed at funding for largely discredited carbon capture and sequestration technologies
Charles Harvey and Kurt House, who launched a carbon capture venture 14 years ago, say as much in a NYT op-ed: Every Dollar Spent on This Climate Technology Is a Waste
Juice Media, an Australian political satire group, skewers the concept in an entertaining 2021 video:
The Australian Government has made an ad about Carbon Capture and Storage, and it’s surprisingly honest and informative.
\u201cI feel like the media is having a hard time metabolizing the fact that this congress has been historically productive. And acknowledging the size of these accomplishments, and the degree of difficultly, - it\u2019s just hard to do accurately without sounding a bit left leaning.\u201d— Brian Schatz (@Brian Schatz) 1660684329
A tweet thread from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, puts the Inflation Reduction Act in a larger perspective.
The scale of legislative productiveness out of Congress, Schatz notes, is hard to portray accurately "without sounding a bit left-leaning."
The climate bill is just the latest in a string of legislation that includes an infrastructure package, postal reform, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, veterans support.
"When you add all of this up, it’s not just a lot of bills. Each one of these was thorny, complicated, difficult, and ambitious," he tweeted.The full tweet thread
We work hard to get you the top news when you need it. Environmental Health Sciences publishes two websites:
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Is our optimism overrated or clearly biased? Did we miss a story you found insightful?
We'd love to hear from you! Send your thoughts on the climate bill – or pass along a story URL or informative tweet thread: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Twenty years after first suggesting it, federal regulators on Monday proposed adding a group of plastic additives common in toys, flooring and fabric coatings to its list of toxic chemicals, concluding that it can "reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer and serious or irreversible chronic health effects in humans."
The ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency affects DINP, a family of di-ester phthalates widely used as plasticizers. It comes 22 years after the EPA first proposed adding DINP to the list, known as the Toxics Release Inventory.
Manufacturers treat plastics with DINP-category chemicals to provide greater flexibility and softness to the final product, the EPA said.
Drums of DINP ready for shipment
If finalized, the rule will require manufacturers that make or process more than 25,000 pounds of DINP-category chemicals per year – or use more than 10,000 pounds annually – to report certain information to the agency. That data include quantities of DINP-category chemicals released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste.
The Toxics Release Inventory is meant to give the public information about chemicals at facilities in their area, how they are being managed, and if they are being released into the environment. Facilities that make and use the chemicals and the waste sites where the products end up are disproportionately found near impoverished neighborhoods, often home to People of Color.
DINP-class chemicals are suspected carcinogens. The European Food Safety Authority considers them to be endocrine-disrupting compounds that interfere with testosterone. The EPA attributes exposure to developmental effects and kidney and liver toxicity.
Earlier this year, the Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disrupting Strategies coalition, a group of senior researchers concerned about chemicals that hijack hormonal function, issued a warning about DINP to manufacturers seeking a replacement for other harmful plasticizers such as DEHP.
"Enough is known to classify it as an anti-androgen, a developmental neurotoxicant, and a potential obesogen," the group said. "Precautionary science argues against that replacement." HEEDS is a project of Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of EHN.org.
Patricia Taylor, former director of the Plastics and Waste Reduction Project at Environment and Human Health, Inc., called this a "possible sea change" for federal chemical management.
"The public will gain access to this information and this will allow them to better protect themselves against exposures and to ask for monitoring, regulations, and restrictions or bans," she said. That data, she added, can be used by researchers to analyze health and environmental impacts in studies such as health and life-cycle assessments.
Taylor noted two other striking takeaways from Monday's decision:
First, federal regulators first raised alarm about health impacts associated with the chemical in 2000. "This is a clear example of the glacial pace of the review process at EPA," she said.
Second, the ruling covers a class of chemicals, rather than a specific one – suggesting the EPA is "inching towards" policies that regulate chemicals by class. "This is something being strongly recommended by independent scientists who research chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenols and other endocrine disruptors used to make plastics," Taylor said.
"Such restrictions by class would prevent some of the 'regrettable substitutions'" – many compounds used in "BPA-free" products are just as harmful as BPA, for instance – "which are now standard practice by industries when faced with information that a chemical in their product is harmful to health or the environment."
Four popular brands of toilet paper 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 tested 17 brands of toilet paper at an Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab and found levels of fluorine ranging from 10 parts per million (ppm) to 35 ppm in four of the brands: Charmin Ultra Soft Toilet Paper, Seventh Generation 100% Recycled Bath Tissue, Tushy Bamboo Toilet Paper and Who Gives a Crap Bamboo Toilet Paper. Fluorine is a strong indicator of the “forever chemicals”— which have been linked to everything from cancer to birth defects to lower vaccine effectiveness.
The levels found are low, which is an indication that the ‘forever chemicals’ are not added to the toilet paper on purpose, rather, inadvertently through manufacturing or packaging.
EHN.org partially funded the testing and Pete Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes Environmental Health News, reviewed the findings. The report comes on the heels of an EHN.org investigation on PFAS in everything from sports clothes to makeup.
While the health impacts of PFAS exposure via skin contact are still somewhat unclear, Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program told Mamavation: “PFAS cause effects in males and females of animals and people in nearly every organ and at every life stage. Because toilet paper is created to rub up against such vascular parts of the body, it’s logical to be concerned with this exposure.”
The report points out that PFAS are not the only concern in toilet paper — bleaching or using dyes made from petroleum (used to change the paper’s color) can irritate body parts, especially women’s vulvas. Previous research has also found formaldehyde, polyethylene glycol, and undisclosed fragrances in some toilet paper. In addition, toilet paper made from recycled paper can contain harmful chemicals like BPA.
The Mamavation report includes a list of toilet papers that not only were fluorine-free, but made from mostly sustainable materials, including ECOS Treeless Bamboo & Sugarcane Bathroom Tissue, Caboo Tree-Free Bamboo Bath Tissue, Nature Z Way Bamboo Bath Tissue, and others.
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.
Want to know more about PFAS? Check out our comprehensive guide.
Have something you want tested for PFAS? Let us know and write us at email@example.com.