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Toxic chemicals a concern

Many cosmetics products have been linked to serious health problems.

Many cosmetics products have been linked to serious health problems.

Concerned about old regulations that have left it with little power to ensure the safety of thousands of consumer products, the Food and Drug Administration launched talks with the cosmetics industry more than a year ago.

The goal was to reach a deal on a regulatory regime that has not changed since 1938.

The regulator and the regulated appeared to reach a rare kumbaya moment last summer — an agreement on the outline of legislation to beef up the agency’s authority while giving the industry greater certainty.

But the talks collapsed, and those once-promising private discussions have given way to public pronouncements of disillusionment, frustration and distrust.

In a letter, a top FDA official charged that the cosmetics industry’s latest proposals would undercut the government’s already weak authority, prevent states from undertaking enforcement actions and “put Americans at greater risk from cosmetics-related illness and injury than they are today.”

In his letter, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor told two trade groups representing the $60 billion-a-year industry that there is no longer enough common ground to “justify devoting further taxpayer resources to this negotiation.”

The Personal Care Products Council, which represents an estimated 600 companies, quickly rejected the notion that it wants to weaken federal oversight of cosmetics, and it said suggestions that cosmetics products are dangerous are reckless, counterproductive and not supported by data.

“We are extremely disappointed that FDA has indicated they will not participate in further discussions,” Lezlee Westine, the group’s president, said in a statement. “We all share in the common goal of protecting consumers. In fact, product safety is the cornerstone of all that this industry represents. . . . We will work with Congress to pursue meaningful solutions.”

Tests have revealed toxic ingredients in commonly used products

The stalemate has proved particularly galling to consumer advocacy groups, who have long pushed for more government oversight over the chemicals used to produce millions of products used by Americans every day, from lipstick and hair spray to toothpaste, deodorant and baby lotion.

Janet Nudelman, director of the California-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, said the industry’s proposals — which could put the onus on the FDA to prove that questionable chemicals are unsafe and could preempt some state regulations — are “a slap in the face” to Americans who expect transparency about the products they use.

“Industry simply should not be calling the shots anymore,” she said. “They’ve been calling the shots for over 75 years in what little federal regulation there is.”

She cited tests that have turned up lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in hair care products and mercury in face cream.

The cosmetics industry has called some of those findings misleading and unnecessarily alarming, noting that the FDA found no level of lead in lipstick that would pose health concerns.

Compared to its authority to oversee pharmaceuticals and foods, the FDA remains virtually toothless when it comes to regulating cosmetics. It has no power to review products before they go on the market.

Companies do not have to list all of the ingredients in their products, and they do not have to register their manufacturing facilities with the government. They also are not required to report “adverse events,” making it difficult for regulators to spot potential problems.

Other countries have put in place far more stringent regulatory systems. The European Union, for example, has banned the use of about 1,300 chemicals in consumer cosmetics products. By comparison, the FDA has banned fewer than a dozen, most of which were listed in the 1970s and 1980s, the agency said.

However, some companies have made changes in the wake of consumer demands. Johnson & Johnson recently reformulated its iconic baby shampoo and other products after pledging to remove formaldehyde and another chemical that regulators have deemed potentially harmful, even as it has maintained that the products were safe.

Source: Washington Post

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New research shows air pollution might make you bad at your job

Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.
Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.

In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego and Columbia University were the first to demonstrate a link between air pollution and reduced productivity among outdoor agricultural workers.

Now those researchers are back with a new study, entitled “Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers.”

The study shows, for the first time, a significant link between air pollution and the productivity of indoor workers.

The pollutant in question is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. It’s notable for its tiny size (less than 1/30th the width of a human hair), which allows it to infiltrate deep into your lungs and potentially even your bloodstream, where it can cause all sorts of health problems.

The authors note that PM2.5 can easily enter buildings: “Unlike other pollutants, which either remain outside or rapidly break down once indoors, going inside may do little to reduce one’s exposure to PM2.5.”

To figure out how this affected indoor workers, the authors drew on data from an indoor pear-packing factory in northern California.

“We focused on pear packing for this study since it was located near an air pollution monitor and paid workers piece rate, which allowed us to measure individual worker productivity on a daily level,” author Joshua Graff Zivin told me.

What they found was that every 10-microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 levels decreased worker productivity by 0.6%, as measured by the number pear boxes packed by each worker.

Since workers were paid piecemeal, this translated to a decrease of roughly 41 cents per hour, per 10 micrograms of PM2.5 relationship between worker productivity and air pollution.

Moreover, the effect increased at higher PM2.5 levels: levels between 15 and 20 micrograms reduced earnings by $0.53 per hour, levels between 20 and 25 micrograms decrease earnings by $1.03 per hour, and when levels exceed 25 micrograms/cubic meter earnings shrink by $1.88 per hour.

One key point is that these levels are all well below current U.S. air quality standards for PM2.5, which stand at 35 micrograms/m3. The U.S. didn’t even start regulating this pollutant until 1997.

Across the U.S., PM2.5 levels routinely cross this 35 microgram threshold every day. Airnow.gov, an EPA website that tracks air quality in U.S. cities, is currently showing PM2.5 levels of 69 micrograms in Atlanta, 72 in Cleveland, and a whopping 140 in Albuquerque, NM.

If those figures seem high be thankful you don’t live in Beijing, where PM2.5 levels topped 250 micrograms today.

One major implication of the study is that reductions of PM2.5 can have significant economic benefits. The authors estimate that across the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, reductions in PM2.5 since 1997 has led to an aggregate labor savings of $19.5 billion – a previously-unknown benefit of fine particulate regulation.

The larger question, of course, is whether these findings extend even to workers in retail and other regular office settings.

“We are very curious about this,” Graff Zivin told me. “Whether more cognitive indoor activities are subject to similar effects is an important area for future research, but there is certainly a plausible channel through which these could occur.”

Source: Washington Post

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Study shows chemical is absorbed through skin

Study examines BPA exposure in cashiers.

Study examines BPA exposure in cashiers.

Store and ATM receipts may be adding to the exposure of people to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found.

The study, published Tuesday in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests the chemical, used as a coating on thermal receipt paper, can be absorbed through the skin.

The finding is important because scientists previously believed BPA’s primary path into the human body was by eating or drinking food packaged in cans lined with or plastic bottles manufactured with BPA.

The federal Food and Drug Administration says hundreds of studies have concluded that BPA is safe at the low levels that occur in some foods, although the agency is continuing its review of and research into the chemical.

BPA is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. In humans, BPA can interfere with the production, secretion, function and elimination of hormones.

It’s linked to a number of potential health problems in animals and humans, including obesity, impaired neurological development in children and lowered reproductive function. A 2009 University of Cincinnati study concluded that BPA could be harmful to the heart, especially for women.

Exposures faced by store clerks, who spend their days repeatedly touching BPA-laden receipts, are likely to be higher than people who only occasionally handle receipts. The study, which was designed to simulate what clerks do, also shows that gloves would shield clerks from any additional exposure.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s recruited 24 volunteers in 2011 to study the effects of the receipts. “We tried to simulate what a clerk does” all day long in dealing with customers and handling receipts, said Dr. Shelley Ehrlich, a obstetrician/gynecologist trained as an environmental and perinatal epidemiologist and author of the study.

Ehrlich, who works in Cincinnati Children’s division of biostatistics and epidemiology and also is an assistant professor at UC’s department of environmental health, said the researchers measured the levels of BPA in the volunteers’ urine.

Roughly four in five of the participants had BPA in the blood before the trial; once they had handled receipts, all of the volunteers showed levels of BPA. In addition, the volunteers’ levels of BPA continued to rise for eight hours once they had stopped handling the receipts.

The study’s goal was to point out how receipts can add to the total BPA exposure of the general population from a source “that may have been overlooked,” as well as revealing that clerks face higher levels of BPA because of their jobs, Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich noted that the study, funded by a grant from the Harvard School of Public Health/National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety’s Education and Research Center, should be followed by a larger scale study to confirm the findings and evaluate the clinical implications of chronic exposure to BPA.

A representative for the American Chemistry Council criticized the study for being “far too limited to determine if the handling of cash register receipt paper results in significant BPA exposure.”

But the spokesman for the industry trade group – Steven Hentges, who is a member of the council’s polycarbonate/BPA global group – said the study “does suggest that consumer exposures to BPA, including occasional contact with thermal paper receipts, are well below safe intake levels established by government regulators around the world.

“The BPA exposure levels measured in participants of this study appear to be even lower than the levels found to cause no adverse effects in recent comprehensive research conducted in FDA’s laboratory,” Hentges said in an e-mail statement.

Source: Cincinnati.com

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Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

Environmental groups are pushing the Federal Trade Commission to do away with dry clean only labels.

Dry cleaners, the groups say, often use cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment and can pose health risks to workers and consumers.

They say labeling rules should be changed so that consumers are told their garments can also be cleaned by more green-friendly “wet cleaning.”

Professional wet cleaners, the green groups say, can safely wash most garments that would ordinarily be sent to a dry cleaners — such as cottons, wools, silks, leathers and suedes — without emitting the same levels of air pollution or contaminating the water.

The FTC is considering changes to the Care Labeling Rule that would allow clothing manufacturers to recommend professional wet cleaning as an alternative to dry cleaning. Environmental groups want to require labels to say clothing can be wet cleaned.

The FTC, which first proposed the rule in July 2011, will hold a public roundtable on March 28 to discuss the potential new standards with stakeholders.

But the FTC wants to make sure that consumers have access to professional wet cleaning shops before it recommends such a rule. The service is relatively new and still growing in certain parts of the country.

Professional wet cleaners and even many dry cleaners are on board with the rule, because they say it will give them more options to wash clothes.

More and more dry cleaners offer both traditional dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning services, but they say consumers tend to prefer dry cleaning, because that is the method that is recommended on the labels of their clothes.

Clothing manufacturers also favor the rule, because it would facilitate international trade.

The public roundtable will discuss the cost of requiring wet cleaning instruction labels, what content should be provided on those labels, the availability of wet cleaning services and consumer awareness of wet cleaning.

 Source: The Hill

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