Tag Archives: endocrine disruptors

Are Flame Retardants Safe? Growing Evidence Says ‘No’.

by Elizabeth Grossman: originally published 29 Sep 2011 in Yale360

Over the past 40 years, a class of chemicals with the tongue-twisting name of halogenated flame retardants has permeated the lives of people throughout the industrialized world. These synthetic chemicals — used in electronics, upholstery, carpets, textiles, insulation, vehicle and airplane parts, children’s clothes and strollers, and many other products — have proven very effective at making petroleum-based materials resist fire.

Yet many of these compounds have also turned out to be environmentally mobile and persistent — turning up in food and household dust — and are now so ubiquitous that levels of the chemicals in the blood of North Americans appear to have been doubling every two to five years for the past several decades.

Acting on growing evidence that these flame retardants can accumulate in people and cause adverse health effects — interfering with hormones, reproductive systems, thyroid and metabolic function, and neurological development in infants and children — the federal government and various states have limited or banned the use of some of these chemicals, as have other countries. Several are restricted by the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. Many individual companies have voluntarily discontinued production and use of these compounds. Yet despite these restrictions, evidence has emerged in recent months that efforts to curtail the use of such flame retardants — a $4 billion-a-year industry globally — and to limit their impacts on human health may not be succeeding.
This spring and summer, a test of consumer products, as well as a study in Environmental Science & Technology, showed that use of these chemicals continues to be widespread and that compounds thought to be off the market due to health concerns continue to be used in the U.S., including in children’s products such as crib mattresses, changing table pads, nursing pillows, and car seats. Also this summer, new research provided the first strong evidence that maternal exposure to a widely used type of flame retardant, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), can alter thyroid function in pregnant women and children, result in low birth weights, and impair neurological development.

“Of most concern are developmental and reproductive effects and early life exposures — in utero, infantile and for children,” Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, said in an interview.

Read full post here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Salon, The Washington Post, The Nation, Mother Jones, Grist, and other publications. In earlier articles for Yale e360, she explored how the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster could affect marine life off the Japanese coast and reported on recent studies suggesting a possible link between prenatal exposure to pesticides and the mental abilities of children.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

Scientists constructing tool for chemists to flag endocrine disruptors early in chemical development.

The reporter got the attribution for our project wrong (NIEHS is not financially supporting this work, but is supporting it in kind. AGC and sister organization, Environmental Health Sciences, are funded to do the project). Still though: we are glad people are interested.

Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News
Friday September 23 2011

A group of biologists and green chemists, supported by the extramural research division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is developing a protocol for chemists to use to determine if the chemical they are developing is an endocrine disruptor.

Thaddeus Schug, who manages a portfolio of grants in the NIEHS Cellular, Organs and Systems Pathobiology Branch, highlighted the project during a panel discussion on practical approaches to integrating rapid testing into the chemical design process. The discussion took place Sept. 21, the second day of a workshop, “Applying 21st Century Toxicology to Green Chemical and Material Design,” which was sponsored by the National Academies’ Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions. Schug says the group has been working for the last year on developing a protocol, and the guiding principles behind it, to determine whether a chemical under development is toxic, and how and where testing should be performed.

“We focus on endocrine disruption, but our guiding principles and protocol could be developed to capture all forms of toxicity,” he said. The protocol is not regulatory, Schug said, but a guide chemists can follow – as they develop a chemical – to give them confidence as to whether the substance is or is not an endocrine disruptor.

The group, which includes non-governmental organizations, academics and green chemistry leaders, has come up with a tiered system. “What we propose to do is put the fastest, cheapest testing up front – the computational modeling, followed by high throughput screening and the zebrafish models,” Schug said. That would be followed up with more specific testing as a chemical moves further along the development process.

“The idea is if a chemist hits a positive early on, he’d either go back to the drawing board, or if that positive was in a specific area [i.e. an estrogen receptor in a high throughput assay], he’d follow that up with more comprehensive assays,” Schug said. “A hit anywhere along the tiered system” means the chemist has to pull back, reanalyze or throw the chemical out, he said.
“The idea is to do the fastest, cheapest test early on, so the chemist can weed out those problem chemicals early on in development so it’s not a costly procedure,” Schug said.

The idea of the protocol “arose from a great sense of frustration” in the endocrine disruptor community, Bruce Blumberg, a professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine who also is working on the project, said during the panel discussion. This frustration stemmed from “hearing things like, ‘Well, you can’t test for endocrine disruptors,’ which the American Chemistry Council says,” Blumberg noted. “We know very well how to test for endocrine disruptors, how to test for endocrine disruptor activities from in vitro all the way to animal studies,” he said. “So we said this is a gap that has to be filled, and we got together to fill that gap.”

The protocol is voluntary, Blumberg noted. “We suggest this if you want to screen for endocrine activity in your chemicals and make them more green – this is the way we think you should do it. We’re providing an alternative approach interested parties can use to make the best chemicals they can,” he said.

Richard Denison, senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund, welcomed the protocol’s development, saying “it really flips the concept of tiered testing around.”
Usually in tiered testing, a chemical only advances to the next level of testing if it is flagged for an effect at an earlier level, “which puts a huge question mark around the extent to which false negatives are being missed.”

But in the case of the protocol, “you’re advancing things that don’t raise red flags to the next level [of testing], increasing the confidence that you didn’t miss anything,” Denison said. “I think that’s a really intriguing approach.”
(Read full article here.)
– Liz Buckley

NIEHS scientists join forces with green chemists.

By Thaddeus Schug
April 2011

A representative diagram of the draft screening protocol  unveiled at the meeting
A representative diagram of the draft screening protocol unveiled at the meeting. The protocol is designed in a tiered approach, with rapid and cost effective screens conducted in the early phases and more extensive testing toward the end. (Slide courtesy of Pete Myers)

NIEHS/NTP scientists joined forces with leaders in the field of green chemistry in what may turn out to be a groundbreaking meeting, “Green Chemistry and Environmental Health Sciences — Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Materials,” held March 21-23 in Sausalito, Calif.

The challenges facing scientists trying to design such new materials are daunting. Say a chemist has developed a compound that he or she believes could be a replacement for bisphenol A (BPA). How will the scientist determine if the molecule is safer to human health and the environment? What testing will need to be done and what will guide scientists through this process?

The goals of the meeting in Sausalito were ambitious — to develop a consensus statement on the principles that guide the science needed to assess risks of potential endocrine disruptors, and to develop a reliable and rational testing protocol to aid chemists as they develop and bring the next generation of chemicals into the marketplace.

The intersection of green chemistry and environmental health science

Karen O’Brien, Ph.D., from Advancing Green Chemistry (AGC) and Pete Myers, Ph.D., of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS), welcomed participants to the event, which brought together an equal mix of biologists and chemists. Representatives from NIEHS and NTP included Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) program administrator Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., and Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., director of the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR).

Following a social ice-breaking exercise on the evening of March 21, the first full day of the meeting opened with presentations from Terry Collins, Ph.D., the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and John Warner, Ph.D., president and founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Both Collins and Warner stressed the need for fundamental changes in the way that scientists design new chemicals and the process of bringing them into the marketplace. “We must also pay close attention to the environmental impact and the effects on human health posed by these chemicals, and for those reasons chemists need to work hand-in-hand with biologists,” said Warner. He also stressed that chemists generally have no background in toxicology, but that they need to be able to test the chemicals being developed for endocrine activity and to do it early on in the product development process.

Designing a chemical screening protocol

The remainder of the day was divided into discussion sessions covering each phase of a newly developed screening model, designed by a science advisory board formed by meeting organizers that met monthly, via teleconference, for six months prior to the workshop. The protocol is geared towards identifying a wide-range of endocrine-active chemicals, such as atrazine, BPA, brominated flame retardants, organotins, perchlorates, and phthalates. The Board conducted  interviews with scientists with expertise in specific areas of toxicology, endocrine disruption, and assay development.

The testing paradigm proposed involves a five-tiered approach, starting with the fastest and cheapest assays and working through more specialized tests to determine whether a new chemical has endocrine disrupting characteristics. The initial two phases rely on predictive computer modeling and high-throughput screening to quickly weed out problem chemicals. These tests are followed by more specific in vitro cell-based screening assays with a mind to refining, reducing, and replacing animal testing as much as possible.

The final two phases involve use of fish, amphibian, and mammalian in vivo modeling systems. Overall, the protocol is intended to help green chemists establish a high degree of confidence that the replacements they are developing are unlikely to be harmful to humans or the environment.

The next steps

The meeting wrapped up with discussion on how to proceed with development of the testing protocol as well as plans for implementation. The advisory board plans to use input from the meeting to develop and publish a white paper outlining guidelines that chemists can use to assess the quality of protocols and tests used to assess endocrine disruption.

(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow currently on detail as a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training. He was part of the NIEHS/NTP delegation and a presenter at the meeting.)

 

Left to right, Collins, Heindel, and Warner mix ingredients  for a batch of salmon tartare.
Left to right, Collins, Heindel, and Warner mix ingredients for a batch of salmon tartare.  The cooking exercise was used as an ice-breaking event to demonstrate how environmental health scientists and chemists can work together to solve complex issues. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., left, contributes to the discussion  on assay development, as Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., center, and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D.,  look on.
Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., left, contributes to the discussion on assay development, as Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., center, and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D., look on. Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University, studies the developmental effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Left to right, Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., Thayer, and Andreas  Kortenkamp, Ph.D., served as panel members for a discussion on in vitro screening assays.
Left to right, Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., Thayer, and Andreas Kortenkamp, Ph.D., served as panel members for a discussion on in vitro screening assays. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

A group photo of the meeting attendees.
A group photo of the meeting attendees. The meeting was held at the Cavallo Point Lodge, which sits adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

NIEHS  grantees Andrea Gore, Ph.D., left, and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., were among  panel members for the discussion on in  vivo assays.
NIEHS grantees Andrea Gore, Ph.D., left, and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., were among panel members for the discussion on in vivo assays. Both Gore and vom Saal are members of  the project’s scientific advisory board. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

 

Emerging Environmental Health Science in Green Chemistry

NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D., attended the inaugural symposium March 24 for the new University of California, Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, entitled “Green Chemistry: Collaborative Approaches and New Solutions.” Balbus’ talk, “Incorporating Emerging Environmental Health Science in Green Chemistry,” outlined some of the challenges of applying 21st century science to protect public health.

  • How do we harness the potential of unlocking the genome?
  • Can we more accurately predict which chemicals are likely to cause harm?
  • How do we implement our understanding of susceptibility and non-chemical stressors to enhance human health?
  • How can we better incorporate new methods and technologies into science policy?

Balbus proposed that the newly developed Tox21 (http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/index.cfm?objectid=06002ADB-F1F6-975E-73B25B4E3F2A41CB), an interagency high throughput screening initiative, is aiming to meet many of these challenges and could be a valuable tool for green chemists. Demonstrating its utility in screening chemicals for disruptions in insulin signaling, Balbus concluded, “Advancements in programs such as Tox21 will eventually allow us to accurately predict how chemicals will impact human health before they are brought into the marketplace.”

Novel ‘Green’ Chemical Endocrine Screening Protocol Looks Beyond EPA’s

Inside EPA: Risk Policy Report – 07/12/2011
By Jenny Hopkinson

A group of private and government scientists is moving closer to completing a testing protocol for determining whether new “green” chemicals entering the market are safer than those they are intended to replace and do not pose endocrine disruption risks, an effort that extends beyond EPA’s screening program, which focuses on existing chemicals.

Advancing Green Chemistry (AGC), the non-profit group leading the efforts, has joined with National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Environmental Health Sciences, Inc and other private sector groups, to develop a five-tiered testing protocol that will eventually be available free to chemical producers to determine whether their products may disrupt human endocrine systems, an outcome that has been linked to a slew of health problems including obesity and breast cancer.

An AGC source says the protocol is close to being submitted for peer review and developers hope it will be completed in about another year.

The protocol is designed to address concerns that newly developed green chemicals — which are intended to be safer alternatives than existing substances — may not be much better for the endocrine system, which regulates the body’s hormones, than the existing chemicals they are being created to replace.

While EPA is required by law to test a slew of existing chemicals under its endocrine disruptor screening program (EDSP), so far the agency has been “stuck” in what it can get done and has been struggling for almost two decades, the AGC source says.

Delays with the EPA program have long been a concern. For example, former House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) last year pushed legislation that would have created a new endocrine screening program at NIEHS, in part because EPA had been slow to establish its program. “While EPA does have the EDSP they’ve been more focused on toxics and only in the past few years focused on endocrine disruption,” her spokeswoman said (Risk Policy Report, Dec. 22, 2009).

Similarly, the AGC source says EPA is “snarled up in the morass of trying to regulate existing chemicals, and that hamstrings people.” Testing for endocrine disrupting effects “is something the government should be doing, but it just doesn’t seem to be something that’s happening,” the source says.

The source puts the blame on industry for the delays in EPA’s program. “There’s a lot of vested interest in the chemicals on the market” by their manufacturers, and that is slowing down the process, the source says. So far the agency “hasn’t been able to sort that out.” Rather than get bogged down in attempts for regulation of the chemicals, “we are trying to just look forward,” the source says.

But that is not to say that EPA hasn’t shown interest in the protocol. Paul Anastas, head of the Office of Research and Development, has been involved with developing the system, although the source says while he has been “constructive and supportive,” there has been no indication that EPA will adopt the methods. “But if they want to take over our project, great I think that would be better for all of us,” the source adds. “This should just be the way we test chemicals, period.”

A second source, however, argues that EPA’s programs aren’t capable of looking at such sensitive effects of chemicals. “Unfortunately there are people still working in the lab in EPA . . . who will say none of this work has any value,” the source continues. “They are stuck with toxicologists who are still doing old school toxicology.”

As a result, AGC, about a year ago, brought together a group of chemists, toxicologists and other government and private scientists to examine what the source describes as a “burgeoning wave” of new science on endocrine disruption with the goal of developing a tool for chemical makers to ensure in the development process that a chemical will not have effects on hormones.

The result is a five-tiered protocol that begins with what the source described as “quick and easy” Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) modeling and looking at a chemical’s structure, followed by in vitro high-throughput screening assays, validated and specialized cell-based assays, amphibian and fish tests, with the final tier being mammalian testing.

While chemical producers can run a new substance through as many or as few tiers as they choose, if a chemical passes through all the tiers, then it is quite likely to be safe, said Thaddeus Schung, a postdoctoral research fellow with NIEHS, speaking at the American Chemistry Society’s 15th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Washington, DC, June 22.

Schung said that the system aims to be a logical, consensus based tool to determine endocrine activity based on sound science. “Were trying to use this brain power here to come up with a sensible effort to . . . predict chemical toxicity.” Our hope, Schung said, is to “kick some of these chemicals out of production and make way for some new chemicals that are being developed by green chemistry.”

The AGC source echoes this, saying the protocol will provide an important new tool for chemical producers. As chemists develop these new materials “it’s really hard for them to know whether or not what they’ve designed has the potential to be an endocrine disruptor.”

“Green chemists are being asked to design the next generation of benign chemicals and they don’t have the tools to do it,” the source continues, adding that chemists are not toxicologists. “This is the new design criteria — you want to make chemicals that don’t act like hormones and don’t rewire people’s systems.”

And another source says that given the public backlash on products containing such endocrine disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), “industry is staying ahead of this now,” the source says. “They realize that this is the way we have to go.” – Jenny Hopkinson

NIEHS scientists join forces with green chemists

By Thaddeus Schug
April 2011

NIEHS/NTP scientists joined forces with leaders in the field of green chemistry in what may turn out to be a groundbreaking meeting, “Green Chemistry and Environmental Health Sciences — Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Materials,” held March 21-23 in Sausalito, Calif.

The challenges facing scientists trying to design such new materials are daunting. Say a chemist has developed a compound that he or she believes could be a replacement for bisphenol A (BPA). How will the scientist determine if the molecule is safer to human health and the environment? What testing will need to be done and what will guide scientists through this process?

The goals of the meeting in Sausalito were ambitious — to develop a consensus statement on the principles that guide the science needed to assess risks of potential endocrine disruptors, and to develop a reliable and rational testing protocol to aid chemists as they develop and bring the next generation of chemicals into the marketplace.

The intersection of green chemistry and environmental health science

Karen O’Brien, Ph.D., from Advancing Green Chemistry (AGC) and Pete Myers, Ph.D., of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS), welcomed participants to the event, which brought together an equal mix of biologists and chemists. Representatives from NIEHS and NTP included Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) program administrator Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., and Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., director of the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR).

Following a social ice-breaking exercise on the evening of March 21, the first full day of the meeting opened with presentations from Terry Collins, Ph.D., the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and John Warner, Ph.D., president and founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Both Collins and Warner stressed the need for fundamental changes in the way that scientists design new chemicals and the process of bringing them into the marketplace. “We must also pay close attention to the environmental impact and the effects on human health posed by these chemicals, and for those reasons chemists need to work hand-in-hand with biologists,” said Warner. He also stressed that chemists generally have no background in toxicology, but that they need to be able to test the chemicals being developed for endocrine activity and to do it early on in the product development process.

Designing a chemical screening protocol

The remainder of the day was divided into discussion sessions covering each phase of a newly developed screening model, designed by a science advisory board formed by meeting organizers that met monthly, via teleconference, for six months prior to the workshop. The protocol is geared towards identifying a wide-range of endocrine-active chemicals, such as atrazine, BPA, brominated flame retardants, organotins, perchlorates, and phthalates. The Board conducted  interviews with scientists with expertise in specific areas of toxicology, endocrine disruption, and assay development.

The testing paradigm proposed involves a five-tiered approach, starting with the fastest and cheapest assays and working through more specialized tests to determine whether a new chemical has endocrine disrupting characteristics. The initial two phases rely on predictive computer modeling and high-throughput screening to quickly weed out problem chemicals. These tests are followed by more specific in vitro cell-based screening assays with a mind to refining, reducing, and replacing animal testing as much as possible.

The final two phases involve use of fish, amphibian, and mammalian in vivo modeling systems. Overall, the protocol is intended to help green chemists establish a high degree of confidence that the replacements they are developing are unlikely to be harmful to humans or the environment.

The next steps

The meeting wrapped up with discussion on how to proceed with development of the testing protocol as well as plans for implementation. The advisory board plans to use input from the meeting to develop and publish a white paper outlining guidelines that chemists can use to assess the quality of protocols and tests used to assess endocrine disruption.

(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow currently on detail as a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training. He was part of the NIEHS/NTP delegation and a presenter at the meeting.)

A representative diagram of the draft screening protocol  unveiled at the meeting
A representative diagram of the draft screening protocol unveiled at the meeting. The protocol is designed in a tiered approach, with rapid and cost effective screens conducted in the early phases and more extensive testing toward the end. (Slide courtesy of Pete Myers)

Left to right, Collins, Heindel, and Warner mix ingredients  for a batch of salmon tartare.
Left to right, Collins, Heindel, and Warner mix ingredients for a batch of salmon tartare.  The cooking exercise was used as an ice-breaking event to demonstrate how environmental health scientists and chemists can work together to solve complex issues. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., left, contributes to the discussion  on assay development, as Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., center, and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D.,  look on.
Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., left, contributes to the discussion on assay development, as Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., center, and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D., look on. Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University, studies the developmental effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Left to right, Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., Thayer, and Andreas  Kortenkamp, Ph.D., served as panel members for a discussion on in vitro screening assays.
Left to right, Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D., Thayer, and Andreas Kortenkamp, Ph.D., served as panel members for a discussion on in vitro screening assays. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

A group photo of the meeting attendees.
A group photo of the meeting attendees. The meeting was held at the Cavallo Point Lodge, which sits adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

NIEHS  grantees Andrea Gore, Ph.D., left, and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., were among  panel members for the discussion on in  vivo assays.
NIEHS grantees Andrea Gore, Ph.D., left, and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., were among panel members for the discussion on in vivo assays. Both Gore and vom Saal are members of  the project’s scientific advisory board. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Chemists, biologists collaborate to design endocrine disrupter screening tool.

01-Apr-2011

As part of an unprecedented collaboration in the US between environmental health scientists and synthetic chemists, a working meeting was held last week as part of an ongoing project to create a design protocol to screen new materials for endocrine disrupting activity. Hosted by the non-profit organisations, Advancing Green Chemistry and Environmental Health Sciences, the meeting brought together about two dozen leading researchers in fields that include molecular biology, endocrinology, genetics, and green chemistry to create a screening tool to be used as new chemicals are being synthesized with the goal of detecting potential biological activity before a new compound goes into commercial production.

While endocrine disruption has been recognised as a health hazard for more than two decades, no screening tool comparable to the one this group of scientists is developing currently exists. To be effective at detecting endocrine disrupting activity, an assay would have to take into account potential low dose and non-linear effects of chemicals and the many possible interactions such chemicals can have with genetic receptors. The goal of the project is to produce a suite of peer-reviewed assays for synthetic chemists, the great majority of whom are not trained in biology, endocrinology or toxicology. The protocol is being designed for use in both commercial and academic laboratories.

“In the US, there has been a 15-plus year effort underway at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which has still not come out with a comprehensive testing protocol for endocrine disruption,” said Karen Peabody O’Brien, executive director of Advancing Green Chemistry. “Rather than wait for regulation of what is already in use, this group is putting together a design tool for chemists who are trying to create the next generation of safer materials or ‘greener’ chemicals. We are not trying to regulate industry but give chemists the means to find out well in advance whether they are making something that, to the best of our knowledge, is not biologically active,” explained Dr O’Brien.

She stressed that this is the first toxicological screening tool to be developed by such a cross-disciplinary team of scientists and that the intent is to provide chemists with a way to establish confidence that new materials – particularly alternatives to existing problematic chemicals – are safe.

Greener polyurethanes start with plant-based raw materials.

Synopsis by Evan Beach Mar 10, 2011
Read more about this at The Atlantic

Helou, M, J-F Carpentier and SM Guillaume.  2010.  Poly(carbonate-urethane): an isocyanate-free procedure from a,x-di(cyclic carbonate) telechelic poly(trimethylene carbonate)s. Green Chemistry http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c0gc00686f.

A shift to a bio-based raw material can reduce several chemical hazards associated with making one of the most popular plastics – polyurethanes – in production today, researchers report in the journal Green Chemistry. The new process means polyurethane plastic may be less hazardous to make and easier to break down in the environment.

Polyurethanes are a family of commodity plastics very commonly encountered in everyday life. They are widely used in industrial, automotive, engineering and medical applications and are found in a large range of products, including paints, foams, adhesives and coatings.

The new process for making polyurethanes focuses on one class called polycarbonate urethanes. These are found commercially in coatings and medical devices.

Almost all polyurethanes are prepared from chemicals called isocyanates. Most isocyanates are acutely toxic and pose a health risk to workers during manfacturing and to people who live in the communities surrounding the facilities.

The manufacturing of polyurethanes usually relies on toxic metal catalysts that can be released from the products into the environment. Research has shown that environmental exposures to these chemicals can lead to disruption of hormonal processes in animals.

To avoid the isocyanates and toxic catalysts, the researchers use a method that creates bonds between carbon and nitrogen atoms. Isocyanate chemistry creates carbon-oxygen links. By changing this strategy, the scientists can incorporate a variety of bio-based raw materials into the final plastic. One of their key starting materials is glycerol, a by-product of biofuels made from plant oils.

The report shows that the process leads to longer polymer chains. Longer chains offer better performance in commercial applications. The new type of polycarbonate urethanes are also biodegradable.

One potential catch in the new method is that one of the chemicals used in the process, called DCC, is itself very commonly produced from isocyanates. DCC acts as a promoter, making one of the chemical reactions easier to accomplish. However, it is very likely that other promoters could be used in its place. Replacement of DCC would be an obvious improvement for a process that aims to be isocyanate-free.

Read more about this at The Atlantic

BPA: What’s the alternative?

Posted by Evan Beach at Nov 12, 2010 03:30 PM | Permalink

Science News and other outlets reporting on BPA-free receipts identify for the first time a substitute chemical being used by one of the largest manufacturers of thermal paper. It has been referred to incorrectly in blogs as “bisphenol sulfonate” or “diphenyl sulfone,” but it is actually a chemical known as bisphenol S (Update, 11/15/10: 4,4′-sulfonylbisphenol). As the name indicates, it is structurally very similar to bisphenol A (BPA). And although it has not been studied as much as BPA, preliminary studies show that it shares hormone-mimicking properties as well.

In 2005, a group of Japanese scientists compared BPA and 19 other related compounds for their ability to mimic the female hormone estrogen. They tested the effects on human cells and found that bisphenol S was slightly less potent than BPA, but not by much: bisphenol S was active at 1.1 micromolar concentration, BPA at 0.63 micromolar. One micromolar is roughly equivalent to a packet of sugar in 3,000 gallons of water.

Other researchers have found that bisphenol S is much less biodegradable than BPA. In their study of eight bisphenol compounds, bisphenol S was the most persistent.

While much more is known about the effects of BPA – particularly at ultra-low doses – the existing data on bisphenol S suggests the substitution should be made with caution. Hormone-mimicking behavior and environmental persistence are intrinsic hazards that should be avoided. As the Science News story mentions, an assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment program may shine more light on the matter.

2010 Heinz Awards announced

By Elizabeth Weise

This year’s Heinz Family Foundation awards include honors for a scientist documenting the effects of endocrine disruptors, a champion on the global seed vault and one of the giants in the field of ‘green,’ or non-toxic, chemistry.

The awards come with an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000. They recognize outstanding individuals for their contributions in the areas of Arts and Humanities, the Environment, the Human Condition, Public Policy, and Technology, the Economy and Employment. They were established by Teresa Heinz in 1993 to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz.

This year’s winners include:

James Balog with icebergs at Ilulissat Isfjord, UNESCO World Heritage site. By Adam LeWinter, Adam LeWinter

James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey (Boulder, Colo.)

For his dramatic use of photography to document the devastation of global warming. James Balog, a former skeptic of global warming, is honored for his pioneering photographic documentation of the effects of global warming worldwide. Using materials from his local hardware store, he adapted 39 Nikon cameras to take photos of glaciers around the world each hour of daylight. More than 500,000 photographs from his Extreme Ice Survey illustrate the evidence of global warming over time, providing scientists with vital insight on glacial retreat.

Frederick vom Saal. Curators’ Professor Division of Biological Sciences · College of Arts & Science. Rutgers University. By L.G. Patterson

Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., University of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)

For uncovering health problems linked to the chemical BPA. Building upon an already distinguished career in basic reproductive biology, vom Saal discovered unexpected health problems linked to exposure to common chemicals in every day products such as bisphenol A (BPA), a widely-used ingredient in consumer products. Vom Saal’s work has been crucial to opening new questions about many chemicals in widespread use, which had been thought safe based on traditional methods used in toxicology. His research challenges health agencies around the world to use 21st century biomedical science in assessing the risks posed by environmental chemicals.

Cary Fowler, Global Crop Diversity Trust. By Heinz Family Foundation.

For establishing the Global Seed Vault to conserve genetic diversity of the world’s food plants despite climate change. Raised in Tennessee, Fowler developed a love for agriculture that shaped his acute awareness of the importance of crop diversity. His work emphasizes that a lack in plant population diversity weakens food security. His efforts to conserve crop diversity, including the development of the Global Seed Vault — holding one-third of the world’s seed varieties — are critical to preserving crop diversity as factors such as climate change and natural disasters threaten agriculture and its ability to feed humanity in the future.

Terry Collins is the Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University where he directs the Institute for Green Science. By Heinz Family Foundation

Terrence Collins, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

For using “green chemistry” to detoxify hazardous chemicals and training the next generation of scientists.Collins has a distinguished and unquenchable passion for training the next generation of scientists to combine the tools of chemistry with the knowledge of environmental health science so their work will reduce the use and generation of hazardous substances. A professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Green Science, Collins and his research group have played a crucial role in inventing safe, sustainable ways to mitigate toxic waste and biological agents including anthrax.

Gretchen Daily, Ph.D.,Stanford University and the Natural Capital Project (Stanford, Calif.)

For her achievements demonstrating the financial value of natural ecosystems, which include climate stability, flood control, water purification, pollination and production of food. Daily has shown important and unique global leadership in creating new tools and approaches for estimating the economic value of conservation, and for implementing these in key demonstrations around the world. With the Natural Capital Project, she has co-developed InVEST, a computer software program helping decision makers identify ecological assets with the highest financial value. Daily’s current work in China is helping to inform a $100 billion investment in conservation, over 25 percent of the country’s land area, to harmonize conservation and human development.

Daniel Sperling, Ph.D., University of California, Davis (Davis, Calif.)

For advancing sustainable transportation policies and accelerating the transition to low-carbon alternative fuels nationwide. Sperling has made significant contributions to revolutionize transportation and energy research through a unique academic approach that merges research, policy studies and entrepreneurship in pursuit of clean, equitable transportation options. A professor and founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, Sperling was instrumental in the passage of California’s groundbreaking Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the first major regulation built on the concept of measuring greenhouse gases over a product or fuel’s lifecycle, from production to end use. Sperling’s most recent book, Two Billion Cars, has received international acclaim and demonstrates his ability to communicate complex topics in a way that touches people and moves them to action.

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert. By Nicholas Whitman

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, (Williamstown, Mass.)

For her groundbreaking environmental journalism and devotion to informing readers. Elizabeth Kolbert is honored for her steadfast, creative and challenging journalistic explorations of important environmental issues that are central to global change. Time and again she has written about key global issues of the day, in media outlets such as The New Yorker as well as in books. Ms. Kolbert’s investigations go beyond traditional reporting — even raising a hive of bees in her backyard to better understand their habits for a story about their mysterious disappearance. Her skill for providing readers with intriguing narrative generates intense interest, grabs national attention and has inspired a movie.

Michael Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. By Heinz Family Foundation

Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D., Princeton University (Princeton, N.J. and New York, N.Y.)

For assessing the impacts of global warming and air pollution, and working for policies to prevent future harm. Oppenheimer is honored for his leadership in assessing the impacts of climate change and air pollution, as well as promoting policies to prevent future harm. Long before global warming reached global prominence, he drew international attention to the issue by co-organizing workshops that helped precipitate the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton, Oppenheimer was formerly chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund for 21 years. He is currently a lead coordinating author of the fifth IPCC assessment as well as on a special report on climate extremes and disasters.

Richard A. Feely, an oceanographer, directs the Marine Carbon Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. By Heinz Family Foundation

Richard Feely, Ph.D.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (Seattle, Wash.)

For his extraordinary efforts in identifying ocean acidity as global warming’s “evil twin.” Studying the world’s oceans since 1974, Feely is recognized by the Heinz Awards for his extensive study of ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Logging over 1,000 days at sea and over 50 scientific expeditions, Feely’s startling discoveries prove acidity levels are rising fast and represent a major challenge to the health of the ocean’s food web. Throughout his career, Feely has promoted improvements in public policy to protect oceans and marine ecosystems. His research documenting the pace and extent of acidification have brought this issue world-wide attention and forced recognition of the fact that policy measures that only address global warming will fail to fully confront global change.

Lynn Goldman, Johns Hopkins National Children’s Study Center. By Marissa Rauch

Lynn Goldman, M.D., George Washington University (Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring, Md.)

For promoting regulation of dangerous chemicals and expanding citizens’ right to know about pollution in their communities. As a pediatrician and epidemiologist, she saw children with preventable infectious diseases and lead poisoning and it inspired her to research and develop programs to stop negative health effects caused by chemical contaminants. Appointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she strengthened regulation on pesticides and toxic substances and expanded citizens’ right-to-know about pollution in their communities. Returning to academia after government service, she has carried out groundbreaking research on how chemicals affect newborn children. In August, she became dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, a position that will enhance her ability to protect public health.

See original article in USA Today

Concentration of bisphenol A in thermal paper.

Authors: Ted Menduma; Emily Stolera; Helen VanBenschotena; John C. Warnera

Abstract

Bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used as a color developer in thermal paper. Thermal paper is ubiquitous in daily life due to its use in cash register receipts, so opportunities for human contact abound. For this study, 10 blank cash register receipts were obtained from businesses in suburban Boston. BPA was extracted and analysis of concentration was performed using gas chromatograph/flame ionization detector. In some receipts, BPA was not detected but in others it was as high as 19 mg for a 12-inch long receipt, which is in line with concentrations indicated in patents. This study is intended to highlight the potential for human exposure to BPA as well as the ease with which exposure may be reduced through the use of BPA-free thermal paper.