I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 8, 2010

Protecting ourselves from harmful chemical exposures: Your chance for input

National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures


Project goals – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/accomplish.html

The National Conversation’s vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people.  The goal of the National Conversation is to develop an action agenda—clear, achievable recommendations—that will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.  The action agenda will help our nation identify better ways to

  • Collect information about chemical use, people who are exposed, and the levels at which they are exposed.
  • Understand how chemicals affect people’s health.
  • Use policies and practices that tell us about risks, how to reduce harmful exposures, and how to create and use safe chemicals.
  • Prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical-related emergencies.
  • Protect all communities from harmful chemical exposures.
  • Create a well-informed public and health care provider network to help people understand chemical exposure risks.
  • Involve the public in government decision making.
  • Encourage teamwork among partner groups and agencies.

To help with this, work groups were formed last year to discuss six cross-cutting issues.  After receiving public input, they have released draft reports for public comment.  You can download the report for each work group from the pages linked to below and submit your comments via those pages, e-mail or other means listed there.

CDC and ATSDR are working with RESOLVE, a non-profit facilitation group that will compile the comments, as well as other organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

July 21, 2010

Chemicals and the Obesity Epidemic: The Link

From the Safer Chemicals, Health Families website


Includes link to April 2010 report from the Washington Toxics Coalition.


March 21, 2010

Sound advice to companies on endocrine disruptors

Found a post on endocrine disruptors that advises companies on steps they should be taking to deal with endocrine disruptors now.  You’re probably thinking what I thought when I first saw the post, “Yeah, right.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s heartening to see an investment manager taking an enlightened  position like this.

The Chemicals That Should Be on Your Radar … but Probably Aren’t

By Richard Liroff – Published February 25, 2010
[This post is a follow up to Liroff’s earlier article “What Does the FDA’s BPA Decision Mean for Companies?” on GreenBiz.com.]

Liroff notes:

As a class, [endocrine disruptors (EDs)] can have profound and unparalleled impacts on families, communities and businesses because of their possible links to learning disabilities, selected cancers, reproductive disorders, diabetes and other health disorders.

Systematically identifying EDs, substituting safer substances and product designs, and reducing exposures promise sizeable payoffs from reduced health care burdens and enhanced employee productivity. Such actions help align consumer-facing companies in particular with consumers’ concerns about involuntary exposures to toxic chemicals in daily living.

Liroff lists several recent developments in public awareness regarding endocrine disruptors, describes what endocrine disruptors are and how they can affect health, and offers the following advice to chemical companies regarding endocrine disruptors:

1. Get educated.

He provides links to European, U.S. EPA, and NIEHS endocrine disruption websites as well as the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) list of resources.  (A very nice list!)

2. Make sure corporate science staff stay current.

Why the Adage ‘the Dose Makes the Poison’ Can Be Toxic to Corporate Chemicals Policy

Heed the advice of NIEHS’s Dr. Linda Birnbaum: “[T]he timing, as well as the dose, makes the poison.” The American Chemical Society, in a newly published statement on endocrine disruptors, echoes this view: “A large and growing body of environmental health literature shows that endocrine disrupting substances … do not fit the central tenet of regulatory toxicology, namely, that the ‘dose makes the poison.'”

3. Know the chemicals in your products and supply chain.

4. Take action. Join the leading edge companies who are actively screening their chemical inventories for endocrine disruptors and are taking steps to lower toxicity via safer chemical substitutes or designs….

[A] proactive approach of analysis and substitution, and responding to early warning signals, is more likely to buttress consumer confidence in your brand than defensive posturing that reflexively asserts “more research is needed” or “no cause-effect relationships have been shown.”

Richard A. Liroff, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN). IEHN is a collaboration of investment managers that advocates for safer corporate chemicals policies to grow long-term shareholder value and reduce financial and reputational risks to companies. The business case for corporate safer chemicals policies, a list of shareholder resolutions on safer chemicals policies, and a roster of participants can be found on the IEHN website, www.iehn.org. Disclosure: Liroff serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and served on the priority-setting work group of EPA’s Endocrine Disruption Screening and Testing Advisory Committee.

March 8, 2010

Identifying dangerous chemicals

In 1997, the Environmental Defense Fund published Toxic Ignorance, a report on the lack of basic toxicity information about many industrial chemicals.

Thirteen years later EDF is still pursuing improving chemical testing and assessment data for High Production Volume chemicals.

The law governing the production of toxic chemicals is called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  EDF’s Richard Denison, among others, has been calling for reforming U.S. chemicals policy through strengthening TSCA (his blog on chemicals and nanotechnology is in my blogroll).  In one post he describes some of the actions taken under Lisa Jackson, Obama’s EPA Administrator.

Of note is the fact that EPA announced late last year that it was moving from a voluntary program called ChAMP to an enhanced chemical management program.  (EDF blog posts on problems with ChAMP, a now superseded program)

In addition to its Toxic Ignorance, EDF has published more reports recently

  • EDF’s 2007 report Not That Innocent documented the urgent need for policy reform. Our analysis contrasted U.S. policies with those in Canada and the European Union and identified “best practices” culled from all three systems that together create a vision for future U.S. chemicals policy.
  • Our September 2008 report Across the Pond assessed one of the first impacts that the new European regulation called REACH will have on U.S. companies and chemicals: REACH’s identification of “substances of very high concern.”
  • EDF scientist Richard Denison’s paper Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform, published in January 2009 in the Environmental Law Reporter, laid out a blueprint for new legislation to replace the outmoded Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

(from the EDF page on “Chemicals Policy Reform”)

EDF is also a founding member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, which issued its own Platform for Reform of TSCA.

Why is this important? Well, because there’s an awful lot we don’t know about chemicals and their effect on health.  Denison addresses this in a blog post back in May 2009.  Among the things he advocates there (emphasis in original):

  • For each chemical assessed, clearly identify and communicate to the public all gaps or quality concerns in available data.  (My comment: It is interesting to contrast EPA’s approach vs. that of ATSDR in its Toxicological Profiles.  (alternate URL: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxpro2.html) See below for more info on ATSDR.)
  • Stop assigning low-priority rankings to chemicals, especially those with data gaps in the most basic, minimum set of screening-level hazard data. As we said before, it’s one thing for EPA to identify as high-hazard those chemicals where, despite the data gaps, available data demonstrate high toxicity. It’s quite another for EPA to effectively exonerate chemicals as low-hazard or low-priority when not even a bare-minimum data set is available for them.
  • Adopt a health-protective approach to hazard screening: Where data are uncertain, of questionable quality or equivocal, assume a hazard exists until and unless a chemical’s manufacturer provides the data to show otherwise.


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  ATSDR’s mission is to determine human health effects associated with toxic exposures, prevent continued exposures, and mitigate associated human health risks at Superfund sites.

ATSDR first identifies data needs in its Toxicological Profiles for certain substances. The data needs are then subjected to further evaluation and prioritized.  When data gaps are identified, they are described in the documents.  (If you look at any of the Tox Profiles, you will see a subsection in several chapters called “Adequacy of the database.”)

While the Tox Profiles cover very nasty chemicals, the irony of this is that these are chemicals found at Superfund sites (of which, according to ATSDR, there are about 1,200).  However, many of these same chemicals are still being manufactured (as well as chemicals for which we have even less data than the Tox Profile ones!) in plants all over the country and the number of places probably far exceeds 1,200.

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