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Feb 202014


Public health experts have identified 11 industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants” that are likely contributors to the rise of neurological disorders and deficits among young people worldwide, including autism and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The chemicals are mainly toxic pollutants and byproducts such as arsenic and lead, which are released into the environment by coal plants and many other industrial operations, according to the report published in The Lancet Neurology on Friday.

Autism_MRI_605 Harvard.edu

MRI’s help scientists pinpoint the brain differences in people with autism. (Photo: Harvard University)

One compound, fluoride, stood out from the list because it’s treated as a desirable health supplement. Fluoride is deliberately added to the drinking water in hundreds of cities in the US and in other countries to help prevent dental decay.

The public health experts added fluoride to their list of 11 neurotoxicants because of studies showing excess consumption depresses IQs in children. This prompted the Fluoride Action Network, the leading American group opposed to fluoridation, to call for a reconsideration of fluoridation.

“In light of the new classification of fluoride as a dangerous neurotoxin, adding more fluoride to American’s already excessive intake no longer has any conceivable justification,” said FAN executive director Paul Connett. “We should follow the evidence and try to reduce fluoride intake, not increase it.”

Dozens of American cities, from Oneida, NY, to Davis, CA, have rejected fluoridation in recent years. And many more, including Austin and New York City, have groups actively trying to roll back what they see as the potentially harmful fluoridation of their city water systems. These groups argue that the risk of neurological or other health damage from ingesting fluoride is not worth it, now that fluoride toothpastes and topical treatments can be used to protect teeth.

Fluoridation proponents say the risk is small, and the return, stronger teeth, still justified.

The report’s authors, Drs. Phillippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and Philip J. Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, decided upon their list of 11 neurotoxicants because each has been found to contaminate food, water or soil and to interfere with the vulnerable neurological systems of children. That makes these chemicals likely suspects for triggering the autism, attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia and other “cognitive impairments” that affect millions of children and are increasing in frequency.

In addition, many of these chemicals are known to cross the “blood-brain barrier” affecting the fetuses of expose mothers. Studies indicate that both types of exposure – prenatal and direct — can be harmful even at low levels because the developing human brain is especially sensitive to these chemicals prenatally and in early childhood.

The doctors acknowledge that it will be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of the “pandemic” of cognitive difficulties besetting children around the world, but argue for the precautionary approach, which would reduce chemicals of concern even in the absence of “absolute proof” that they cause a specific health issue.

While genetics play a role in autism and other cognitive issues, “genetic factors seem to account for no more than perhaps 30-40 percent of all cases of neurodevelopmental disorders,” the doctors wrote. “Thus, non-genetic, environmental exposures are involved in causation, in some cases probably by interacting with genetically inherited predispositions.”


Arsenic poisoning, acute, Worldbank.org

Acute arsenic poisoning produces spots on the hands; early life exposure could impair intellectual abilities in children.

Five of the 11 chemicals cited in the Lancet review – the report is a compendium of the current science — had been identified in an earlier review by the team and published in 2006. Those were lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and toluene, and Grandjean and Landrigan updated their findings on those.

  • Lead is well known for causing cognitive deficits and behavior problems in children who are exposed to high levels, which is why it was removed from gasoline and paint decades ago. However, it continues to enter the environment via industrial pollution. Recent international studies confirm the new thinking that “no safe level of exposure to lead exists,” the Lancet article authors wrote.
  • Similarly, methylmercury, which accumulates in the food chain as animals and marine live consume lead contaminated food and water, has been well documented to affect fetuses, even at low levels, which is why pregnant women are warned to limit their seafood and fish consumption. Prenatal exposures to methylmercury have been detected in children as old as 14, and have been shown to cause abnormal sensory stimulation responses in a child’s brain, the researchers wrote.
  • PCBs are found in hydraulic fluids, plasticizers, fire retardants and pesticides and can get into drinking water. The EPA reports that chronic exposure can affect the thymus gland and harm the immune and nervous systems.
  • Arsenic gets into drinking water from treated wood, paints, mining and other industrial processes (or breakdowns, such as the recent coal ash containment leaks in to the Dan River in North Carolina). Long-term exposure “may have an increased risk of cancer,” according to the EPA and studies show it can impair cognitive function in children.
  • Toluene, a solvent found in paints, varnishes, lacquers and glues, has been associated with the development of asthma and acts on the central nervous system. Acute toxic exposure can cause seizures and a loss of balance; chronic exposure can decrease cognitive abilities, damage skin, cause anemia and impair bone formations.

The new report, Neurobehavioural Effects of Developmental Toxicity, added six more chemicals that interfere with brai

Fluoridosis Teeth promo

Studies show too much fluoride — evidenced here by teeth mottling — can have cognitive consequences.

n development: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodipenyltrichloroethane (DDT), tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

  • Manganese is a metal that’s a useful dietary ingredient, but only at low doses. While it’s a naturally occurring metal, excess amounts get into food and water from the runoff of manganese-containing pesticides, industrial waste and landfill leaching. Studies show that excessive consumption by children correlated with reduced achievement in math and increased hyperactivity. One study found that school-aged children living near manganese mining and processing facilities with airborne manganese concentrations showed diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills.
  • Fluoride, another naturally occurring compound, is consumed in excess when children get it in treated drinking water and also in certain foods and fruit juices, that have recently been found to contain higher levels of fluoride. The US Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association endorse adding fluoride to drinking water because it strengthens tooth enamel. But in 2011, the US Health and Human Services lowered its recommended level of fluoride in water after a study found many American children showed mottling on their teeth, indicating they were getting too much fluoride. The Lancet researchers included fluoride because a meta-analysis of 27 studies of children exposed to high levels of fluoride in drinking water, mainly in China, found that it lowered their IQs by an average of seven points. Critics of fluoridation in the US and around the world have been fighting to stop the practice, arguing that modern science shows it does more harm than good and that children’s teeth can be adequately protected with topical fluoride applications from toothpaste and at the dentist’s office.

    Organic Produce

    One way to avoid chlorpyrifos and other pesticides is to buy Organic-certified produce.

  • Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide, has been shown to lead to a small head circumference in babies born to exposed mothers. This indicates that the chemical affects brain growth, and “neurobehavioural deficits that have persisted to at least 7 years of age,” the Grandjean and Landrigan wrote.
  • DDT and its related metabolite, DDE, continue to cause problems in the environment. Even though the highly toxic DDT was banned in the US and other developed nations decades ago, it is still used in other parts of the world, such Africa where it is sprayed to fight mosquito-borne malaria. Furthermore, it persists in the environment for decades. One study cited linked DDE to delayed development in toddlers.
  • Tetrachloroethylene (TCE) is a solvent, which studies show has been correlated with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in children born to mothers who were exposed while pregnant and working as operating room nurses or on the factory floor. It’s no longer used as an anesthetic, though its use as an industrial degreaser has contributed to groundwater contamination in certain areas. It is present at hundreds of Superfund sites and has been found seeping into buildings from contaminated soil. TCE also is an acknowledged carcinogen.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been used as flame retardants in upholstered furniture, TV and computer casings and dozens more products. Epidemiologica
    Electronic Junk

    Discarded TVs and computers carry PBDEs to the landfill where they can leach into groundwater, one reason it’s important to recycle electronics.

    l studies in Europe and the US “have shown neurobehavioral deficits in children with increased prenatal exposures to these compounds.” The research is emerging, the scientists wrote, but PBDEs “should be regarded as hazards to human neurobehavioral development, although attribution of relative toxic potentials to individual PBDE cogeners is not yet possible. [i.e., they cannot draw a definite line from one type of PBDE to a specific disorder]” Some types of PBDEs have been phased out, but have been replaced by related chemicals. Environmentalists are highly concerned about these synthetic chemicals because they persist in soils, house dust and landfills.

“To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy,” Grandjean and Landrigan wrote. “Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.”

They proposed an international clearinghouse could test chemicals, share data, develop protective policies and identify new chemicals that pose a threat to the human brain.

May 072012

Green Right Now Reports

Autism now affects one in 88 kids, soaring in the last few decades, seemingly out of nowhere, to become a major health issue.

Early exposure to crop pesticides can degrade cognitive ability, some studies show.

Research shows that genetics plays a role in autism, but many scientists believe that environmental factors are as important in triggering the disorder. They continue to search for the cause or causes behind the explosion of autism.

A recent workshop at Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center focused on the 10 chemicals and heavy metals that many scientists strongly suspect could be among autism’s environmental triggers. (Autism Speaks.org was a co-sponsor of the workshop.)

Three researchers studying autism causes at Mount Sinai surveyed the scientific literature and singled out these compounds or classes of chemicals as potential culprits because leading researchers have found that they interfere with the prenatal and early development of children’s brains.

These pollutants, with links to the original research, include:

  • Lead (Jusko et al. 2008) Once found in house paint and gasoline, lead still turns up  in consumer products and even kids’ toys and jewelry. It’s been found to impair cognitive ability in children who’ve been exposed.
  • Methylmercury (Oken et al. 2008) Methylmercury is what mercury emitted into the air from coal plants is converted into in aquatic environments. Once in seafood, it is “biomagnified” as it moves up the food chain, becoming more potent. That’s why pregnant women and children should only eat limited amounts of tuna in a given week. It’s also been associated with cognition and behavioral issues.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs (Winneke 2011) These were once used in circuit boards, and a variety of products like coolants. They persist in the environment, leading to human exposure from food, soil and air. Neonatal or early exposure can contribute to lower IQs and Attention Deficit Disorder, according to a wide number of studies.
  • Organophosphate pesticides (Eskenazi et al. 2007; London et al. 2012) Both organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides are used in agriculture, meaning they arrive at your doorstep as food residues and also end up in rivers, lakes and soil. These pesticides have been found to child development, including neurological development.
  • Endocrine disruptors (Braun et al. 2011; Miodovnik et al. 2011) BPA, used to make polycarbonate plastic and canned food resin liners, is just one example of a known endocrine disruptor that turns up in every day products. Many other chemicals are believed to act as endocrine disruptors even in small amounts. The Braun study cited here found more anxiety and poorer emotional control among young children with the highest BPA exposure. Endocrine disruptors also have been found to negatively impact reproductive development.
  • Automotive exhaust (Volk et al. 2011) Tailpipe air pollution has been linked to increased risk of lung ailments and neurologic conditions, like autism.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs (Perera et al. 2009) These carcinogenic compounds are found in grilled meat, petroleum products and emissions from fossil fuels.
  • Brominated flame retardants (Herbstman et al. 2010) These were once nearly ubiquitous in cushions in upholstered furniture, hence, the new methods of making furniture, mattresses from cotton, wool and soy products. California still has a strict flame retardant requirement causing many manufacturers to continue their use. Even firefighters now say that the toxic fumes released by flame retardants during a house fire present an obvious danger.

These studies and others show that chemicals in the environment can injure the developing human brain by altering DNA structure and gene expression. The chemicals interfere at critical growth junctures, suppressing or exposing certain genetic coding.

The discovery that BPA was leaching from plastic baby bottles led to a flurry of BPA-free alternatives.

The three Mt. Sinai scientists who assembled this “short list” of chemicals implicated in autism, Philip J. Landrigan, Luca Lambertini and Linda Birnbaum, acknowledge that the “significance of early chemical exposures for children’s health is not yet fully understood.”

But they see that not as a reason to doubt the potential environmental causes of autism, but as a warning, as human activities continue to churn out more synthetic chemicals.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified 3,000 “high production volume” (HPV) chemicals that are in widest use and thus pose greatest potential for human exposure (Goldman 1998). These HPV chemicals are used today in millions of consumer products. Children and pregnant women are exposed extensively to them, and CDC surveys detect quantifiable levels of nearly 200 HPV chemicals in the bodies of virtually all Americans, including pregnant women (Woodruff et al. 2011),” the authors write in the article about their survey, A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Landrigan, the Ethel H. Wise Professor of Preventive Medicine, is a pediatrician and epidemiologist, who has published more than 500 scientific papers and five books. His studies on low-level lead exposure in children contributed to the government’s decision to remove gasoline from lead and paint in the 1970s.

Coal emissions create methyl mercury pollution in the food chain, contributing to depressed cognitive abilities in children.

Luca Lambertini, a molecular biologist and assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, received his PhD from the University of Bologna in 1995. His research focuses on genomic imprinting, long non-protein-coding RNAs, and mitochondrial DNA methylation,  including studying placental tissue to investigate genomic imprinting.

Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institutes of Environmental Health and Science (NIEHS), and the NTP, oversees a budget that funds multidisciplinary biomedical research programs and prevention and intervention efforts that encompass training, education, technology transfer, and community outreach. She has a PhD from the University of Illinois in microbiology and is a board certified toxicologist, formerly with the EPA.

Jan 142011

(Dr. Sarah Janssen, who has a doctorate in reproductive health and a masters in public health, is a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who studies the effects of chemicals on reproductive health. She lives in San Francisco. This blog first appeared on the NRDC’s Switchboard blog.)

By Dr. Sarah Janssen

Dr. Sarah Janssen, NRDC scientist

January is National Birth Defects Prevention month and while we have made great strides in raising awareness about the importance of folate and prenatal vitamins in early pregnancy, there are a number of birth defects which continue to rise which have been suspected of being caused by exposure to environmental chemicals.

A new study published today confirms that pregnant women carry multiple chemicals in their bodies that can be passed onto their fetus, putting them at risk for birth defects and health problems later in life. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and was published in the scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

The study evaluated data collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2003-2004 on over 250 pregnant women and is the first time the number of chemicals in pregnant women has been counted. Many of the 163 chemicals studied were found in 99 to 100% of pregnant women in the survey and most are known to be transferred to the fetus. The study found many different chemicals in the bodies of all the women tested – things like phthalates, BPA, flame retardants, heavy metals, and even chemicals which have been banned for over 30 years like PCBs.  It’s also worth noting that these women were tested for only a small subset of the chemicals that have been put into production in the U.S.  For the vast majority of chemicals which have been produced, we lack any data about exposure or toxicity.

The levels of chemical exposure shown in the analysis are low, but they are similar to levels which have been linked to harm in earlier studies. Further, many of the chemicals are capable of acting together in mixture to cause greater harm than they would alone. For example, mercury, flame retardants and PCBs have all been linked to neurological damage. Other chemicals like the flame retardants, PBDEs, antimicrobials like triclosan, and a rocket fuel ingredient called perchlorate have been linked to thyroid disruption.

This study adds to the weight of evidence that unborn babies are exposed to a soup of chemicals during vulnerable periods of development —  and furthermore, because the women in the study were tested for exposure to only a fraction of chemicals on the market– the study also suggests that pregnant women are likely carrying and passing onto their fetuses many more chemicals than have been reported here. This is a broken system and it puts our most vulnerable at risk.

NRDC is a founding member of a coalition that is working to remedy this problem. Join us in calling for stronger regulations and better oversight of chemicals and stay tuned for more information.

Sep 032010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Like eel? Tuna? Imported catfish?

You might want to find some new entrees. The Food & Water Watch’s Smart Seafood Guide warns that many such popular fish and seafood are simply not safe to eat, while others are not ethical to eat. Some marine food sources present both health and ethical problems.

A Bluefin tuna weighing nearly 1,000 pounds. Bluefin, prized as meat and sport fish, are nearing extinction. Their population has dropped by 90 percent in the last 50 years. (Photo: BigMarine Fish.com)

Take Bluefin tuna — or rather, DON’T take it. Bluefin has been dangerously overfished and is listed as endangered in the Atlantic. Its population has been decimated by overfishing. As a large fish that typically grows to several hundred pounds, it tends to bioaccumulate mercury.  Big fish pack on the toxic chemicals because as top-level predators they spend years eating contaminated little fish. So it’s not only nice, but smart, to stay away from Bluefin.

Yearning for eel? You could get stung with that choice as well, because yellow or silver eel tends to test high for mercury and PCBs, according to Food & Water Watch.

Craving caviar? Here’s a delicacy you may want to put on the same list with foie gras and shark fin soup, because its extraction is harmful, if not cruel. (Foie gras and shark fin soup would have to take top honors there. But you can see on the list below  how the harvest of these coveted eggs jeopardizes a struggling population of fish.)

The bottom line: Sadly, a lot of fish are in trouble, and many aren’t safe to eat because of pollution. Even farmed fish can offer up a hidden side dish of toxic pesticides and heavy metals that you wouldn’t want to ingest. (See catfish and salmon below.)

Here then, is Food and Water Watch’s “Dirty Dozen” for seafood (the name echoes the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides).

12 fish that fail at least two of FWW criteria for safe and sustainable seafood

Catfish, Imported (also known as Basa, Swai, Tra or Pangasius) – Imported catfish often come from Southeast Asia, where use of chemicals and antibiotics is barely regulated. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects less than two percent of imported seafood, imported catfish may be contaminated with antibiotic, pesticide or bacterial residues.

Caviar, especially from beluga and other wild-caught sturgeon - The beluga sturgeon, also known as the European or great sturgeon, is found primarily in the Caspian and Black Seas. The beluga sturgeon can live for over 100 years and does not reach maturity until at least 15 years of age. As a result of its long lifespan and slow maturation, this species has low resilience and is vulnerable to overfishing. The salted eggs of the beluga sturgeon, known as caviar, are considered a delicacy. The demand for highly valued beluga caviar has led to overfishing and poaching of the species. The construction of dams as well as pollution has further diminished the population.

Cod, Atlantic - The Atlantic cod stock collapsed in the early 1990s and is currently undergoing overfishing. It is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This species is frequently caught using bottom or otter trawls, nets that drag along the seafloor, and can damage the bottom habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life. This fishing method also can result in the unintended capture of many other types of marine life (bycatch).

Eel, American (also known as “yellow” or “silver” eel) - The American eel is known to have high concentrations of mercury and PCBs, toxic chemicals that can prove harmful to human health.

Flatfish, Atlantic (e.g. flounder, sole and halibut) - Most other Atlantic flatfish stocks are also seriously overfished. Atlantic halibut has been overfished off the coast of the Northeastern United States since the 1800’s. Despite management practices that currently prevent targeted fishing of Atlantic halibut and attempt to reduce bycatch of the species, the fishery has not recovered.

Imported King Crab  – Although many varieties of crabs live in North American waters, the United States also imports crab from other countries. Often, exporters will sell crab caught here in the U.S. to other countries where they can receive a higher price, while importing cheaper crab, often from Russia, for local consumption in the U.S. Exacerbating the situation, much of the crab caught in Russia exceeds the total allowable catch, making it illegal.

Imported Shrimp - Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, but about 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries where seafood production and employment conditions are often not well regulated.

Roughy, Orange – Orange roughy may contain levels of mercury contamination that pose a health risk for adults and children. Orange roughy are caught in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans with fisheries off the coast of New Zealand, Australia, Namibia, the Northeast Atlantic, and Chile. This fish is particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to its long lifespan and slow maturation.

Salmon, Atlantic and Farmed – Farmed salmon may contain levels of PCB contamination that pose a health risk to adults and children. It may also be contaminated with pesticides and antibiotics. Farmed salmon are usually raised in cages in open waters. These cages allow free-flow of anything from the farm into the wild, and promote transfer of diseases, especially sea lice, from caged to wild fish.

Seabass, Chilean – Chilean seabass may contain levels of mercury contamination that pose a health risk to adults and children. For nearly a decade, illegal fishing has plagued Chilean seabass populations, while killing seabirds by the thousands, including several species of endangered albatrosses.

Shark – Shark may contain levels of mercury contamination that pose a health risk to adults and children.

Tuna, Bluefin, Atlantic – Bluefin tuna poses a very high health risk due to high levels of both mercury and PCB contamination. Bluefin tuna are internationally overfished, nearly to levels of extinction. They are believed to be 80% or more below their original abundance levels. The eastern and western Atlantic Ocean stocks to which bluefin tuna are native are listed as “endangered,” and “critically endangered,” respectively, in the IUCN Redlist of the world’s most threatened species.

Fortunately, there are solutions. Food & Water Watch also has put out a list of recommended fish as part of it’s comprehensive guide.

Here, not to be confused with the fish to avoid listed above, are some of those recommendations.

Fish that are safer and more sustainably fished or farmed

Catfish, Farmed U.S. – Catfish is farmed in many southeastern states in the U.S. Chemical usage on catfish farms is regulated much more stringently here than in other countries. Catfish do not need wild fish to be included in their diet, so farming them does not deplete wild fish populations, as does farming of many other species.

Haddock, U.S. Hook and Line Caught – Haddock is primarily caught with trawls, which can damage the seafloor, cover or remove animal and plant life, and catch large amounts of non-target species. However, there is also a hook-and-line segment of the fishery, which often results in significantly less bycatch and habitat damage.

Halibut, Pacific U.S. – Pacific halibut are not considered overfished, and populations have been monitored and managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission for almost 80 years.

U.S. Farmed Tilapia  - In the United States, tilapia is generally farmed in closed systems that limit pollution. Many of these farms conserve resources by re-circulating the water, and some even make use of nutrient by-products to grow hydroponic crops.

U.S. Pole- or Troll-Caught Mahi Mahi/Dolphinfish – Mahi-mahi is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children. See the EPA’s list of national fish advisories.

Yellowtail Snapper – Yellowtail snapper is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Again, consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children.

To find out more about how to eat seafood responsibly, and safely, see Understanding the 2010 Smart Seafood Guide.

Copyright © 2010-2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Feb 102010

(This article was first posted on Jan. 25, 2010, by the Natural Resources Defense Council on its Simple Steps website. It is a Q & A with NRDC Senior Attorney Daniel Rosenberg exploring why the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, of which the NRDC is a member, wants tighter controls on toxic substances.)

By Paul McRandle

Q: Quickly, what is TSCA and why does it need to be reformed?

Daniel Rosenberg: TSCA is an environmental law first enacted in 1976 and never updated since, that was intended to regulate the safety of industrial chemicals—that is most chemicals that find their way into the stream of commerce. It is generally regarded to be the greatest failure of all the major environmental laws passed in the early 1970s. This is because there were 62,000 chemicals in use when it was enacted and all of those chemicals were grandfathered in, meaning they didn’t have to be tested or required to meet a safety standard. On top of that, the law makes it extremely difficult for EPA to take action even when they know a chemical is unsafe, like asbestos. The way the law is written, the burden is on the agency to prove a chemical is unsafe rather than the companies who make chemicals having to prove they are safe.

Some 22,000 chemicals have come onto the market since 1976, and for those new chemicals EPA’s ability to regulate them is also very limited. The companies did not supply information on the health or environmental effects of most of these chemicals, because they aren’t required to do so. To get that information, EPA would have to issue a separate rule for each chemical, which is a cumbersome, expensive, and lengthy process.

So, roughly 84,000 chemicals are allowed on the market without evidence that they are safe and for a number of them, we know they are not safe.

Q: Congress has been holding hearings about TSCA reform, but at this point where do things stand?

DR: NRDC is an active member of a broad campaign to reform TSCA called Safer Chemical Healthy Families. It includes a number of environmental groups as well as health-affected, healthcare, community and state groups,environmental justice and labor groups. That campaign released a set of principles for TSCA reform and EPA and several other stakeholders have done so as well, including the American Chemistry Council, the major industry trade association, and a dozen or so states. All these sets of principles were remarkably similar in their scope. While that doesn’t mean that all the interested parties agree on the details, it does suggest there is a clear set of issues everyone has identified that need to be worked out. Legislation is expected to be introduced in Congress by the end of February. When that happens, NRDC will work with our allies to educate members of Congress and their staff, as well as NRDC’s members and the general public about the legislation as it moves through Congress.

Q: Socioeconomic risk factors are also very important, given high asthma rates and incidents of early puberty in African American communities. Is environmental justice an element in TSCA reform?

DR: In our view, TSCA should be a place to address some of the problems for communities that are disproportionately exposed, and therefore vulnerable, to toxic substances. One of the platforms of our campaign is that “effective reform should contribute substantially to reducing the disproportionate burden of toxic chemical exposure placed on people of color, low-income people and indigenous communities.” That’s not a traditional part of existing TSCA but we think that’s an important concept that should exist in any reform.

Of the now 84,000 chemicals, EPA has taken action to partially regulate only five of those chemicals. The only chemical that was ever banned under TSCA are PCBs, which Congress passed as part of the original law. Of course, PCBs are still around, since they are so persistent, polluting rivers and triggering fish consumption advisories. There are dozens of other persistent and bioaccumulative toxic substances that have not been adequately regulated under TSCA (lead and mercury are two that are well known).

There are a number of other chemicals that we know are dangerous and that people are widely exposed to—for example, formaldehyde, asbestos, and solvents likeTCE—and those are commonly found in a lot of disadvantaged communities. So another plank of our platform is that these persistent, bioaccumualtive and toxic substances (PBTs) that people are exposed to should be phased out of use and new ones kept from entering the market. Exposure to other toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde, that have already been extensively studied, should be reduced to the maximum extent feasible.

Q: How can the public support TSCA reform

DR: One of the most important things people can do is pick up their phone or pen or mouse or portable texting device (not while driving) and communicate with their members of congress and state officials that this is an issue that you care about and you want to see reform. The statute has done almost nothing and hasn’t done nearly what the Clean Air and Clean Water acts have done, so most members of congress know very little about this law and how broken it is, although they do understand that there are a lot of people concerned about exposures to toxic substances. Perhaps they have family members or friends who have cancer, or have a learning disability, or have wrestled with infertility or other reproductive problems, all of which have been associated to some degree to exposure to toxic chemicals, which is what the report we released discusses. So they need to hear from their constituents and have a clear sense that those issues resonate with the public and that people want the law to be reformed and the lack of proper regulation of toxic chemicals to be addressed.

Although the law has been on the books for so long—34 years—in many respects this is still a new issue for members of congress. Every member of congress would benefit from hearing more about this issue and the public’s concern.

Q: Although the report doesn’t delve to the level of associating specific compounds with specific diseases, it does point out the general health effects associated with them, such as causing cancer, reproductive problems or harming the brain. The neurotoxicity list is particularly daunting. If we can’t substitute these compounds with healthier versions, what can we do?

DR: For many of these substances, we think safer alternatives do exist. However, part of the way TSCA is broken is that, because all this bad stuff has been allowed to be used forever, there is no federal force really driving innovation and development of safer chemicals So once there’s a law in place that’s going to phase out the use of chemicals that don’t meet a standard of safety, there’s going to be a drive for innovation that’s beneficial for the companies that can create the most effective but safe chemicals or non-chemical alternatives.

Another element of the platform is to get a minimum set of information – sort of a basic safety profile — about each of the chemicals. Not only will it help us find the chemicals that pose health or environmental risks, it will also help us identify some chemicals that are safe. We may have the safer alternatives already. You’re trying to sort the enormous haystack into two smaller piles, the unsafe and the safe.

Q: Out of the 80,000 chemicals that have been produced, how many have even kept their names trade secret?

DR: This is another area where TSCA hasn’t work well. There is legitimate confidential business information, known as CBI, but in our view the name of the chemical should not be CBI. But the problem is now that many companies submit all the information including the name as CBI since they rarely are called upon by EPA to justify the claim up front. EPA frequently doesn’t challenge CBI claims because it doesn’t have the time or the money. EPA recently announced a shift in how they will deal with that issue to require more scrutiny up front, but there definitely needs to be more reform on the process for determining what information is legitimately CBI and what is not.

Besides EPA not having enough information about these chemicals, the public doesn’t either. People do not know what chemicals are in products and there are not currently requirements for companies to disclose much information about their chemicals. That’s a very important reform.

Q: Is there a way to screen for PBTs before they’ve become persistent in a community?

DR: There are characteristics of a chemical that identify them as persistent or bio-accumulative. Effective TSCA reform would ban use of chemicals that are known to have these characteristics.. A lot more is known about the persistence and bioaccumulation of toxics than when TSCA was written. There’s also so much greater knowledge now about small doses of certain toxic substances affecting people, the hormone disrupting potentials and cumulative exposures, but the way the law is written none of this new science has had any impact on the way things are done.

Q: What can readers do to reduce their exposures? How can they find out what chemicals are in their homes, water & air, workplaces and schools?

DR: The burden shouldn’t be on the consumers to do a huge investigation to find out what’s in it. That should all be known up front, that’s what industry should be disclosing to the public.