23 November 2020
Rob Bilott, the attorney who sued DuPont about PFAS health harms in Clarksburg, W.Va., says next generation compounds just as dangerous.
From cell phones to bicycle helmets to IV bags, plastic has molded society in ways that make life easier and safer. But the synthetic material also has left harmful imprints on the environment and perhaps human health.
Flickr.com<p>Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, which are flame-retardants added to polyurethane foam furniture cushions, mattresses, carpet pads and automobile seats, also are widespread.</p><p>The plastics industry maintains that its products are safe after decades of testing.</p><p>"Every additive that we use is very carefully evaluated, not just by the industry, but also independently by government agencies to look at all the materials we use in plastics," said Mike Neal, a consumer and environmental affairs specialist at PlasticsEurope, an industry trade association, and a co-author of the report.</p><p>But some of these chemicals have been shown to affect reproduction and development in animal studies, according to the report. Some studies also have linked these chemicals with adverse effects in people, including reproductive abnormalities.</p><p>"We have animal literature, which shows direct links between exposure and adverse health outcomes, the limited human studies, and the fact that 90 to 100 percent of the population has measurable levels of these compounds in their bodies," said John Meeker, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a lead author. "You take the whole picture and it does raise concerns, but more research is needed."</p><p>Shanna Swan, director of the University of Rochester's Center for Reproductive Epidemiology, conducted studies that found an association between pregnant women's exposure to phthalates and altered genital development in their baby boys.</p><p>Also, people with the highest exposure to BPA have an increased rate of heart disease and diabetes, according to one recent study. Animal tests studies of PBDEs have revealed the potential for damaging the developing brain and the reproductive system. </p><p>Yet the effects on human health remain largely unknown. To help shed more light on the issue, the report recommends more sophisticated human studies.</p><p>"It's tough to have a smoking gun with a single animal study or observational human study," Meeker said. "We need to have different types of studies indicating a consistent pattern to more definitively determine health effects resulting from these chemicals."</p><p>But testing humans for endocrine disruptors can be tricky because phthalates and BPA pass through the body so quickly. In addition, tests for each chemical cost about $100 a pop.</p><p>Deciding which chemicals to test and at what dose is also an issue. To date, most studies have addressed single chemicals, and there are limited data on the interactions between chemicals. Compounding the problem is the discovery that endocrine disrupting chemicals may have effects at doses lower than those used in the Environmental Protection Agency's standard toxicity tests.</p>
Amy Soto<p>"It's a very complicated picture and the laboratory model of just taking one isolated chemical and giving it to a genetically pure strain of rats in clean cages, clean air and clean water and seeing what it does just doesn't come close to mimicking the human situation," Swan said.</p><p>Many researchers recommend studies that test pregnant women as well as their children. The National Children's Study will do just that by examining environmental influences on more than 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21.<br><br>"There are so many questions now with these chemicals in relation to cardiovascular disease, age and puberty, obesity, developmental disorders," said Swan. "We don't know what's causing it, only hints, so the beauty of the National Children's Study is that we can look at all of these endpoints and it should reveal a lot of answers."</p><p>Plastic's problems extend beyond the human body, according to the report. More than one-third of all plastic is disposable packaging like bottles and bags, many of which end up littering the environment.</p><p>Although the image of a bird tangled in a plastic necklace is by now burned into the public's eye, ingestion of plastic fragments is much more common. Once inside, plastic can pack a one-two punch by both clogging an animal's stomach and poisoning it with chemicals that have concentrated in the plastic. Some chemicals are then transferred to the food web when animals eat them.</p><p>More than 180 species of animals have been documented to ingest plastic debris, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals, according to the report.</p><p>Unfortunately, collecting data on plasticizers' impacts on wildlife suffers the same pitfalls as studying human health. Still, there is already evidence that chemicals associated plastics might harm wildlife.</p><p>For example, laboratory studies have shown that phthalates and BPA affect reproduction in all studied animal groups and impair development in crustaceans and amphibians.</p><p>"While there is clear evidence that these chemicals have adverse effects at environmentally relevant concentrations in laboratory studies, there is a need for further research to establish population-level effects in the natural environment," according to the report.</p><p>Charles Tyler, a professor at the University of Exeter School of Biosciences in the United Kingdom and a senior author of the report, said that scientists have shown that "some of these chemical compounds are getting into the environment and are in some environments at concentrations where they can produce biological effects in a range of wildlife species."</p><p>Traveling from coast to coast, plastic can endure for thousands of years due to the reduced UV exposure and lower temperatures of aquatic habitats.</p><p>Barnes demonstrates plastic's mobility with his account of a plastic sighting during an expedition to the Amundsen Sea where he took biological samples, the first there ever. The Amundsen, located in the Pacific Sector of Antarctica, is the only sea in Antarctica with no research station on its coast and the nearest urban center thousands of miles away.</p><p>"Even for us, getting in was a challenge because there's so much ice and it's so difficult to get there," said Barnes. "But even in that remotest of environments, there was plastic floating on the sea surface.</p><p>Plastic also serves as a floating transportation device that allows alien species to hitchhike to unfamiliar parts of the world, threatening biodiversity. Global warming further aids the process by making previously inhospitable areas like the Arctic livable for invasive species, which can be detrimental to local species.</p><p>For example, plastic items are commonly colonized by barnacles, tubeworms and algae. Along the shore of Adelaide Island, west of the Antarctic Peninsula, ten species of invertebrates were found attached to plastic strapping that was littering the ice.</p><p>"Raising the temperature just one degree can make the difference between getting to someplace and actually surviving once you get there," said Barnes.</p><p>Plastic is so resilient that even burying it deep within the earth doesn't keep it from impacting the environment. Currently it accounts for approximately 10 percent of generated waste, most of which is landfilled. But, as the report notes, placing plastics in a landfill may simply be storing a problem for the future, as plastic's chemicals often sink into nearby land, contaminating groundwater.</p>
We all are exposed daily to bisphenol-A (BPA) and other bisphenols – estrogen-like substances added to food can liners, paper receipts and plastic containers.
This is part 1 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst environmental health scientist Laura Vandenberg. (Credit: Umass.edu)<p>"Endocrine disruptors are harming people and we're not regulating them to any extent right now," Carol Kwiatkowski, executive director of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a nonprofit research institute that advocates against the production and use of chemicals that interfere with healthy hormone function, told EHN. </p><p>"A lot of endocrine scientists have been banging their heads against that wall for a long time and haven't made any progress in changing the risk assessment process."</p><p>It is clear that the FDA is not using modern science in protecting the public from potentially toxic chemicals. It is also clear that BPA and other endocrine disruptors threaten to disrupt the status quo of toxic chemical regulation. "BPA creates a tipping point," Laura Vandenberg, an environmental health researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst's School of Public Health, told EHN. "If the FDA finds out that they have been wrong about BPA — or wrong about how they evaluate chemicals for safety — that means they are wrong about the 10,000 other chemicals behind BPA in line for the same sort of evaluation."</p><p>Vandenberg, who is not involved in Clarity, is among scientists skeptical that the groundbreaking effort will result in a fair assessment of BPA. The FDA, she said, has "a vested interest in not being wrong."</p>
Cheryl Rosenfeld, a biologist at the University of Missouri and another Clarity investigator. (Credit: University of Missouri)<p>Beginning in the 1950s, BPA became a key ingredient in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins — finding its way into everything from Tupperware to the lining of food cans. "That's where the problem starts," Ana Soto, an endocrinologist at Tufts University and another Clarity investigator, told EHN.</p><p>The FDA officially approved BPA for use in food and beverage containers in 1963. They classified it as a "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS) compound, since it had already been around for a few years and there was no obvious evidence of harm. By the late 1980s, the U.S was producing nearly a billion pounds of BPA a year. Even scientific laboratories began working with BPA-laden instruments. In 1993, endocrinologists at Stanford University discovered that BPA was leaching from polycarbonate flasks in their laboratory.</p><p>The first published studies to raise concern about BPA's low-dose health effects came a few years later, in 1997. Frederick vom Saal and his colleagues had found exposure to tiny amounts of BPA altered the prostates and reproductive systems of laboratory mice. Vom Saal, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and another Clarity investigator, warned viewers in a February 1998 episode of <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/nature/interviews/vomsaal.html" target="_blank">PBS's Frontline about the threat posed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals</a> used in plastics and other consumer products.</p><p>"We understand now, with new techniques, that, in fact, cells are extremely responsive to these chemicals," vom Saal stated on the show. "What you have now is clearly enough scientific information to warrant concern and a change in the regulatory approach to these chemicals." Concern grew, as did the body of research.</p><p><a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/ohat/bisphenol/bisphenol.pdf" target="_blank">By 2008</a>, enough evidence had accumulated that the NTP labeled the chemical as possibly harmful for babies. Canada responded by declaring BPA toxic and manufacturers across North America, including baby bottle and sippy cup makers, started phasing it out of their products. Wal-Mart, REI, Lululemon, Toys-R-Us and other retailers, too, began pulling products with BPA off their shelves. The market was soon flooded with BPA-free products — although most of the substitutes that landed in stores share similar chemistry with BPA and pose similar health concerns.</p><p>"The science is growing exponentially. We can't keep up with it," said Kwiatkowski, of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange. "And we have to take it all very seriously, because the preponderance of endocrine-related disorders in humans today is just skyrocketing."</p>
Researchers Fred vom Saal and Wade Welshons at their University of Missouri lab. (Credit: Brian Bienkowski)<p> Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the guidelines are "a good starting point to see if there's evidence of harm," and "allow regulators from Japan to Sweden to North Africa to look at data the same way." However, she added, these guidelines "should not be used to eliminate evidence of harm." </p><p> Such standardized studies can also be pricey to conduct, often beyond the budgets of academics. And the FDA's traditional targets for tests, such as weighing organs and looking for other overt signs of toxicity, generally do not consider the unique effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals — some of which can be subtle such as behavioral changes or infertility years down the road. </p><p> "You can't weigh a brain to find out what is going on in there," Soto said. </p><p> In 2001, the <a href="https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/pressctr/mtgs_wkshps/2000/lowdosepeerfinalrpt.pdf" target="_blank">NTP appeared to agree</a>. They concluded in a report that published studies had provided evidence for the effects of BPA exposure at or below the safety standard set by the FDA. And they recommended a reconsideration of the current testing paradigm. </p><iframe src="https://e.infogram.com/e9cd60bd-fe58-4634-b91c-668d293885aa?src=embed" title="BPA swimming pool" width="700" height="273" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border:none;" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe><p> The plastics industry pushed back, funding the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a group that had received financial support from chemical companies in the past, to do a separate review of the literature on BPA. That assessment determined that only two large studies—both funded by industry—were relevant and reliable enough to consider. Both studies would go on to make regular appearances in subsequent FDA reports. </p><p> Doerge was a co-author on FDA's most recent safety assessment of BPA, released in 2014, which reaffirmed its position that the chemical is safe at levels of exposure from food contact uses. "No new information was identified to suggest revision of the existing safety assessment level," <a href="https://www.fda.gov/media/90582/download" target="_blank"> wrote the authors</a>. </p><p> The report was an update of the agency's <a href="http://docplayer.net/102806848-Scientific-peer-review-of-the-draft-assessment-of-bisphenol-a-for-use-in-food-contact-applications.html" target="_blank">2008 assessment</a>, for which the FDA relied heavily on the same two industry-funded guideline studies considered in the Harvard group's analysis and discarded hundreds of non-GLP studies published by academics that nonetheless found low-dose effects of BPA. </p><p> An external <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237734993_Scientific_peer-review_of_the_draft_assessment_of_bisphenol_A_for_use_in_food_contact_applications" target="_blank">FDA committee had even reviewed the 2008 report and disagreed</a> with the agency's decision to exclude those other peer-reviewed papers. "The draft FDA report does not articulate reasonable and appropriate scientific support for the criteria applied to select data for use in the assessment," they wrote. "Specifically, the Subcommittee does not agree that the large number of non-GLP studies should be excluded from use in the safety assessment." </p><iframe src="https://e.infogram.com/f013adea-774f-4e13-86e8-8408f9cdcd61?src=embed" title="Annual health costs" width="700" height="676" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="border:none;" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe><p> Of note: A <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16256977" target="_blank">2006 analysis</a> found that 11 out of 11 industry-funded studies found BPA had no significant action, while 109 of 119 studies that had no industry funding did find effects of BPA. </p><p> Yet those industry-funded studies tend to use more expensive GLP protocols and qualify as guideline studies. "The non-guideline studies are basically ignored. To me, that's like wearing blinders," said Birnbaum. "Science has continued to advance, and I think there are questions that we really didn't know about 30, 40, 50 years back that people are asking today." </p><p> "If you don't ask the question, you're not going to get the answer," she added. </p><p> Jerry Heindel, the health scientist administrator at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) when Clarity was initiated, agreed. "Maybe these guideline studies aren't as gold standard and terrific as people have thought," he told EHN. "Problem is, the endpoints are so simplistic and old-fashioned." </p><p> But he and other scientists also acknowledge that the FDA has an extremely high bar to justify adoption of new approaches, let alone bans on a chemical. Regulatory agencies are in a tight spot and have to first ensure they can't be sued, added Heindel, who retired from NIEHS in 2016 and founded Commonweal's Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategy (HEEDS), a hub for scientists working on endocrine disruptors. "If they come out and say a chemical is toxic and we need to ban it," he said, "then they have to feel confident they have the data that will stand up in the court of law." </p>
Gail Prins, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Clarity investigator (right). (Credit: uic.edu)<p> On February 23, 2018, upon completion of the draft version of the government's Clarity Core Study, <a href="https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-stephen-ostroff-md-deputy-commissioner-foods-and-veterinary-medicine-national-toxicology" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the FDA released a public statement</a>, suggesting that the findings supported its position that "currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers." </p><p> The move stirred significant press, mostly reassurances to the public of the chemical's safety; FDA's collaborators were not pleased. Some suggested that the very agency responsible for ensuring our safety is actively working to avoid dealing with a massive experiment that is disrupting our hormones from birth. </p><p> "I smell a big fat rat here," Gail Prins, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Clarity investigator, wrote in an email to Nigel Walker of NIEHS after learning of the statement. "The FDA is not playing fair." </p><p> Walker, a toxicologist who helped lead Clarity, responded by sending a scathing email to officials at the FDA. Members of that agency's upper management, he wrote, were "reneging on their own values in regulatory science," and "using the Clarity core study as a quasi-definitive human risk assessment document to affirm the current FDA policy on safety of BPA." In additional emails obtained by EHN, Walker went on over subsequent days to write of FDA officials' "shenanigans," calling their actions "disingenuous" and "disrespectful." He referred to himself as "peeved." </p><p> He also made a point to state that he had no conflicts of interest himself: "I don't have a horse in this race," wrote Walker. </p><p> The FDA declined to comment on the statement, or on the subsequent criticisms from collaborators. A culture clash of sorts continues between the FDA and NIEHS. Multiple scientists with the latter agency shared similar sentiments about the FDA's conduct in Clarity. Walker declined a phone interview but stated in an email to EHN that "there may from time to time be disagreements on various issues or topics." </p><p> Birnbaum said that while she was not surprised by the FDA's conclusions from the government's portion of Clarity — it was, after all, consistent with their historic stance on the chemical's safety — she did not share their opinion. "I think we reserve the right to disagree, respectfully," she said. And Bucher of the NIEHS and NTP offered his take: "The FDA conclusions are the FDA's view of how they look at data from these kinds of studies... To us, it would be more valuable to try to integrate this information and then come up with statements as to interpretations." </p><p> In September 2018, the government released the final version of its Core Study report. The FDA also advertised and hosted a webinar to detail their findings, which was preempted by outside academics who held their own webinar to present contrasting conclusions. The academic webinar was organized and moderated by Myers of Environmental Health Sciences.</p>
This is part 3 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.
University of Missouri researchers Fred vom Saal and Wade Welshons. (Credit: Brian Bienkowski)<p>Which is worse, deeming something as safe when it's not or saying something causes harm when it doesn't?</p><p>The two scenarios are referred to, respectively, as false negatives and false positives. "The FDA uses very, very conservative statistics with a low risk of false positives," said Patisaul. "That's always been a sticky wicket with the FDA versus academic scientists."</p><p>By applying conservative statistics throughout the Clarity Core Study that generally minimize false positives, noted Patisaul, the government increased the risk of false negatives — or the chance of deeming a chemical innocent when it was actually guilty of harm. </p><p>It is a balancing act, explained Bailer. With conservative methods, you may be less likely to see real effects. "But the counter response is: You are less likely to see false effects," he told EHN.</p><p>Even with a high bar, statistically significant effects emerged from the government's data. In tests for mammary gland cancerous growths, for example, the Core Study detected significant effects at the lowest dose of BPA in the part of the study where exposure stopped when the rats were weaned. But through the government's "weight-of-evidence approach," they discounted the finding as "unlikely" to be a "plausible BPA treatment-related lesion." </p><p>Their rationale: similar effects were not observed at the highest doses, the effect was not observed in animals exposed over their entire lifetimes and, as noted earlier, lesions were found in historical controls. (EHN gave the FDA a chance to comment, but the agency declined.)</p>
Researchers Ana Soto, Carlos Sonnenschein and Silva Krause looking at mammary glands from a BPA experiment at Tufts University. (Credit: Ana Soto)<p>Patisaul disagreed with their methods and rationale. "There are certainly cases where developmental-only exposure has different effects than lifelong exposure," she said. "Just because you don't know why something is happening doesn't mean that the phenomenon is erroneous or 'not biologically plausible.'"</p><p>"This attitude is certainly not precautionary nor protective of public health and emphasizes the lengths to which this group will go to bury potentially important outcomes," added Patisaul.</p><p>Vom Saal said he faced a particularly high bar to uncover potentially important outcomes in his Clarity study. The weights of the rats that the FDA provided him for analysis of the effects of BPA on the development of the urogenital system, he explained, ranged widely — the heaviest rat weighed at least 250 percent more than the lightest rat. To prevent bias, all Clarity scientists were blinded to the BPA exposure levels of the animals and tissues that they received for study. Once the data were unblinded, vom Saal learned that his BPA-unexposed rats also weighed significantly less than the BPA-unexposed rats in the government's Core Study.</p><p>Increased variability in weights could cause increased variability in other measures of interest. A statistical fallout of that variability can be a watering down of the differences between exposed and unexposed rats. "This was just not done correctly," said vom Saal.</p>
Mice from Pat Hunt's lab. (Credit: Lynne Peeples)
This is part 4 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.
"This is the only time I've seen a company reach out to people with expertise." – Thomas Zoeller, UMass Amherst
Yes, the sweet smell of perfumes, even the most expensive ones you invest in, can leave you bewildered with dangerous reactions.
Kids exposed to phthalates prenatally and as 3-year-olds have decreased motor skills later in their childhood, according to a new study.
As reporters, we're used to asking questions.
Editor's note: This is adapted from a lecture Zoeller gave at the 51st Session of International Seminars on Planetary Emergencies: Science for Peace the World Over, in Erice, Italy, in August. It has been lightly edited.
Credit: Edward Cisneros/Unsplash<p>Every baby born – at least in the developed world – has well more than 100 industrial chemicals in their bloodstream at birth, demonstrating that they are exposed <em>in utero</em>. </p><p>In other words, humans are born pre-polluted. </p><p>This is a well-known situation among governments, so it is important to ask not only <em>why</em> and <em>how </em>the human population has become exposed to hundreds of chemicals, but also <em>why we allow it to continue.</em> </p><p>If a man in a suit were to knock on your door every morning offering a teaspoon of clear liquid to your children, you would certainly decline the offer, even if they said it was "government approved."</p><p>So why do we accept it when the exposures are "hidden"?</p><p>If chemical exposures are benign, then these questions are not important. However, there is sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that chemical exposures are currently causing harm to the human population, and that their effects profoundly increase health care costs, decrease the quality of life for millions of people, reduce cognitive function and increase the expression of neurobehavioral disorders, and that at least some of these effects can be passed from one generation to the next without further chemical exposure. </p><p>These are observations that have been confirmed by many of the world's most credible scientific organizations including the World Health Organization, the United Nations, many medical societies, and international groups of independent health science professionals. </p><p>We are, in short, affecting not only individuals and populations, but also human society and its future as we know it. </p>
Credit: Jonathan Chng/Unsplash<p>To begin to understand why we continue to contaminate the human population, it may be useful to break this large question down into more focused questions. </p><p>For example:</p><ol><li>Why do suppliers of products continue to make products with chemicals for which there is evidence of harm?</li><li><span></span>Why do consumers continue to ignore known risks?</li><li>Why do regulators (government agencies charged with public health protection) continue to approve chemicals for which there is evidence of harm?</li></ol> <p>Within this context, it is germane to emphasize that an important mechanism by which chemical exposures can harm the general population is by interfering with hormones. This is important because hormones control many – if not most – processes of human development and physiology. </p><p>In addition, the few chemicals that are evaluated for safety are evaluated by a strategy that is tuned to identify acute toxicity, not endocrine disruption. </p><p>We know for certain that a variety of chemicals and chemical classes affect human health by interfering with hormone systems. These include lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and other flame-retardants, perchlorate, some pesticides, BPA and other estrogenic chemicals. </p><p>In general, there are two inter-dependent reasons to explain each of these questions posed above. The first is that governments employ an antiquated discipline that informs us about toxicity and safety. This system is based on the 400 year-old concept that the "dose makes the poison."</p><p>The implication of this concept is that everything is toxic at some dose. In this way, arsenic is the same as water – it just takes more water to kill a person than it does arsenic. </p><p>This false equivalency supports a regulatory system that calculates the risk of harm to humans exposed to a variety of chemicals from pesticides designed to interact with biological systems to plasticizers, flame-retardants or heavy metals that are used only for their product functionality. </p><p>But, what is the harm that risk calculations are designed to prevent? Operationally, those harms, or adverse effects, are defined by the tests employed to evaluate the hazard. Cancer studies identify carcinogens; reproductive studies identify reproductive toxicants; endocrine studies identify endocrine disruptors; immunology studies identify immune toxicants. </p><p>These tests are prescribed studies with measurements that have been approved by various committees. However, there is good reason to question both the sensitivity of these measurements to identify hazards, and the degree to which they reflect hazards to the human population.</p><p>In addition, hazard identification is only the first step in calculating risks; the potency of the chemical and the exposure of humans to the chemical must then be determined to calculate risk. </p><p>A significant issue is that "potency" is a relative measure. </p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24177261" target="_blank">researchers who work for or with industry</a> defined the potency of chemicals that act like the female hormone estrogen by their ability to affect the weight of a rat uterus. This is a standard measure of estrogen activity used by industry and by the government, but there are other, more sensitive measures, such as the ability of estrogen to affect brain development. </p><p>Therefore, risk calculations of chemicals that act like the female hormone estrogen (e.g., BPA) are often based on its ability to affect the weight of a rat uterus. The lack of sensitivity of traditional measures of potency of chemicals to interfere with hormones is generalizable across endocrine systems. </p><p>In addition, if the measurement (e.g., uterine weight) is not plausibly reflective of a risk of disease or disability in the human population, it is difficult to understand why it is employed other than that it is the traditional measure. </p><p>Likewise, estimates of exposures are error prone at best. For example, reports of the effect of perchlorate in drinking water on thyroid function in newborn babies used measures of perchlorate exposure in municipal water supplies in Las Vegas, Nevada (contaminated) compared to Reno, Nevada (not contaminated) as a surrogate measure of exposure. </p><p>Perchlorate is known to inhibit thyroid function and thyroid hormone is essential for normal brain development. Therefore, calculating the risks associated with perchlorate exposure has important public health implications. However, more recent studies demonstrate that everyone is exposed to perchlorate, independent of municipal water contamination; therefore, risk estimates were flawed based on these early reports using city of residence as a surrogate for exposure to perchlorate.</p><p>A second reason that the status quo of human chemical exposures continues is that financial self-interest motivates campaigns to confuse both the public and regulatory agencies with the goal of limiting or avoiding regulations. The strategies employed, well-documented in a number of legal cases, range from outright fraud and corruption to the selective manipulation of information to make a chemical or product appear safe. </p><p>These two categories of explanations for the status quo are not mutually exclusive. The "principle" that the "dose makes the poison" lends itself quite readily to manipulation because it creates a false equivalency between chemicals that are causing harm in the human population and those (e.g., water) that are not. Moreover, it relies on potency as a primary metric, when potency is neither relevant to hazard identification nor an absolute metric. </p><p>There are two additional issues: One is that regulatory decisions are made by government agencies in secret collaboration with the industries that manufacture the chemical. It is secret because the data provided to regulatory agencies are proprietary. </p><p>However, the people from government and industry involved in these negotiations and decisions are not experts in human health and therefore must necessarily make decisions based on traditional ways of interpreting traditional data.</p><p>The second is that there seems to be a general acceptance that petrochemical-based products are required for modern life and that environmental regulations negatively impact market competitiveness. </p><p>The concept that petrochemical-based products are required for modern life implies necessarily that we cannot manufacture safer products using bio-based feedstocks and green chemistry. This is a particularly unflattering and pessimistic view of human society and it should be summarily rejected.</p><p>The concept that environmental regulations negatively impact market competitiveness has been refuted over and over again by a variety of economic studies. </p><p>Thus, when governments overtly move to restrict or eliminate environmental regulations, they are acting neither to protect public or environmental health nor to protect the market. Rather, they are acting to protect the market share of industries currently dominating the market. </p><p>In other words, the chemical industry and regulatory system has evolved to maintain itself rather than to protect public health.</p>
Credit: rawpixel/Unsplash<p>The consequence of this status quo is becoming increasingly clear. Non-communicable disease now results in more deaths per year than communicable diseases, and these chronic diseases profoundly impact quality of life and the global economy.</p><p>The human health effects of exposures to only a few endocrine disruptors for which there is sufficient data alone cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, not to mention impacting quality of life. </p><p>In addition, there is a cultural cost to the status quo of chemical regulations. </p><p>A large number of chemicals are known to affect brain development and cognitive function. Loss of IQ as well as increasing the incidence of neurobehavioral disorders in generations of children can have profound effects on society. It is germane here that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently reported that the incidence of autism in the U.S. is now 1 in 40 children. </p><p>Moreover, there is increasing evidence that the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals can be passed from one generation to the next. </p><p>What will be required for the status quo to change? </p><p>We must first admit that this status quo is not sustainable and is responsible for contributing significantly to human health and global economic challenges. That admission will provide the political will to begin to change this status. </p><p>It isn't simply a matter of loving our children more than we love money.<br></p><p>Rather it is a matter of clearly evaluating the system we have created and the price we are paying for its maintenance. It may not be uncommon that human enterprises reach a point where more effort goes into maintaining the status quo than adapting to new data to refine and improve the system. </p><p>But we can and should do better, both for our future and for our economy. </p><p>Reducing chemical exposure should be considered "low hanging fruit."</p><p> <em>Dr. R. Thomas Zoeller, Ph.D., is Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His research focuses on the role of thyroid hormone in brain development and the mechanisms by which environmental endocrine disruptors can interfere with thyroid hormone action in the developing brain.</em> </p>
Credit: iStock<p>The EPA's health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) sets a standard for the amount of PFAS chemicals a person can be exposed to over their lifetime without experiencing adverse health effects.</p> <p>New Jersey went beyond the federal standard and set its limit at 13 ppt. </p> <p>Michigan has spent at least $23 million to address its PFAS problem since its own action team was assembled in November 2017. In one year, they've managed to test every water system in the state that serves more than 25 people and the water supplies to all schools and daycare centers. The state has also provided filters and bottled water to communities where testing detected contamination. </p> <p>Michigan has confirmed PFAS contamination in at least 35 sites across the state; its investigation continues and 10 state departments are involved in a collaboration to address the crisis. The state has also begun testing fish and deer for the chemicals, and issued several notices not to consume those animals in regions where they were found to be contaminated with high levels of PFAS.</p> <p>Michigan's PFAS Action Response Team intends to issue drinking water standards by the end of the year, Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, said at the hearing. In the meantime, they've already set standards for groundwater (70 ppt) and surface water (11-12 ppt), so they can start cleanup initiatives. </p> <p>The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has experienced one of the most severe exposures detected in the country because of its proximity to 3M, the manufacturer of Scotchgard. Scotchgard was made with certain strands of PFAS that were discontinued in 2015. </p> <p>Local scientists refer to Minnesota's exposure as the "Megaplume" because it impacted five public water supplies and more than 1,000 private wells, all of which serve more than 140,000 residents. </p> <p>Minnesota sued 3M in 2010 and settled in February for $850 million.</p> <p>Mark Cuker, a lawyer in Eastern Pennsylvania who is handling several cases related to PFAS contamination in the state, urged the state Action Team on Friday to follow rules of common courtesy: When you make a mess, clean it up. Right now, he said, the local communities, rather than the Department of Defense, are paying to clean up the contamination from the former military bases. </p> <p>But if Pennsylvania creates a more stringent standard for PFAS contamination, like Vermont and New Jersey, the military may be forced to pay. "It's really that simple," he said. "The time is now for action."</p> <p>Pennsylvania Action Team members called for additional research. "What we know is that there's much more science that we need," said Sarah Boateng, executive deputy secretary with the state Department of Health<em>. </em></p> <p>This approach elicited frustration from community members.</p> <p>"We've heard so much from the Action Team about how much we don't know and how much more research is needed," said community member Phil Baiocchi. "What we do know is that there are filtration systems available that can protect our drinking water. Where I live, the private water supplier brazenly refuses to take action to filter because they don't have to yet. You could change that right away by declaring this a hazardous substance. Please."</p> <p>Baiocchi was referring to some carbon filtration systems believed to be capable of filtering out PFAS; the systems can be installed at water plants, homes or wells.</p>
Credit: US EPA<p>Lisa Cellini, a resident from Horsham Township in Eastern Pennsylvania, lives near a former Navy base contaminated by PFAS. At Friday's hearing, she said she's sick and many people around her are sick. She wants the state set a more stringent standard for what constitutes PFAS contamination, so the Navy will have to do a comprehensive cleanup around the base and provide free blood testing for residents to detect contamination.</p> <p>The lack of clear regulations is hurting the local economy, according to Mike McGee, the executive director of the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority. The Navy's ability to transfer the former Navy base over for redevelopment has been limited by a lack of guidelines for how to remediate PFAS contamination.</p> <p>Joanne Stanton, a member of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water outside of Philadelphia, said her son was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 6. Two other women who grew up on the same street also had children with the same brain tumors. </p> <p>"That's not normal," she said. "Children that have been exposed should be entitled to testing and monitoring to ensure the healthiest future possible."</p>
'You don't want to find out you're sick if you can't do anything about it.'
The death toll in North Carolina from Hurricane Florence currently stands at 39. In New Hanover County, an 85-year old man died from an infected cut after cleaning storm debris. Much of the storm-related pollution, and risk for infection, is in the water.