84,000 Chemicals on the Market, Only 1% Have Been Tested for Safety
There are around 84,000 chemicals on the market, and we come into contact with many of them every single day. And if that isn't enough to cause concern, the shocking fact is that only about 1 percent of them have been studied for safety.
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In 2010, at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, Lisa Jackson, then the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), put our current, hyper-toxic era into sharp perspective: "A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than any other generation in our history."
Just consider your morning routine: If you're an average male, you use up to nine personal care products every single day: shampoo, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, body lotion and shaving products—amounting to about 85 different chemicals. Many of the ingredients in these products are harmless, but some are carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors.
Women are particularly at risk because they generally use more personal care products than men: 25 percent of women apply 15 or more products daily, including makeup and anti-aging creams, amounting to an average of 168 chemicals. For a pregnant woman, the risk is multiplied as she can pass on those toxins to her unborn child: 300 contaminants have been detected in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.
Many people don't think twice about the chemicals they put on their bodies, perhaps thinking that the government regulates the personal care products that flood the marketplace. In reality, the government plays a very small role, in part because it doesn't have the legal mandate to protect the public from harmful substances that chemical companies and manufacturers sell in their products. Federal rules designed to ensure product safety haven’t been updated in more than 75 years. New untested chemicals appear on store shelves all the time.
"Under federal law, cosmetics companies don't have to disclose chemicals or gain approval for the 2,000 products that go on the market every year," notes Jane Kay in Scientific American. "And removing a cosmetic from sale takes a battle in federal court."
It's high time these rules are revisited. Not only have thousands of new chemicals entered the market in the past several decades, there is overwhelming evidence that the public is unnecessarily exposed to health hazards from consumer products. In 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a report that found "robust" evidence linking "toxic environmental agents"—which includes consumer products—to "adverse reproductive and developmental health outcomes."
Formaldehyde is a good example. It is a known carcinogen used as a preservative to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms in a wide range of personal care products, from cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and lotions to deodorants, nail polishes and hair gels. It is also used in pressed-wood products, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings and insulation, and as a fungicide, germicide, disinfectant and preservative. The general public is also exposed to formaldehyde through automobile tailpipe emissions. Formaldehyde has been linked to spontaneous abortion and low birth weight.
While the main concern about formaldehyde exposure centers around industrial use (e.g., industrial workers, embalmers and salon workers), the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent panel of experts that determines the safety of individual chemical compounds as they are used in cosmetics, recommends that for health and safety reasons cosmetics should not contain formaldehyde at amounts greater than 0.2 percent. It's a small amount, but the problem is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate the use of formaldehyde in cosmetics (except for nail polish), and companies aren't required by law follow the Cosmetic Ingredient Review's recommendations.
Empowering FDA to Protect Consumers
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are trying to bridge this gap in federal oversight. Last month, they introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014), a bill that seeks to protect consumers from toxins found in personal care products by strengthening the authority of the FDA, which oversees the cosmetics industry, to regulate the ingredients in those products.
Specifically, by making significant revisions to the cosmetics chapter of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the bill would require the FDA to review chemicals used in personal care products and provide clear guidance on their safety. In addition, S.1014 would require cosmetic manufacturing facilities to register with the FDA, require brand owners to submit ingredient statements every year, require the FDA to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients at a minimum of five ingredients per year and give the FDA the authority to recall certain personal care products that threaten consumer safety.
“From shampoo to lotion, the use of personal care products is widespread, however, there are very few protections in place to ensure their safety,” said Sen. Feinstein. "Europe has a robust system, which includes consumer protections like product registration and ingredient reviews. In addition, the legislation has broad support from companies and consumer groups alike."
The first set of chemicals that would be reviewed under S. 1014 includes:
- Diazolidinyl urea (used in deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and lotion)
- Lead acetate (used as a color additive in hair dyes)
- Methylene glycol/formaldehyde (used in hair treatments)
- Propylparaben (used in shampoo, conditioner and lotion)
- Quaternium-15 (used in shampoo, shaving cream, skin cream and cleanser)
Several non-profit environmental and public health advocacy groups have supported the proposed legislation, including Environmental Working Group, Society for Women’s Health Research, National Alliance for Hispanic Health and HealthyWomen. The bill, which involved discussions with the FDA as well as the personal care products industry, is also supported by numerous companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Unilever and L'Oreal. Sen. Collins said that for manufacturers, the bill provides "regulatory certainty ... enabling them to plan for the future."
"While we believe our products are the safest category that FDA regulates, we also believe well-crafted, science-based reforms will enhance industry's ability to innovate and further strengthen consumer confidence in the products they trust and use every day," said the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry, in a statement. "The current patchwork regulatory approach with varying state bills does not achieve this goal."
Overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act
Like the FDA, the EPA is similarly toothless when it comes to protecting the public from dangerous chemicals. Though it has the power to investigate some consumer chemicals through the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency can act only if a chemical poses an "unreasonable risk" to public health—and that is difficult to prove. Since the TSCA was passed in 1976, the EPA has only tested around 200 of the 84,000 chemicals on the market. The law hasn't undergone any substantial update since it was enacted.
In a 2011 paper published in the journal Health Affairs, Sarah Vogel, a program officer at the Johnson Family Foundation in New York City, and Jody Roberts, the associate director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, argue that the TSCA requires an overhaul:
The EPA’s ability to obtain safety information and set regulatory standards as outlined under the Toxic Substances Control Act has fallen far short of expectations. This is due to a combination of limitations in the statute and a series of events over the past thirty-five years, including reductions in the EPA’s budget in the 1980s, changing political leadership and shifting agency priorities, limited oversight by Congress, and successful challenges by the chemical industry to limit the EPA’s authority.
In March, senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) made an official push for that overhaul when they introduced the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), a bill that seeks to update the TSCA. The bill would require the EPA to ensure that 25 high- and 25 low-priority substances will be addressed within five years of the bill's enactment, while not conceding all oversight to the federal level: It also permit states to implement requirements that are identical to the federal requirements enacted by the EPA.
Also, before producing a new chemical or manufacturing an existing chemical for "significant new use," the EPA would be required to say officially that the chemical in question would "likely meet the safety standard," rather than simply letting the review period expire—which is the case under the current TSCA. Also known as the “Udall-Vitter” Toxic Substances Control Act reform bill, it is currently pending a vote on the Senate Floor.
"Americans are exposed to a toxic soup of more than 80,000 different chemicals, but we have no idea what the impact of those chemicals is on our bodies — or those of our children," said Sen. Udall. "Current law has failed to protect Americans from dangerous carcinogens like asbestos, and Congress can't afford to stand on the sidelines any longer."
Sen. Vitter noted that "chemicals are used to produce 96 percent of all manufactured goods consumers rely on every day."
Unlike previous unsuccessful attempts to reform the TSCA, S. 697 enjoys strong bipartisan support: 17 Republican senators and 17 Democratic senators have joined Vitter and Udall to co-sponsor the bill. However, it faces a challenge by a similar competing bill, the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725), introduced two days later by senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA). Unlike S. 697, S. 725 currently has no Republican co-sponsors.
Supporters of S. 725, including the Environmental Working Group, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and Safer Chemicals Safer Families, argue that the Udall-Vitter bill is "embraced by the chemical industry" and it "would take more than a century to analyze and regulate the 1,000 chemicals EPA has flagged for review on the grounds they appear to be particularly dangerous to human health."
A stark difference between the two bills is that the Udall-Vitter bill doesn't even mention asbestos, a known carcinogen that kills approximately 10,000 Americans every year and under current law, cannot be banned. The Boxer-Markey bill would require that all forms of asbestos be listed as a high-priority chemical substance, requiring the EPA to complete a safety assessment and determination for asbestos within two years of the bill's enactment.
S. 725 "addresses asbestos, children's cancer and other threats that toxic chemicals pose to our families, including cardiovascular disease, developmental disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption and many others," said Sen. Boxer. "Our citizens deserve nothing less than a bill that protects them—not chemical companies."
Senator Markey called the nation's current federal chemical laws "outdated and ineffective," and said their bill would also "preserve vital protections like a state's ability to clamp down on dangerous chemicals."
"The fact that the Vitter-Udall bill will not even restrict, much less ban, the deadly substance that claims 30 lives a day is nothing short of a national travesty," said Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. "Any senator who supports this industry proposal is in essence supporting the continuation of the toll asbestos has already had on millions of American families."
The current prognosis for these three bills is fairly grim: GovTrack gives S. 697 a 15 percent chance of being enacted, S. 1014 a 3 percent chance and S. 725 a 1 percent chance. Whatever happens, it is clear that the current system in place to protect the public from dangerous chemicals is not working.
As America's lawmakers review these bills, they would do well to consider the prescription of Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health: "It is far wiser and less expensive to prevent exposure to unsafe chemicals ... than to have to treat the serious health problems that they can cause."
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By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
Researchers at UC-Riverside are investigating how barley, a key ingredient in beer, survives in such a wide variety of climates with hopes of learning what exactly makes it so resilient across climates.
Barley was first grown domestically in Southwest Asia about 10,000 year ago and is grown around the world, from Egypt to Minnesota.
Barley's prime growing regions have shifted northward in recent decades as global temperatures have risen due to climate change caused by human extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.
Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager for the Brewers Association located in Boulder, Colorado, told E&E climate change's effects are impacting the brewing industry.
"Certainly dynamic growing conditions, water scarcity, extreme weather events, growers' planting decisions can all affect both pricing and availability of brewers' supply of malted barley," he told E&E News.
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France moved one step closer this weekend to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to fight the climate crisis.
A bill prohibiting regional flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of less than two and a half hours passed the country's National Assembly late on Saturday, as Reuters reported.
"We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions," Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Europe 1 radio, according to Reuters.
The measure now has to pass the French Senate, then return to the lower house for a final vote. It would end regional flights between Paris's Orly airport and cities like Nantes and Bordeaux, The Guardian explained. It would not, however, impact connecting flights through Paris's Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport.
The bill is part of a legislative package which aims to reduce France's emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, Reuters reported. It is a watered-down version of a proposal suggested by France's Citizens' Convention on Climate, BBC News explained. This group, which was formed by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 ordinary citizens, had put forward a ban on flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of under four hours.
However, the journey length was lowered after protests from KLM-Air France, which had suffered heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, and regions who were concerned about being left out of national transit networks, as The Guardian explained.
"We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous," transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said, as The Guardian reported.
However, some environmental and consumer groups objected to the changes. The organization UFC-Que Choisir compared plane routes with equivalent train journeys of under four hours and found that the plane trips emitted an average of 77 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than the train journeys. At the same time, the train alternatives were cheaper and only as much as 40 minutes longer.
"[T]he government's choice actually aims to empty the measure of its substance," the group said, according to The Guardian.
The new measure also opens the French government to charges of hypocrisy. It bailed out Air France-KLM to the tune of a seven-billion euro loan last year, though it did require the airline to drop some domestic routes as a condition. Then, days before the measure passed, it more than doubled its stake in the airline, BBC News reported. However, Pannier-Runacher insisted to Europe 1 radio that it was possible to balance fighting climate change and supporting struggling businesses.
"Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside," she said, as Reuters reported.
This is not the first time that climate measures and aviation bailouts have coincided in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Austrian Airlines replaced its Vienna-Salzburg flight with additional train service after it received government money dependent on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, BBC News reported.
The number of flights worldwide declined almost 42 percent in 2020 when compared with 2019. It is expected that global aviation may not fully recover until 2024, according to Reuters.
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Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.
More whales than usual have been washing up dead since 2019, and the West Coast gray whale population continues to suffer from an unusual mortality event, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."
"It's alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species," Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release.
As the world's largest marine mammal hospital, the Sausalito-based center has been investigating the recent spate of deaths. The first involved a 41-foot female who washed up dead at San Francisco's Crissy Field on March 31, SFGate reported. The cause of death remains a mystery, as the whale was in good condition with a full stomach. The second, another female, washed up on April 3 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Moss Beach.
"That animal's cause of death, we suspect, was ship strike," the Marine Mammal Center's Giancarlo Rulli told SFGate. "Our plan is to eventually head back out to that whale and take more samples."
The third whale washed up April 7 near Berkeley Marina, The AP reported. The center determined it was a 37-foot male in average condition, with no evidence of illness or injury.
A 41-foot female turned up the next day on Marin County's Muir Beach. She suffered bruising and hemorrhaging around the jaw and neck vertebrae, indicating a vessel strike.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of death for gray whales examined by the Marine Mammal Center, along with entanglements in fishing gear and malnutrition. While the species is not endangered, the population has declined by 25 percent since last assessed in 2016, CNN reported.
West Coast gray whales travel 10,000 miles every year between Mexico and the Arctic, according to The AP. They spend the winter breeding off of Baja California, and feed along the California coast in spring and summer on their way back north. The Marine Mammal Center began noticing a problem for the migrating whales in 2019.
"Our team hasn't responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area," Dr. Duignan said in the press release.
The 2019 deaths led NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for West Coast gray whales. It is similar to another event that happened from 1999 to 2000, after which the whales' numbers rebounded to even higher levels. This suggests population dips and rises may not be uncommon for the species. However, it is also possible that the climate crisis is playing a role. The 2019 deaths were linked to malnutrition, and warmer waters can reduce the amount of food whales have to eat in the Arctic, giving them less energy for their migration, CNN explained. Overfishing can also play a role in depriving whales of food, the Marine Mammal Center said.
Dr. Jeff Boehm, Marine Mammal Center CEO and veterinarian, told CNN that he had observed an uptick in shipping traffic after the pandemic caused a slowdown. At the same time, the center is less able to conduct research because of COVID-19 safety precautions. And even in the best of times, only around 10 percent of dead whales wash up on shore, The AP reported.
"This many dead whales in a week is shocking, especially because these animals are the tip of the iceberg," Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program, told The AP.
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About 70% of the buildings in Kalbarri were damaged and tens of thousands are without power by winds gusting over 100 miles per hour. Climate change, caused by humans' extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making cyclonic storms more extreme by increasing air and ocean temperatures, which effectively supercharges the storms.
"You just thought, this is it. I would have thought that when we opened the door, that there would be nothing around us except that roof," Kalbarri resident Debbie Major told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We are a small town. Half of it has been flattened." Seroja devastated regions of Indonesia and Timor-Leste last week, where it triggered deadly flash floods and landslides.
#CycloneSeroja: homes & units before & after the cyclone hit #Kalbarri, 170kmh gusts causing major damage. #7NEWS https://t.co/WYFL2QOlwB— Paul Kadak (@Paul Kadak)1618186830.0
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