Apple is banning the use of benzene and n-hexane after pressure from certain groups.

Apple is banning the use of benzene and n-hexane after pressure from certain groups.

Apple is banning the use of two potentially hazardous chemicals during the final assembly of iPhones and iPads as part of the company’s latest commitment to protect the factory workers who build its trendy devices.

The decision comes five months after the activist groups China Labor Watch and Green America launched a petition drive calling on Apple Inc. to abandon the use of benzene and n-hexane in the production of iPhones.

A four-month investigation at 22 factories found no evidence that benzene and n-hexane endangered the roughly 500,000 people who work at the plants, according to Apple.

No traces of the chemicals were detected at 18 of the factories and the amounts found at the other four factories fell within acceptable safety levels, the Cupertino, California, company said.

Nevertheless, Apple decided to order its suppliers to stop using benzene and n-hexane during the final assembly of iPhones, iPads, iPods, Mac computers and various accessories.

What’s more, Apple is requiring all its factories to test all substances to ensure that they don’t contain benzene or n-hexane, even if the chemicals aren’t listed in the ingredients.

Benzene is a carcinogen that can cause leukemia if not handled properly and n-hexane has been linked to nerve damage. The substances are often found in solvents used to clean machinery and electronics.

Apple is still allowing use of the two chemicals during the early production phases of its products — activities that primarily take place at hundreds of other factories besides the ones responsible for the final assembly of the devices.

As an additional precaution, Apple is lowering the maximum amount of benzene and n-hexane that can be present in the materials used during those earlier phases of production.

Green America’s petition drive collected nearly 23,000 signatures urging Apple to phase out benzene and n-hexane.

Neither chemical is unique to Apple’s manufacturing process. They are also used in the production of electronics products sold by other large technology companies that have also been criticized for their practices.

Source: San Jose Mercury News

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Formaldehyde is often used in wood products and has been linked to cancer.

Formaldehyde is often used in wood products and has been linked to cancer.

For years, the chemical industry has been winning a political battle to keep formaldehyde from being declared a known carcinogen.

The industry’s chief lobby group, the American Chemistry Council, has persuaded members of Congress that the findings of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services were wrong and should be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2011, the academy did indeed criticize the EPA’s report on formaldehyde for being unclear. The chemical industry then used that critique to delay dozens of other ongoing evaluations of potentially toxic chemicals.

But recently, the academy issued a second report, which found in effect that government scientists were right all along when they concluded that formaldehyde can cause three rare forms of cancer.

“We are perplexed as to why today’s report differs so greatly from the 2011” report, Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement titled “The Safety of Formaldehyde is Well-Studied and Supported by Robust Science.”

Part of the disparity is that in the 2011 report, Congress asked the academy only to critique the EPA’s draft assessment rather than evaluate the dangers of formaldehyde itself. The panel concluded that the EPA’s report was too long, repetitive and lacked explanation.

But after reviewing the scientific evidence itself, the academy concluded that formaldehyde is indeed a known carcinogen.

Formaldehyde is widely used in wood products and clothing.

In a blog posting, Jennifer Sass, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the American Chemistry Council’s efforts “a vicious attack on government scientific assessments [meant] to distort and discredit any evidence linking toxic chemicals to diseases, disabilities or death.”

Using the academy to review any negative findings from the EPA has become common tactic of the chemical industry.

The Center for Public Integrity reported in June that Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, got the EPA to turn its negative assessment of arsenic over to the academy. At the same time, Congress also insisted that the EPA redo all ongoing assessments to address the criticisms of the 2011 formaldehyde review. Forty-seven assessments are affected.

The American Chemistry Council said in its statement that the academy “misses an opportunity to advance the science.”

Richard Denison, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, countered: “One can only hope that this sorry episode and waste of public resources will help to expose the narrow self-interest of the industry, which for years it has deceptively sought to wrap in the mantle of sound science.”

Source: Center for Public Integrity

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Parents' chemical exposure at work may affect their children's health.

Parents’ exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene and TCE may affect their children’s health.

Brain tumors in children could have as much to do with the father’s occupational exposure to solvents as they have to do with the mother’s, a new Australian study has found.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, has found a link between parents’ exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene and brain tumors in their children.

Lead author Dr Susan Peters, occupational epidemiologist at the University of Western Australia, says while brain tumors are relatively rare they are a major cause of cancer death among children, and the causes are largely unknown.

“Because most of the cases occur before age five, the question is what are the risk factors because there are some genetic syndromes that are known to cause brain tumors but only in less than five per cent of cases,” says Peters.

“The children are pretty young, [so] it could be that some of the parental exposures before or during pregnancy may be a cause.”

The new study surveyed nearly 306 cases of parents of children up to 14 years old with brain tumors, which were diagnosed between 2005 – 2010 in Australia.

The researchers compared the parents’ occupational exposures to solvents with those of 950 parents whose children did not have brain tumors.

The findings suggest that fathers working in jobs where they are regularly exposed to benzene in the year before their child is conceived are more than twice as likely to have that child develop a brain tumor.

Women working in occupations that expose them to a class of compounds called chlorinated solvents — found in degreasers, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, pesticides and resins — at any time in their lives also have a much higher risk of their child developing a brain tumor.

Building on previous studies

While brain tumors in children are relatively rare, previous studies have suggested a link between parental occupation and childhood brain tumors, finding parents working in industries such as the chemical and petroleum industries, car-related jobs, and jobs with regular exposure to paint, have a higher risk of their children developing brain tumors.

Peters says a previous study in rats also found that toluene — found in petrol, paints, and inks — had an effect on sperm cells, which points to a possible explanation for the link in humans.

Commenting on the study, Emeritus Professor Michael R. Moore, vice president of the Australasian College of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, says the data shows paternal exposure was a key issue.

“This is the children being directly affected by the father and the father’s exposure is taking place prior to the children being conceived,” says Moore.

“Parents who are thinking of having children should be thinking about not just what’s happening with the mums but also with the dads.”

Peters stressed that the study only involved relatively small numbers of cases, and it was still too early to say whether solvent exposure was the cause of childhood brain tumors.

However she said these solvents were associated with a range of other effects so exposure should be kept as low as possible anyway.

Source: ABC

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Welding can expose workers to toxic fumes and particulate matter.

Welding can expose workers to toxic fumes and particulate matter.

IARC listing prioritizes substances for evaluating carcinogenic risks

An advisory group to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has published a report recommending and prioritizing chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical agents, biological agents, and lifestyle factors for IARC Monographs during 2015-2019.

IARC is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, and government agencies across the globe use its monographs as scientific support for their actions to prevent exposure to potential carcinogens.

These monographs identify and evaluate environmental factors that can increase carcinogenic risks to humans.

The report lists more than 50 recommended agents and exposures, and among those listed as high priority for the upcoming years are bisphenol A, 1-bromopropane, shiftwork, multi-walled carbon nanotubes, welding and welding fumes, and occupational exposure to pesticides.

Source: OH&S online

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The air quality in most cities is bad news for public health.

The air quality in most cities is bad news for public health.

The World Health Organization says air pollution in many of the world’s cities is breaching its guidelines.

Its survey of 1,600 cities in 91 countries revealed that nearly 90% of people in urban centres breathe air that fails to meet levels deemed safe.

The WHO says that about half of the world’s urban population is exposed to pollution at least 2.5 times higher than it recommends.

Air quality was poorest in Asia, followed by South America and Africa.

“Too many urban centres today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, children and women’s health.

“Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe.”

The WHO currently sets safe levels of air quality based on the concentration of polluting particles called particulate matter (PM) found in the air.

It recommends that levels of fine particles called PM2.5 should not be more than 10 micrograms per cubic metre on average over a year, and slightly larger pollutants, called PM10, should not reach more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre on average.

But the Urban Air Quality database showed that many areas were breaching these levels.

Some cities in Asia showed extremely high levels of pollution. Peshawar in Pakistan registered a PM10 level of 540 micrograms per cubic metre over a period of two months in 2010, while Delhi in India had an average PM2.5 of 153 micrograms per cubic metre in the same year.

Cities in South America, including Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, also fared badly.

But the WHO says it is still lacking data, especially from cities in Africa, where poor air quality is a growing concern.

The most recent figures suggest that seven million people around the world died as a result of air pollution in 2012. It is estimated that 3.7 million of these deaths were from outdoor air pollution.

The WHO calls it the world’s single largest environmental health risk, and links poor air quality to heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer.

“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Dr Carlos Dora from the WHO.

Source: BBC

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