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Electronic cigarettes can produce more formaldehyde than regular cigarettes

Fumes from e-cigarettes can affect your health.

Fumes from e-cigarettes can affect your health.

A preliminary study in the New England Journal of Medicine raises a new worry about electronic cigarettes – exposure to formaldehyde.

Under certain conditions, taking 10 puffs from an e-cigarette would expose a user to about 2.5 times as much formaldehyde as he or she would get from smoking a single tobacco cigarette, according to the study.

Formaldehyde is the pungent chemical that was used to preserve the frog you dissected in your high school biology class.

It’s used as an industrial disinfectant and as an ingredient in permanent-press fabrics, plywood, glues and other household products, according to the National Cancer Institute.

It is also formed when the propylene glycol and glycerol in e-cigarette liquids and oxygen are heated together.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says formaldehyde can cause leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical a “probable human carcinogen.”

In experiments at Portland State University, researchers used a tank system type of electronic cigarette to produce nicotine vapor.

The e-liquid vapor was captured in a tube and analyzed using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Each sample consisted of 10 puffs of vapor (at 3 to 4 seconds per puff) collected over 5 minutes.

When the e-cigarette was used on the “low voltage” setting of 3.3 volts, the researchers didn’t detect any formaldehyde in the vapor. However, when the device was on the “high voltage” setting of 5 volts, they measured an average of 380 micrograms of formaldehyde per sample.

Based on these results, the research team estimated that an e-cigarette user who vaped 3 milliliters of e-liquid per day would breathe in at least 14.4 milligrams of formaldehyde. The actual daily exposure is probably higher, they wrote, because their experiments failed to capture all of the vapor the e-cigarette produced.

For the sake of comparison, a 2005 study in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology estimated that a person who smoked a pack of 20 cigarettes would inhale 3 milligrams of formaldehyde in the process.

The researchers calculated that the lifetime cancer risk incurred by inhaling formaldehyde would be 5 to 15 times higher for long-term e-cigarette users than for long-term tobacco smokers.

Proponents of electronic cigarettes were quick to criticize the study for testing the devices under conditions that don’t reflect actual use.

If a person were to take 4-second puffs on a high voltage setting, they would experience a “very harsh and awful taste,” Bill Godshall, an advisor to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Assn., said in a statement distributed by the American Vaping Assn.

Gregory Conley, the group’s president, added that e-cigarette users take shorter puffs as they increase the voltage on their devices. “These are not settings that real-life vapers actually use,” he said.

But study coauthor James Pankow, a chemistry professor and expert on cigarette smoke dangers at Portland State University, said the line between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes was growing fuzzier by the day.

“No one should assume e-cigarettes are safe,” he said in a statement. “For conventional cigarettes, once people become addicted, it takes numerous years of smoking to result in a high risk of lung cancer and other severe disease; it will probably take five to 10 years to start to see whether e-cigarettes are truly as safe as some people believe them to be.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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

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

When Myra Vargas and her husband took over a dry-cleaning business in Jamaica Plain last spring, they had to make a tough decision: whether to use a common chemical called perchloroethylene, known as perc, or institute a costly change.

Vargas knew that perc, which they’d been using to clean clothes at their Roslindale shop for nearly two decades, was dangerous.

Years earlier, she’d been warned to stay away from it while pregnant. But she’d recently learned that perc probably causes cancer in dry-cleaning workers.

“We went seventeen years using something that was dangerous for everybody,” she says.

Extra encouragement to make the change to a safe system known as wet cleaning came from a group called Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition, but it wouldn’t be easy.

The couple would need to buy all new machinery and pay to get rid of their old, perc-based equipment. And making the switch would cost more than $100,000, a daunting hurdle. Plus, they’d heard conflicting stories about whether wet cleaning worked as well. But then the project helped them get a $15,000 state grant and launch a Kickstarter campaign that raised another $18,000.

On September 11, J&P Dry Cleaners celebrated its grand opening as the neighborhood’s only wet cleaner and one of only about a dozen in the state.

The shop’s opening was the first success in an ambitious effort to rid Jamaica Plain businesses of chemicals likely or suspected to cause cancer.

Across the nation, Main Street businesses routinely use such chemicals: at beauty and nail salons, hair straighteners and polishes that may release formaldehyde, for instance; at auto shops, brake cleaners that can include perc and solvents with trichloroethylene.

By persuading companies to switch to safer alternatives, the JP project aims to create locally what its leaders are calling “a cancer-free economy.”

Although nationally cancer rates are declining slightly, an estimated 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than half a million will die of it.

But most of us don’t need stats to tell us there’s a lot of cancer around — everyone seems to know someone.

“Not enough effort, not enough research, not enough funds have been directed toward upstream efforts to prevent carcinogens from getting into the human environment in the first place,” says Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which is partnering on the Jamaica Plain project.

“How do we get to the point where we don’t pour this fire hydrant of carcinogenic chemicals into the environment?”

To be sure, exposure to chemicals doesn’t cause all (or even most) cancers. The American Cancer Society attributes 30 percent of US cancers to cigarette smoking and 35 percent to poor diet, inactivity, and obesity.

Other factors, such as genetics and infections, also contribute. But any given cancer case is now understood to have more than one cause, Clapp argues, so the idea of dishing out blame to one factor is flawed.

The JP project, which received a $20,000 grant from UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute last year and was recently awarded another, is gearing up to approach other neighborhood businesses like auto shops and beauty salons.

And it’s trying to persuade local hospitals, hotels, and senior living facilities to use Vargas’s shop for dry cleaning.

In addition to reducing carcinogens, the project aims to support minority- and immigrant-owned small businesses in JP’s gentrifying economy — communities all too often left out of environmental and health discussions.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production is taking an even wider-angle look at creating cancer-free economies.

In partnership with two national groups, it secured foundation support — around $1 million for each of the next three years — to build a network of organizations that will strategize how best to wean the national economy off cancer-causing chemicals, then fund a series of initiatives to help do just that.

Whether the JP project or even the national one can credibly reduce our economic dependence on carcinogens remains to be seen. But we need more of this kind of bold, creative thinking.

And if we want businesses, especially small ones, to change their ways, they are going to need help.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has other like-minded initiatives, including Boston’s Green & Clean small-business certification program and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s statewide assistance program.

Without the JP project’s help, Vargas says she would never have given up perc.

But she’s thrilled with the decision: There’s no chemical smell in the shop, wash loads take half the time and less energy, and the whites come out whiter. Her utility bills have dropped, and there are no more fees for disposing of perc.

“At the end, it’s worth it, because now we see the results,” she says. “People like it. It’s better.”

Vargas is planning to send other neighborhood business owners to the group and is helping spread its message of a carcinogen-free Jamaica Plain.

“It’s a big problem and a hard process . . . for them to convince people,” she says. “But I’m hoping they do it.”

Source: Boston Globe

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Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that may affect their health. Photo: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that may affect their health.
Photo: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

When firefighters rush out the firehouse doors, sirens screeching on the way to fight fires, they put their lives on the line in more ways than one.

In responding to roughly 28,000 fire calls a year, members of the San Francisco Fire Department are routinely exposed to flame retardants, diesel exhaust and other toxic chemicals that seep out of raging infernos and work their way into the air.

A growing body of evidence strongly suggests that exposure increases firefighters’ risk of developing cancer. But until now, studies have focused on men.

That’s about to change. Members of the San Francisco Fire Department are working with researchers at UC Berkeley, UCSF and the Silent Spring Institute to find out whether exposure to toxic chemicals increases the risks of breast cancer in female firefighters.

The project, known as the Women Firefighters Biomonitoring Collaborative Study, has been under way for about a year.

“Since breast cancer is a cancer that more commonly affects women, and because of anecdotal evidence that the firefighters have been experiencing (many cases of breast cancer), we wanted to see if there was a link,” said Jessica Trowbridge, a UC Berkeley researcher who is coordinating the study.

Trowbridge and her colleagues are gathering blood and urine samples from about 160 women — 80 San Francisco firefighters and 80 city office workers who will serve as the control group — to use in measuring chemical, hormone and melatonin levels.

They will also measure the lengths of the women’s telomeres, caps on the ends of chromosomes that are associated with aging and cancer, also thought to be related to chemical exposure and working demanding night shifts.

Firefighters in general have higher rates of cancer, especially respiratory, digestive and urinary system varieties, a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found.

That study included women, but there weren’t enough of them to draw robust conclusions about their cancer risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With about 225 female firefighters, San Francisco is better equipped than most cities for a study like this: Women make up about 13 percent of its firefighting population, said Heather Buren, a lieutenant and paramedic with the fire department who is working on the study.

In 2011, less than 5 percent of firefighters nationwide were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Researchers will also test for other chemicals that could contribute to higher rates of cancer in both groups of women, who are probably exposed to personal care and household products as well.

There has been a cultural shift with respect to chemical exposure. For one, firefighters now have better breathing masks, which they’re encouraged to wear for longer periods of time in toxic environments.

There are also rules prohibiting members of the department from storing their turnouts — the suits they wear to fight fires — in firehouse rooms where they eat and sleep.

The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, which organizes screenings and promotes cancer prevention in the department, is partially responsible for those changes. It was formed in 2006 by Tony Stefani, a retired firefighter who himself fought cancer.

Researchers have nearly finished enrolling participants for the breast cancer study. They hope to have results published in two years. The women who participate in the study will be able to see their individual results when they are complete.

 Source: San Francisco Gate. This article has been edited for length.
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Coal dust has been noticed in the prison.

Coal dust has been noticed in the prison.

A high rate of cancer among inmates at a southwestern Pennsylvania prison is linked to a nearby coal ash dump, and the correctional facility should be closed down, according to a recent report.

Eleven prisoners died of cancer from 2010 through 2013, and six others have been diagnosed with cancer at the State Correctional Institution Fayette, said the report, released by the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Pittsburgh, and the Human Rights Coalition, a national prison reform group.

SCI Fayette has a higher inmate death rate than all but two other prisons in the state, both of which have high geriatric populations, it said.

A 12-month investigation found that blowing coal ash was the most likely cause of the inmate cancers as well as other illnesses at the facility.

Inmates quoted in the report described black dust blowing from the dump and settling onto the prison and its grounds.

The report calls for SCI Fayette, which houses 1,986 inmates and has 677 staff, to be shut down. The medium security facility was built for $119 million and opened in 2003. All of the state’s license plates are made there.

Coal ash, also known as fly ash, is the residue of burning coal in a power plant. It was used extensively in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s in mine reclamation projects, notably in the effort to control a mine fire under the town of Centralia.

Its carcinogenic components, including lead, arsenic and mercury, were revealed in a 2010 report by a public interest group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“There is a strong correlation between confinement at SCI Fayette and the onset of serious health symptoms,” said Bret Grote, an author of the prison report. “There needs to be an independent and comprehensive study of the health of people at the prison and in the surrounding community.”

Officials at the state Department of Corrections are reviewing the report, a spokeswoman said.

“We take the health of our inmates and staff seriously,” said the spokeswoman, Susan McNaughton.

David LaTorre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, said it too would review the report carefully.

“We are aware of some officers from SCI Fayette who are suffering from illness,” he said.

Fly ash from two regional power plants was dumped at the Fayette County site for 60 years, said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

No one answered the telephone at Matt Canestrale Construction Inc in Elizabeth, which owns the dump site.

Source: Reuters

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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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