Tag Archives: regulations

Low doses, big effects: Scientists seek ‘fundamental changes’ in testing, regulation of hormone-like chemicals.

Small doses can have big health effects. That is a main finding of a new report, three years in the making, published Wednesday by a team of 12 scientists who study hormone-altering chemicals. Dozens of substances that can mimic or block hormones are found in the environment, the food supply and consumer products, including plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. One of the biggest controversies is whether the tiny doses that most people are exposed to are harmful. Researchers led by Tufts University’s Laura Vandenberg concluded after examining hundreds of studies that health effects “are remarkably common” when people or animals are exposed to low doses. “Fundamental changes in chemical testing are needed to protect human health,” they wrote.

By Marla Cone

Editor in Chief

Environmental Health News

March 15, 2012

Small doses can have big health effects. 2012-0315labrats

That is a main finding of a report, three years in the making, published Wednesday by a team of 12 scientists who study hormone-altering chemicals.

Dozens of substances that can mimic or block estrogen, testosterone and other hormones are found in the environment, the food supply and consumer products, including plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. One of the biggest, longest-lasting controversies about these chemicals is whether the tiny doses that most people are exposed to are harmful.

In the new report, researchers led by Tufts University’s Laura Vandenberg concluded after examining hundreds of studies that health effects “are remarkably common” when people or animals are exposed to low doses of endocrine-disrupting compounds. As examples, they provide evidence for several controversial chemicals, including bisphenol A, found in polycarbonate plastic, canned foods and paper receipts, and the pesticide atrazine, used in large volumes mainly on corn.

The scientists concluded that scientific evidence “clearly indicates that low doses cannot be ignored.” They cited evidence of a wide range of health effects in people – from fetuses to aging adults – including links to infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and other disorders.

“Whether low doses of endocrine-disrupting compounds influence human disorders is no longer conjecture, as epidemiological studies show that environmental exposures are associated with human diseases and disabilities,” they wrote.

The scientists concluded that scientific evidence “clearly indicates that low doses cannot be ignored.” They cited evidence of a wide range of health effects in people – from fetuses to aging adults – including links to infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and other disorders.In addition, the scientists took on the issue of whether a decades-old strategy for testing most chemicals – exposing lab rodents to high doses then extrapolating down for real-life human exposures – is adequate to protect people.

They concluded that it is not, and so they urged reforms. Some hormone-like chemicals have health effects at low doses that do not occur at high doses.

“Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints” for human health, they said. “The effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.”

The report was published online Wednesday in the scientific journal Endocrine Reviews. Authors include scientists University of Missouri’s Frederick vom Saal, who has linked low doses of bisphenol A to a variety of effects, Theo Colborn, who is credited with first spreading the word about hormone-disrupting chemicals in the late 1980s and University of California, Berkeley’s Tyrone Hayes, who has documented effects of atrazine on frogs.

The senior author is Pete Myers, the founder of Environmental Health News and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences.

Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the new report is valuable “because it pulls a tremendous amount of information together” about endocrine-disrupting compounds. Her agency is the main one that studies health effects of contaminants in the environment.

Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in many cases, industry is still asking “old questions” about chemical safety even though “science has moved on.” Birnbaum said she agrees with their main finding: All chemicals that can disrupt hormones should be tested in ultra-low doses relevant to real human exposures, she said.

In many cases, chemical manufacturers still are asking “old questions” when they test the safety of chemicals even though “science has moved on,” she said. “Some of the testing paradigms have not advanced with the state of the science.” Birnbaum wrote an editorial on Wednesday referencing the new report.

Nevertheless, for most toxicologists, Birnbaum said the report does not offer a big shift from what they are doing. The NIEHS already conducts low-dose testing of chemicals, including looking for multi-generational effects such as adult diseases that are triggered by fetal exposures.

“Some people keep slamming the toxicologists. But you can’t paint everyone with the same brush,” Birnbaum said.

However, the scientists who wrote the report said that low-dose science “has been disregarded or considered insignificant by many.” They seemed to aim much of their findings at the National Toxicology Program and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA in 2008 discounted low-dose studies when it concluded that bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products was safe. Two years later, the agency shifted its opinion, stating that they now will more closely examine studies showing low-dose effects. The National Toxicology Program in 2008 found that BPA poses “some risks” to human health but rejected other risks because studies were inconsistent.

Several of the report’s authors have been criticized by some other scientists and industry representatives because they have become outspoken advocates for testing, regulating and replacing endocrine-disrupting compounds. The scientists, however, say they feel compelled to speak out because regulatory agencies are slow to act and they are concerned about the health of people, especially infants and children, and wildlife.

Industry representatives say that just because people are exposed to traces of chemicals capable of altering hormones doesn’t mean there are any harmful effects. They say that the studies are often contradictory or inconclusive.

“Based on the evidence, it is concluded that these ‘low dose’ effects have yet to be established [and] that the studies purported to support these cannot be validly extrapolated to humans.” –Michael Kamrin, Michigan State University  In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical companies, said Wednesday that the industry “has committed substantial resources to advancing science to better understand any potential effects of chemical substances on the endocrine system. While we have not had an opportunity to fully review this paper, Michael Kamrin, emeritus professor of Michigan State University, has concluded ‘low dose’ effects have not been proven, and therefore should not be applied to real-world conditions and human exposures.”

“Based on the evidence, it is concluded that these ‘low dose’ effects have yet to be established [and] that the studies purported to support these cannot be validly extrapolated to humans,” Kamrin, a toxicologist, wrote in the International Journal of Toxicology in 2007.

But vom Saal and other scientists have said that tests that do not find low-dose effects of chemicals such as BPA are often industry-funded, and they often have tested the wrong animals or the wrong doses, or don’t expose the animals during the most vulnerable time of fetal growth.

Endocrinologists have long known that infinitesimal amounts of estrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormones and other natural hormones can have big health effects, particularly on fetuses. It comes as no surprise to them that manmade substances with hormonal properties might have big effects, too.

“There truly are no safe doses for chemicals that act like hormones, because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels,” Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Levin Lab Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, told Environmental Health News.

But many toxicologists subscribe to “the dose makes the poison” conventional wisdom. In other words, it takes a certain size dose of something to be toxic. They also are accustomed to seeing an effect from chemicals called “monotonic,” which means the responses of an animal or person go up or down with the dose.

The scientists in the new review said neither of those applies to hormone-like chemicals.

“Accepting these phenomena should lead to paradigm shifts in toxicological studies, and will likely also have lasting effects on regulatory science,” they wrote.

In the report, the scientists were concerned that government has determined “safe” levels for “a significant number of endocrine-disrupting compounds” that have never been tested at low levels. They urged “greatly expanded and generalized safety testing.”

“Accepting these phenomena should lead to paradigm shifts in toxicological studies, and will likely also have lasting effects on regulatory science,” the scientists wrote.”We suggest setting the lowest dose in the experiment below the range of human exposures, if such a dose is known,” they wrote.

Vandenberg said that there may be no effect or a totally different effect at a high dose of a hormonal substance, while a lower dose may trigger a disease.

The breast cancer drug tamoxifen “provides an excellent example for how high-dose testing cannot be used to predict the effects of low doses,” according to the report. At low doses, it stimulates breast cancer growth. At higher ones, it inhibits it.

“Imagine taking 100 individuals that are representative of the American population and lining them up in order of exposure to an EDC [endocrine-disrupting compound] so that the person on the far left has the least exposure and the person on the far right has the most. For many toxic chemicals, individuals with the highest levels of exposure, at the right end of the line, have the highest incidence of disease. But for some EDCs, studies suggest that people in the middle of the line have the highest risk,” Vandenberg said.

She compared hormones, which bind to receptors in the body to trigger functions such as growth of the brain or reproductive organs, to keys in a lock.
“The more keys that are in the locks, the more of an effect that is seen. But at some point, the locks are overwhelmed and stop responding to the keys. Thus, in the lower range, more keys equals more of an effect, but in the higher range, more keys equals less of an effect,” she said.
Vandenberg predicted the report “will start conversations among academic, regulatory and industry scientists about how risk assessments for EDCs can be improved.”
“The question is no longer whether these phenomena exist, but how to move forward and deal with them.” Read more science at Environmental Health News.

State Chemical Regulation: Green Chemistry, Chemical Bans and Other Efforts to Limit Chemical Exposures.

There is growing trend in US states to create legislation regulating chemicals in consumer products.  This is a good thing for green chemistry in that these regulations and bans can act as drivers for green chemistry innovation. But what about the so-called “Green Chemistry” laws in various states?  Obviously banning or restricting chemicals is not actually doing green chemistry (no one is making molecules here, they are banning them. Chemistry is making molecules.). So what kind of laws are out there that actually do enable, support, or assist the development of Green Chemistry? Here is a hint: check out Michigan and Minnesota (but beware of California’s example).

State Chemical Regulation: Green Chemistry, Chemical Bans and Other Efforts to Limit Chemical Exposures.

by: Stephen C. Jones, Greenberg Traurig, LLP – Philadelphia Office

April 15, 2011 (Previously published on April 12, 2011)

To the consternation of many manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, states increasingly are taking steps to regulate chemicals contained in consumer and personal care products. The consumer and personal care products industry has made it known that it would prefer consistent, comprehensive federal regulation, rather than having to comply with a mixed-bag of varying state and local requirements. However, according to Healthy States, a November 2010 report prepared by the advocacy group Safer States, in the last decade both the number of states adopting chemical regulation laws, and the number of laws they have adopted, have tripled. MIKE BELLIVEAU, SAFER STATES, HEALTHY STATES: PROTECTING FAMILIES FROM TOXIC CHEMICALS WHILE CONGRESS LAGS BEHIND 6 (2010) [hereinafter HEALTHY STATES], available at http://www.saferstates.com. According to the study, 18 states passed 71 new chemical safety laws during that period. Id. All indications are that this trend will continue.

Read the full article at Martindale.com

Newly identified chemicals leach into food packages, pose regulatory challenge.

Synopsis by Emily Barrett
— last modified Feb 07, 2011 09:25 AM

Muncke, J. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and other substances of concern in food contact materials: An updated review of exposure, effect and risk assessment. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsbmb.2010.10.004.

It is well-known that eating fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce extra fat, salt and calories; but now there are additional reasons to choose fresh foods over processed ones.

Increasingly, evidence shows that the plastics and wrappers used for packaging can inadvertently leach unwanted chemicals into food. Several recent studies found high levels of bisphenol A – an environmental chemical that can disrupt hormonal processes – in canned foods and in packaged foods for people and pets.

Now, another study suggests that the problems go far beyond just one culprit or one health effect. Among the many toxic chemicals that can migrate from packaging into food are the endocrine disrupting phthalates and organotins and the carcinogen benzophenone. These compounds are heavily used in food packaging and have known health effects, yet are not routinely tested or regulated in food.

Although some regulations exist to guarantee safe food packaging, the current system does not address concerns posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals. The associated health effects of exposure to hormone altering compounds are many and varied, including immune disfunction, metabolic disorders (diabetes, thyroid) and reproductive problems.

A number of other notable regulatory flaws include not testing mixtures and a lack of understanding of different effects on different populations – from children to developing fetus to adults to the elderly.

Currently, chemical toxicity tests are only required when compounds reach certain levels in food. In the U.S., it is 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) for general toxicity and 1 ppm for reproductive toxicity.

The guidelines, though, do not consider the collective numbers and toxicity – alone or in combination – of all of the chemicals that can leach from the packaging. In a chemical mix, individual health effects may be magnified. Printing, ink, adhesives, recycled cardboard and the plastic containers can all introduce unwanted chemicals into a single food product, creating a mix with additive or synergystic effects. What’s more, the chemicals may degrade over time or form new compounds that migrate into food. These can go entirely unmeasured since it is nearly impossible to identify and test for them all.

Kids may be at particular risk. Not only are their bodies still developing and hence susceptible to environmental insults, but they tend to eat more packaged foods, a more limited diet and more food for their body weight than adults do. There are similar concerns for pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as obese adults, whose bodies may process these chemicals differently from their trimmer counterparts.

More stringent and broader regulations as well as testing programs may be necessary to further identify and reduce exposures – especially in children and women of reproductive age – to a broad swath of chemicals found in canned, packaged and other processed food.

See original post in Environmental Health Sciences

EPA seeks policy shift, announces sustainability reform effort.

By Marla Cone

Editor in Chief
Environmental Health News
Dec. 1, 2010

Aiming to reform its policies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has enlisted one of the biggest guns in the federal arsenal to help: The National Academy of Sciences.

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone launched an effort to develop the so-called Green Book, a project to ensure all EPA policies are driven by sustainability.

The effort is reminiscent of the 1983 Red Book, written by the National Research Council to develop a strategy of risk assessment to guide the agency’s policies. That project triggered a dramatic shift in how the EPA developed regulations, focusing for the first time on scientifically evaluating risks to human health and the environment.

The National Research Council project was commissioned by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and announced as part of EPA’s 40th-anniversary celebration.

Paul Anastas, EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development, said a new strategy focusing on sustainability is a necessary but challenging step in the “evolution” of the nation’s environmental laws and programs.

“This is no small shift,” he said. “This is a seismic shift in how we pursue our mission…We are under no illusion that it will happen by next Tuesday.”

EPA’s current policies and regulations are driven by statutes that oversee individual issues, such as pesticides, air pollution and drinking water contaminants. But the project by the National Research Council will develop a framework for the EPA to link all environmental issues and ensure its policies rely on sustainable use of energy, water, land and other resources.

For the initiative to succeed, it will have to incorporate a lot of diverse, often contradictory factors, such as environmental justice, economic growth, chemical exposures and energy savings.

In announcing the effort, Jackson said she wants the framework to “apply across all of the agency’s programs, policies and actions.”

Instead of just focusing on risks, if there were a new “sustainability” approach, EPA would have to incorporate a range of sustainable approaches in its solutions to problems. For example, EPA officials said a new global indoor stove initiative deals not only with air pollutants, but also climate change, deforestation and women’s health issues.

The idea is to think systemically, Anastas said. “We act in a fragmented way,” he said.

Anastas said an example of the consequences of fragmentation is that drinking water must be disinfected, but disinfection leads to byproducts in the water supply that pose health risks and must then be regulated. Similarly, growers want to increase crop yields to grow the food supply but this goal leads to overuse of farm chemicals.

The National Research Council panel will be chaired by Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a  professor of environmental and occupational health at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

A Proactive Approach to Toxic Chemicals: Moving Green Chemistry Beyond Alternatives in the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”.

Kira J. M. Matus*, Julie B. Zimmerman and Evan Beach

* Corresponding author e-mail: kira.matus@yale.edu.,

On April 15, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” in the United States Senate. On the same day, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) released a discussion draft of a similar bill in the House. These bills present an important and much needed modernization to the management and regulation of chemical hazards in the United States.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the regulation designed to protect Americans and their environment from chemical hazards, has not had its core provisions significantly amended since its enactment in 1976. However, in recent years, there has been increased pressure on lawmakers to rethink the government’s approach to the hazards that arise during the lifecycle of chemical production and use.

There are several drivers for action on chemicals management legislation including (1) recent concerns on the part of nongovernmental organizations and the public about particular chemical hazards (BPA, phthalates, etc…), (2) strict state level chemical regulations, and (3) the enactment of a comprehensive chemical regulation program by the European Community known as Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH). Further, in 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson laid out the Obama Administration’s key priorities for TSCA reform (1). This was accompanied by similar proposals from industry and the NGO communities indicating a desire to update TSCA.

Many of the provisions included in the recently proposed legislation, such as shifting the burden of data provision from the EPA to industry, are widely supported. Other elements, such as what data should be provided, how chemicals will be prioritized, the scope of EPA’s authority to take action, and whether it is feasible to “prove” the safety of a chemical have emerged as topics for vigorous debate.

Among the many elements in the current bills, there is one provision, “Green Chemistry”, that has the potential, in the long term, to drastically change the paradigm of the chemical enterprise. Green chemistry, simply defined, is “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances” (2). Based on 12 Principles (2), Green Chemistry is a systems-based approach for reduced hazard across the entire life cycle of chemicals, from design, manufacture, and use to end of life. It integrates knowledge from across chemistry, engineering, environmental science, and toxicology to reduce, and ideally, eliminate, adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

Both versions of the bill, picking up on Administrator Jackson’s call for green chemistry to be a core element in TSCA reform, explicitly mention the need to “spur innovation in green chemistry”. They address this with a series of proposals under the title of “Safer Alternatives and Green Chemistry and Engineering”. The programs included in this section are laudable. They would provide incentives for the creation of greener, less hazardous alternatives through research funding, expedited review processes, awards, labeling programs, and the creation of four national green chemistry and engineering research centers.

While these provisions are clear signals to the chemical enterprise representing a strong beginning for enhancing green chemistry innovation, there are additional activities and strategies that can and should be advanced. Green chemistry is about more than developing safer alternatives. It is fundamentally a series of guidelines to designing chemicals to reduce, and ideally eliminate, hazard. Green chemistry is a preventive approach based on innovation that improves technical performance, profits, and social benefit. It takes into account long-term, life-cycle thinking.

Green chemistry is at its most powerful as a tool for the development of the next generation of chemical innovations. For new chemicals and materials, it is much more efficient if they are as safe as possible from the outset, eliminating the need to develop alternatives in the future. If the principles of green chemistry were broadly implemented, both in the scientific research community and in industry, they would be a powerful, market-oriented, economically favorable approach to protecting human health and the environment from any potential adverse impacts before they could be manifested.

As discussion of these bills moves forward, stakeholders involved in the process should think more creatively about how the tools of green chemistry can be incorporated throughout the reformed TSCA regulatory process. This means thinking not just about alternatives to chemicals already in commerce, but also about ways to develop and disseminate the knowledge so that new innovations are progressively safer and greener. There are a variety of approaches that should be explored including:

1.  Make use of the power of public reporting, and familiarize firms with including Green Chemistry Principles and accounting in their statements:

a. Grant the EPA the authority to include green chemistry metrics in the data that it can require manufacturers to submit as part of their data sets. This could include information such as E-factor (a measure of the efficiency of production), use or generation of hazardous substances based on those chemicals currently listed, and use of renewable energy or material feedstocks.

b. Have the EPA work with NGOs, academia, and industry to create a template for a green chemistry “scorecard” for chemicals and mixtures. Provide incentives for manufacturers who voluntarily submit green chemistry “scorecards” on their products.

c. Make green chemistry information on chemicals publicly available, to spur public awareness and empower consumers.

2. Take advantage of the large quantity of data that will be submitted to develop new tools to make it easier for firms to incorporate green chemistry in their processes:

a.  Environmental and toxicological data on existing chemicals could be used to help develop tools, such as molecular design guidelines, that would allow chemical firms to more easily integrate green chemistry into their product development.

3.  Support forward-looking research and innovation:

a. Extend research support beyond existing alternatives identification to include development of new chemical products and processes; also identify key challenges and emerging technologies as priority areas for investment in Green Chemistry and Engineering (GC&E) research

4. Foster collaborations:

a. Create programs that allow the government to incentivize collaboration between industry and academia to develop and implement GC&E based technologies.

b.  Establish an interagency green chemistry forum to identify and prioritize key areas of GC&E R&D, and mechanisms for integration into various agency programs.

These are just a few of the ways green chemistry could be integrated into a reformed TSCA in a more holistic manner. Green chemistry does not need to be a separate program, but can be woven in throughout the regulation. Instead of relying on a reactive approach, a reformed TSCA presents the opportunity to simultaneously foster a proactive approach. According to both of the proposed bills, the policy of the United States will be “to protect the health of children, workers, consumers, and the public, and to protect the environment from adverse effects of exposures to chemicals” (3). If it is included more broadly throughout this regulatory framework, green chemistry can play an important role in creating a trajectory of chemical innovation that reduces hazards from the outset, which is the most effective and efficient way to protect Americans and their environment.


This article references 3 other publications.

  1. 1.

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation. http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/principles.pdf. Accessed May 21

    , 2010.

  2. 2.
    Anastas, P. T. and Warner, J. C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice; Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK and New York, 1998.

  3. 3.

    “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010.” United States Senate, 111th Congress, S.3209, Sec. 32, 2010.


Few people know their name, but these chemicals have become EPA priority.

Few people know their name, but these chemicals have become EPA priority

from Environmental Health Sciences

An obscure family of chemicals – important to the metalworking industry but virtually unknown to the public – is suddenly the subject of scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The chemicals, called short-chain chlorinated paraffins, persist in the environment, accumulate in human breast milk, can kill small aquatic creatures and travel to remote regions of the globe. Since their introduction in the 1930s, they have received little attention from U.S. authorities. But now the EPA, in an unprecedented move, has placed the compounds, known as SCCPs, on a short list of worrisome chemicals that the agency may regulate because of the risks they pose to wildlife and the environment.


Metal-working companies often use chlorinated paraffins as lubricants and coolants.

By Ferris Jabr

An obscure family of chemicals – important to the metalworking industry but virtually unknown to the public – is suddenly the subject of scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The chemicals, called short-chain chlorinated paraffins, persist in the environment, accumulate in human breast milk, can kill small aquatic creatures and travel to remote regions of the globe.

Since their introduction in the 1930s, chlorinated paraffins have received little attention from U.S. authorities. But now the EPA, in an unprecedented move, has placed the compounds, known as SCCPs, on a short list of worrisome chemicals that the agency may regulate because of the risks they pose to wildlife and the environment.

“We find SCCPs worldwide,” said Tala Henry, acting deputy director of the EPA’s National Program Chemicals Division. “We’ve found them in animals in the Arctic and we have measured them in human tissues in several places around the globe.”

Despite evidence of widespread exposure, few scientists are actively studying the prevalence, toxicity and ecological impact of SCCPs. In contrast, other chemicals that persist in the environment – such as DDT and dioxins – have received far more attention from researchers.

“There is minimal awareness of these compounds,” said Gregg Tomy, an environmental chemist at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “It’s certainly not a chemical that’s on people’s radar screens.”

Chlorinated paraffins are a complex group of manmade compounds, primarily used as coolants and lubricants in metal forming and cutting. They also are used as plasticizers and flame retardants in rubber, paints, adhesives, sealants and plastics. The family of chemicals is organized into short, medium and long-chain paraffins, based on the length of their carbon backbones.

About 150 million pounds of chlorinated paraffins are used annually in the United States, according to the EPA. Ohio-based Dover Chemical Corp., the sole manufacturer of SCCPs in the United States, did not respond to requests for an interview.

“There is minimal awareness of these compounds. It’s certainly not a chemical that’s on people’s radar screens.”
-Gregg Tomy, University of Manitoba
Although Europe has restricted use of SCCPs, their manufacture is growing in China and possibly in India, raising concerns that worldwide exposure levels for people and wildlife might be increasing.

China’s production of the chemicals has increased 30-fold in fewer than 20 years.

“We are pretty worried at the moment,” said Jacob Boer, head of the department of chemistry and biology of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit (VU University) in Amsterdam. “The increase of chlorinated paraffin production in China is exponential.”

In an unprecedented use of the 1976 Toxic Control Substances Act, the EPA in December placed short-chain chlorinated paraffins on a list of four chemicals that may pose unreasonable risks to health and the environment. In its action plan, the EPA announced its intentions to investigate and manage those risks, possibly restricting or banning future use of SCCPs in the United States.

It is the first time that the EPA has investigated the compounds, which are already regulated in Europe and under review in Canada.

Traces of the chemicals are found in the breast milk of Inuit women in Arctic Canada.

Scientists have found the chemicals in the air, on land, in foods, in wastewater and in river and ocean sediments in North America, Asia, Europe and the Arctic, according to a report by a United Nations review committee for the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty that restricts toxic compounds.

“You find them pretty much wherever you go to look for them,” said Tomy, who found significant concentrations in sediments around the Great Lakes region.

SCCPs are accumulating in the fat tissues of freshwater fish such as trout and carp in North America and Europe, marine mammals including Beluga whales, ringed seals and walruses in the Canadian Arctic, land animals including rabbit, moose and reindeer in Sweden, and birds and seabird eggs in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, certain SCCPs may biomagnify – meaning their concentration increases as they move through food chains, according to a 2008 field study on Lake Ontario trout.

Researchers have also measured SCCPs in human livers, kidneys, fat tissue and breast milk, according to the EPA action plan. Traces were found in 21 out of 25 samples of breast milk from women in London and Lancaster in a 2006 study in the United Kingdom. They also were measured in breast milk from Inuit women in Arctic Canada in a 1997 study by Tomy and colleagues.

“We are pretty worried at the moment. The increase of chlorinated paraffin production in China is exponential.”
-Jacob Boer, Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
However, since so few scientists are studying the toxicity of SCCPs and their impact on health and the environment, the consequences of the widespread exposure remain unclear.

SCCPs are highly toxic to small aquatic invertebrates and plants that fish and other animals feed on, so the chemicals may endanger aquatic ecosystems. But toxicity to humans and other mammals has been more difficult to determine.

“Whether these compounds are now challenging organisms, I can’t say for certain,” said Tomy. “But because they are so persistent, we can expect them to continue to accumulate. At some point there is going to be serious cause for concern.”

Chlorinated paraffins are highly toxic to Daphnia, tiny crustaceans in aquatic ecosystems.

Laboratory tests show that SCCPs are highly toxic to Daphnia, tiny aquatic crustaceans known as water fleas that are important food sources in lakes, streams and other ecosystems, according to a 2000 European Union risk assessment.

To fish, the compounds are less acutely toxic, but chronic exposure damages them. Rainbow trout fed SCCPs in their food developed severe liver tumors, according to a study by Canadian researchers.

The concentrations that caused the fish tumors “were at levels that have been reported in invertebrates and fish from contaminated sites in the Great Lakes. However, the exposure concentrations were likely much greater in these experiments compared with the environment and require further study,” according to the 1999 study, whose senior author was Derek Muir, one of the world’s leading experts on persistent pollutants in fish and wildlife. Requests to interview Muir were denied by Environment Canada.

Other studies have found that SCCPs can cause slight egg shell thinning in mallard ducks and can damage the livers of otters.

Although there are no human studies on their effects, SCCPs can cause cancer in laboratory rats and mice, specifically damaging the liver, thyroid and kidney. Still, the EPA’s action plan and the UN report note that the mechanisms by which these cancers were induced in rodents are not relevant to human health.

For people who do not work in the metal industry, a primary route of exposure to the chemicals is food, according to the EPA action plan.

Researchers in 2002 measured SCCPs in cow’s milk and butter from Europe. They also have been found in many different foods in Japan, including grains, sugar, sweets and snacks, vegetables, fruit, fish, meats and milk. The concentrations were particularly high in shellfish, meat and fats, such as margarines and oils, according to the 2005 study in Japan.

How the chemicals got in the environment is not well understood. “We can confidently say there has been exposure, but exactly how they got there is a difficult question,” said Henry of the EPA.

Although there are no human studies on the effects of the chemicals, SCCPs can cause cancer in laboratory rats and mice, specifically damaging the liver, thyroid and kidney. Possible routes include accidental spills, runoff from disposal, and effluents of sewage treatment plants, states the EPA action plan. “SCCPs can be released during production, transportation, storage, and industrial use,” Tomy said.

The chemicals also might leach out of commercial plastic and rubber products in which they are used as flame retardants and plasticizers, he said. Once in the environment, SCCPs – which do not dissolve in water – bind to sediments and to tiny aquatic organisms, working their way up food chains.

According to Tomy, the inherent complexity of chlorinated paraffins makes it difficult for scientists to identify and analyze them.

“There are only a few labs in the world, and you can count them on one hand, that are actively working in this area because of the complexity,” Tomy said. “This makes PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] and PBDEs [polybrominated diphenyl ethers] seem like a walk in the park in terms of detection and quantification.”

“They are difficult to characterize,” Henry agreed. “There’s a difference in interpretation about what a short-chain chlorinated paraffin is.”

Bright Star/flickr
Beluga whales are among the species contaminated with chlorinated paraffins.

The result is that the EPA knows far less about SCCPs than other chemicals such as DDT that persist in the environment and accumulate in people and wildlife. “Compared with other persistent chemicals, there’s the least amount of toxicity and exposure data,” Henry said.

Nevertheless, several authorities already have regulated them. Their use and marketing are restricted in Europe. Both Health Canada and Environment Canada have deemed all chlorinated paraffins “toxic” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999. Requests to interview Environment Canada scientists who have studied SCCPs were denied.

According to their new action plan, the EPA will consider using the Toxic Substances Control Act to “ban or restrict the manufacture, import, processing or distribution in commerce, export, and use of SCCPs” based on evidence about their environmental and health effects.

Although the EPA says it wants to move quickly to address the risks posed by SCCPs, the agency does not know when it will reach any regulatory decisions.

Under the federal toxics law, the EPA maintains an inventory of over 80,000 chemicals authorized for use in the United States. If a company wants to produce or use a chemical not found on that inventory, they must receive EPA approval by submitting a premanufacture notice that describes its environmental effects.

According to the EPA, some U.S. companies are using chlorinated paraffins that do not appear on the inventory. Tala said the EPA’s first step is to find out why.

Robert Fensterheim, executive director of the Chlorinated Paraffins Industry Association and President of RegNet Environmental Services, said he is not particularly concerned about the potential outcomes of the EPA’s action plan.

The EPA says it wants to move quickly to address the risks posed by SCCPs, but there is no timeframe for any regulatory decisions.“The effects on industry are not going to be broad scale,” Fensterheim said. “Given the limited amount that is produced and used, our assumption is that most people using the product already have responsible management in place. They won’t need to do anything they’re not already doing.”

Fensterheim disputes the EPA’s estimate that 150 million pounds are used annually in the United States. The demand, he said, is closer to 50 or 60 million pounds per year and decreasing.

“This is not a high volume chemical,” he said. “It’s been declining in its production value for quite some time.” The reason for the disagreement may be due to difficulty in defining exactly what a short-chain chlorinated paraffin is.

Manufacture and use of SCCPs have decreased in Canada, Europe and the United States but production is increasing at a rapid rate in China.

“If that production would have to be limited, it would be a major problem for the China metal industry,” said Boer of Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit. The increased production rate could also aggravate the ecological risks of the chemicals, he said.

Chlorinated paraffins are transported worldwide, winding up in the Arctic.

The production of chlorinated paraffins in China soared from 20,000 tons in 1990 to over 600,000 tons in 2007, according to a 2009 presentation by Jiang Gui-bin of the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology in Beijing, China. If this rate continues, production in China alone could soon surpass the entire historic, worldwide usage of PCBs, which remain a contaminant of global concern even though they were banned 32 years ago. Total worldwide PCB production was 1.3 million tons.

India also may be increasing its production of SCCPs, Boer said.

Although SCCPs are specifically defined as having a carbon backbone between 10 and 13 atoms long, there is still plenty of room for disagreement about which industrial products contain which chlorinated paraffins. The TSCA inventory, for example, does not distinguish between chlorinated paraffins of different carbon chain lengths.

Fensterheim said the companies believe the chemicals they use are already covered by the TSCA inventory, but the EPA disagrees.

Despite the inherent difficulties in studying the complex chemicals, Tomy said researchers need to keep monitoring their environmental levels and the toxicity to people and wildlife.

“I would like to believe in the coming years you are going to see more research,” he said.

Scientific American: Green Chemistry: Scientists Devise New “Benign by Design” Drugs, Paints, Pesticides and More

Scientific American –  May 28, 2010

Green Chemistry: Scientists Devise New “Benign by Design” Drugs, Paints, Pesticides and More

Chemists are usually asked to invent a solution, but without considering hazardous by-products. Green chemists now are doing both with success, but will it take regulations to enforce the approach broadly?

By Emily Laber-Warren

Link to full article

Back in the days when better living through chemistry was a promise, not a bitter irony, nylon stockings replaced silk, refrigerators edged out iceboxes, and Americans became increasingly dependent on man-made materials. Today nearly everything we touch—clothing, furniture, carpeting, cabinets, lightbulbs, paper, toothpaste, baby teethers, iPhones, you name it—is synthetic. The harmful side effects of industrialization—smoggy air, Superfund sites, mercury-tainted fish, and on and on—have often seemed a necessary trade-off.

But in the early 1990s a small group of scientists began to think differently. Why, they asked, do we rely on hazardous substances for so many manufacturing processes? After all, chemical reactions happen continuously in nature, thousands of them within our own bodies, without any nasty by-products. Maybe, these scientists concluded, the problem was that chemists are not trained to think about the impacts of their inventions. Perhaps chemistry was toxic simply because no one had tried to make it otherwise. They called this new philosophy “green chemistry.”

Green chemists use all the tools and training of traditional chemistry, but instead of ending up with toxins that must be treated and contained after the fact, they aim to create industrial processes that avert hazard problems altogether. The catch phrase is “benign by design”.

Progress without pollution may sound utterly unrealistic, but businesses are putting green chemistry into practice. Buying, storing, and disposing of hazardous chemicals is expensive, so using safer alternatives makes sense. Big corporations—Monsanto, Dow, Merck, Pfizer, DuPont—along with scrappy start-ups are already applying green chemistry techniques. There have been hundreds of innovations, from safer latex paints, household cleaning products and Saran Wrap to textiles made from cornstarch, and pesticides that work selectively, by disrupting the life cycles of troublesome insects. Investigators have also developed cleaner ways of decaffeinating coffee, dry-cleaning clothes, making Styrofoam egg cartons, and producing drugs like Advil, Zoloft and Lipitor.

Over the past 15 years, green chemistry inventions have reduced hazardous chemical use by more than 500 million kilograms. Which sounds great, until you consider that every day the U.S. produces or imports about 33.5 billion kilograms of chemicals. The annals of green chemistry are full of crazy, fascinating stories, like a plan to turn the unmarketable potatoes from Maine’s annual harvest into biodegradable plastics. Still, a decade after the phrase was coined, green chemistry patents made up less than 1 percent of patents in chemical-heavy industries.

What will it take for green chemistry to be more than the proverbial drop in the bucket, a bucket full of toxic sludge? Some experts believe that the answer is government intervention—not only laws that ban harmful chemicals, but laws that simply require chemical manufacturers to reveal safety data and let the market do the rest. “Right now, companies that make chairs or cars or lipstick don’t know which of the chemicals they incorporate into their products are safe,” says Michael Wilson, an environmental health scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Once that information becomes available, there will be a demand for less toxic ingredients.”

That question—to regulate or not to regulate—has split the community of green chemistry advocates. Some oppose making green chemistry mandatory: its principles are so sensible and cost-effective, they believe, that industry will implement them voluntarily. Others, such as Wilson, disagree. The key, he asserts, is “fundamental chemicals policy reform in the U.S.”

Now is a critical time: After decades of inaction, the U.S. government is finally examining more aggressively the health effects of common chemicals. The ambitious Safe Chemicals Act, unveiled last month in the U.S. Senate, would require all industrial chemicals to be proved safe, creating a strong incentive for the development of less harmful alternatives. And the President’s Cancer Panel released a landmark report earlier this month decrying the “grievous harm” done by cancer-causing chemicals such as bisphenol A in food and household products.

The stakes are high, higher than most people realize. The companies that make the 80,000 chemicals that circulate in our world are rarely required to do safety testing, and government agencies are relatively powerless. “This is pretty shocking, since most people assume that someone is checking what’s on the market. The ingredients in my shampoo? The ingredients in my child’s toys? No one’s on the job? And that’s the answer: By and large, no one’s on the job,” says Daryl Ditz, a senior policy adviser at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Washington, D.C.

“If we’re going to continue on as an industrial society that’s based on synthetic chemicals, we’ve got to figure out a way around this stuff. There’s really no question about that,” says Jody Roberts, an environmental policy expert at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Darby, Pa. “I think that’s where the frustration for some people is, that it needs to be happening faster.”

Green chemistry’s beginnings
Perhaps no one has gambled more on green chemistry than John Warner. Along with Paul Anastas, the co-founder of green chemistry and now the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, he helped create a federal awards program that brought the field into the mainstream. And with Anastas he literally wrote the book: Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, what Warner calls “a how-to guide at the molecular level.” In it they establish 12 guiding principles for chemists, concepts like preventing waste by incorporating as much of the materials used into the final product, and choosing the least complicated reaction.

A dozen years ago Warner, 47, left a lucrative job at Polaroid to found the nation’s first doctoral program in green chemistry. In 2007, tired of lecturing that green chemistry is the wave of the future, he decided to prove it, founding a start-up, the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, in Wilmington, Mass. His firm, staffed by two dozen bright young scientists, is an ingenuity factory. They are working on all kinds of projects: a less energy-intensive way to make solar panels, a cheap water purification device for the developing world, and materials that mimic eye and liver tissue to substitute for live animals in toxicity testing.

Some of the work is basic research. One of Warner’s core technologies is based on thymine, one of the four bases of DNA. When exposed to light, thymine molecules attach to one another; because this reaction can be harmful (think: skin cancer) many organisms possess enzymes tasked with breaking those bonds. If you put thymine in a substance and expose it to light, it hardens; apply enzymes and it softens again. No toxicity, many potential applications. A scientist in Warner’s lab is using this technology to perm hair without caustic chemicals—simply by coating curled strands with a thymine-based polymer then shining light to freeze them in place. The technology could also act as a masking technique during the manufacture of printed circuit boards. Or imagine truly recyclable plastics that could be returned to their raw materials after the user throws them away.

That practical vision is a product of Warner’s upbringing. He grew up in Quincy, Mass., a tough working-class town south of Boston, and he hasn’t shed the local dialect. “I am a chemist. I make molecules,” he says, as if he could just as easily be building a house or an engine. In his plaid shirt and scuffed sneakers, he comes across more like the kind of guy you might bring your car to when it makes a funny rattle. Warner’s uncles, Sicilian immigrants, worked in construction and stone cutting, and he sees no disconnect between his blue-collar beginnings and his current gig running a 40,000-square-foot high-tech lab. “I had uncles with half fingers. I respect that—doing things with your hands, creating things,” he says. “I feel that I’m working with my hands, but just in a different kind of way.”

To a chemist, atoms are like so many Lego blocks to arrange and rearrange at will. Add a hydroxyl here, a phosphate there, and react with various other chemicals to get the desired color, hardness, transparency or other properties. “If we can draw a molecule, if it doesn’t violate some fundamental law, we probably can make it,” Warner says.

But chemistry was invented at a time when people weren’t thinking about the environmental impacts. Raw materials are typically derived from fossil fuels. Turning them into the desired product can be a multistep process involving hazardous reagents (chemicals that react with the target material) and solvents (liquids or gases that provide an environment for the reaction to take place). Reactions often generate more unwanted than wanted chemicals. In making pharmaceuticals, for example, it is not uncommon to end up with 25 to 100 pounds of waste for every pound of medication.

Green chemistry starts with renewable resources such as plants or microorganisms, recycles its reagents, uses less hazardous solvents, and streamlines complicated processes. For example, in 2006 Pfizer changed the way it makes its nerve-pain drug Lyrica, substituting two plant-based enzymes for a common metallic catalyst called Raney nickel. The process now occurs at room temperature and in water, takes four instead of 10 steps, and has slashed waste and energy use by more than 80 percent.

Why so slow?
Green chemistry is elegant. It’s sensible. It has the potential to improve public health and enhance the economy. But if everyone loves green chemistry—scientists, environmentalists, politicians, corporate leaders—then why hasn’t it been more successful? After 15 years of innovation, the chemical industry is as toxic as ever. The politicians who lavish funding on nanotech dole out pathetically little to green chemistry. The universities that train chemists still do not require students to take a single course in toxicology. And green chemistry is far from becoming a household phrase.

To many observers, the answer is clear: What’s needed is more regulation. “One way to think about it is to ask yourself: ‘What is the purpose of government? Why isn’t everything done by voluntary exchange among willing buyers and sellers?’ The answer is, of course, that a lot of important things that need doing won’t be done voluntarily,” says Edward Woodhouse, a political scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “It does require stick as well as carrot.” Wilson and his Berkeley colleagues have acted on that principle; they helped craft the nation’s first green-chemistry laws, enacted in 2008 in California. These laws require the state to identify, prioritize and take action on chemicals of concern, to encourage safer alternatives, and to make hazard information available to the state’s businesses and to the public.

Warner is all for transparency, but being a chemist himself, he knows how his colleagues think, and he’s concerned that if green chemistry becomes mandatory, industrial chemists will misunderstand it, writing it off as a policy-wonk proposal when in fact it is solid science, built on the core principles of traditional chemistry. Warner favors the “build a better mousetrap” philosophy: Do green chemistry by making alternatives that are not only safer but effective and economical, and chemical companies will eagerly adopt them.

But others insist that until heavyweights like Dow and ExxonMobil are forced to own up to the dangers of their chemicals, smaller companies developing clean alternatives won’t be able to compete. “Some academics say, ‘If we had enough students and research dollars, then wonderful new substances would flow from our labs and the world would beat a path to our door,'” CIEL’s Ditz says. “But if no one can distinguish between a green molecule and a toxic molecule, it is almost impossible for safer products to break into the market.”

No shift this big happens without conflict, and outrage, Woodhouse says. Average people need to know and care enough about chemical hazards to pressure business and political leaders for change. “Most people have no idea that many of the things in their houses are a danger to them,” he says. “I don’t think that the urgent need for a benign chemical transformation has been put out very effectively.”

In addition, even when scientists come up with nontoxic, cost-saving technologies, they don’t always see the light of day. The up-front expense of redesigning factories often eclipses the potential long-term savings. “Your plants are set up to run nonstop. Any downtime, even if it’s going to save you a million dollars later, is costing you money now,” Chemical Heritage’s Roberts says.

Warner’s concern is that when government gets ahead of science, the effort often backfires. “The ban will say, ‘Use the best available technology.’ If the best available technology is nasty, the ban becomes a license to use that technology,” he says. “You can’t legislate an invention, only encourage it.”

The other side of the coin, however, is that sometimes when government gets ahead of science, science rushes to catch up. That happened in the mid-1990s, when the chemical company Rohm and Haas learned that a ban on tin-based marine paints was in the works. Tin-based paints had been used on ships’ hulls for years because they discouraged the growth of barnacles, algae, bacteria and other unwanted hitchhikers. But tin is toxic and it was accumulating in fish, seabirds and other animals. Japan banned tin-based paints in 1992 and other nations were poised to follow suit. Rohm and Haas had never made ingredients for marine paint—and without the pending ban it would not have tried, because tin-based paint manufacturers dominated the market. But Rohm and Haas already had a mildew-fighting chemical t hat acted as a wood preservative . By adapting that active ingredient, company scientists developed Sea-Nine, a chemical that kills marine organisms by reacting with their own chemistry, breaking down into nonhazardous components in the process.

However it happens, changing worldviews takes time. It took two decades or more for global warming to gain any serious traction. Now it is seen as an opportunity to develop a whole new sector of the economy: alternative energy. The same could happen for green chemistry, as a demand for cleaner products drives innovation.

What everyone agrees on is that, ultimately, green chemistry principles must become so integrated into mainstream chemistry that the term loses its meaning. Ironically, we’ll know that green chemistry has succeeded when it disappears. “The day that everyone from kindergarten students on up gets it, we don’t need the field of green chemistry anymore,” Warner says. “That is my goal, for it to be just the way everybody sees science.”

*     *     *


To explain the goals of green chemistry, John Warner uses the metaphor of the toolbox. Rather than wrenches, nuts and bolts, the drawers in the chemical industry’s “toolbox” contain commonly used processes, such as ways to make carbon compounds or oxidation-reduction reactions. Most of these processes involve hazardous chemicals. Green chemists aim to create a new toolbox filled with less harmful alternatives, so that in the future when chemists set out to design a molecule, they’ll be able to put their hands on benign tools to get the job done.

Here are some promising new technologies destined for the green-chemistry toolbox.

TAMLs: There’s no pretty way to say it—TAML is short for tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand—but these apparently harmless chemicals break down a variety of stubborn pollutants, including pesticides, dyes and industrial runoff. Developed by Terrence Collins, a chemist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, TAMLs mimic the enzymes in our bodies that have evolved to fight off toxic assaults. Collins and his team worked for two decades to develop these smaller, easy-to-build versions of biological enzymes. When combined with hydrogen peroxide, TAMLs neutralize many contaminants by breaking their chemical bonds.

Noncovalent derivatization: A longtime passion of Warner’s (his license plate reads “NCD”), noncovalent derivatization is chemistry with a light touch. Covalent bonds are the strong connections between atoms that hold molecules together. Normally, when chemists are dissatisfied with some aspect of a molecule they are creating, they alter its structure by breaking or adding covalent bonds. Such changes can involve multiple steps and hazardous ingredients. Warner’s breakthrough was to posit that sometimes there’s no need to create a new molecule. Simply combine the existing molecule with another substance that interacts with it, and the transient forces between them can effect the desired change. “With no energy they find each other and form,” he says. “Why does a bunch of lipids fold up to form a cell membrane? Why does DNA form a double helix? It’s always these weak molecular structures.”

Liquid CO2: Most of us know carbon dioxide as a gas (we exhale it) or a solid (think: dry ice in fog machines). But when you put carbon dioxide under pressure, it becomes a liquid. Liquid CO2 is a benign substitute for the nasty solvents typically used to decaffeinate coffee. Just mix it with green coffee beans, then take the pressure off. The carbon dioxide evaporates, leaving behind a pile of white powder—caffeine. Do the same thing to dirty clothes and you extract oils and grime without using perchloroethylene, the notorious dry cleaning chemical.

New Report from Environment and Human Health, Inc: “LEED Certification Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health”

LEED Certification Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health, An EHHI Report

Breast Cancer, What Science Knows, What Women Think

Report Summary

Link to the Full Report

LEED Standards Are Being Adopted into Many Laws

Green Building Council standards are being incorporated into federal, state and local laws through legislation, executive orders, resolutions, policies, loan-granting criteria and tax credits. As demonstrated in this report, LEED standards are clearly insufficient to protect human health, yet they are being adopted by many levels of government as law. Thus the Green Building Council, a trade association for the building industry, is effectively structuring the regulations. The number of jurisdictions adopting these standards as law is growing, which will make them difficult if not impossible to change, unless federal law and regulation supersede the “green” standards with health-protective regulations.

No Federal Definition or Regulation of Green Building Standards

There is no federal definition of “green building standards” analogous to federal “organic food standards” or drinking water standards. Given regulatory neglect, many trade organizations have worked to create their own certification programs, hoping to capture growing demand for environmentally friendly and heath-protective buildings.

Energy Efficiency Given Priority Over Health

The LEED credit system is heavily weighted to encourage energy-efficient building performance. Nearly four times as many credits are awarded as energy conservation technologies and designs (35 possible credits) as for protection of indoor environmental quality from hazardous chemicals (8 possible credits).

Green Building Council Board Has Little Expertise in Environmental Health

Directors of the LEED Program are predominantly engineers, architects, developers, real estate executives, chemical industry officials and building product manufacturers. One medical doctor representing Physicians for Social Responsibility was recently appointed to sit on the board, which has 25 directors.

False Impression of Healthy Buildings

The Green Building Council’s award of “platinum,” “gold”, and “silver” status conveys the false impression of a healthy and safe building environment, even when well-recognized hazardous chemicals exist in building products.

Time Spent Indoors

Americans today are spending more than 90 percent of their time indoors. The EPA spends the majority of its resources working to manage outdoor threats to environmental quality and human health.

Tighter Buildings Increase Human Exposure

Energy conservation efforts have made buildings tighter, often reducing air exchange between the indoors and outdoors. Since outdoor air is often cleaner than indoor air, the reduction of outdoor-indoor exchange tends to concentrate particles, gases and other chemicals that can lead to more intense human exposures than would be experienced in better-ventilated environments.

However, the LEED program has been effective in encouraging more efficient heating and ventilation techniques, such as solar panels, geothermal wells, window placement and building orientation.

Toxic Chemicals in Built Environments

Tens of thousands of different building materials and products are now sold in global markets. Many of these products contain chemicals recognized by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the CDC, or the World Health Organization to be hazardous.

These products include pesticides, chemical components of plastics, flame retardants, metals, solvents, adhesives and stain-resistant applications.

Some are carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone mimics, reproductive toxins, developmental toxins, or chemicals that either stimulate or suppress the immune system.

Chemicals in Buildings Are Often Found in Human Tissues

The CDC began testing human tissues to determine the presence of some chemical ingredients of building materials. Most individuals whose tissues were tested carried dozens of these chemicals in their hair, blood or urine. Children often carry higher concentrations than adults. Chemicals released by building materials to indoor environments may be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

No Level of LEED Certification Assures Health Protection

It is possible for new construction to be certified at the “platinum” level with no credits awarded for air quality assurance in the category “indoor environmental quality.”

Link to the Full Report

Informative article describes backlash against dubious “green” labels.

Informative article describes backlash against dubious “green” labels.

Posted by Evan Beach at May 25, 2010 10:00 AM | Permalink

The Wall Street Journal provides an in-depth look at a recent controversy over “green” labeling in the United States.


An article by Vanessa O’Connell in the Wall Street Journal discusses rising consumer interest in environmentally friendly products, the dubious claims made by manufacturers and the resulting lawsuits and government actions. The story sheds light on a growing concern about false advertising, but it would have benefited from further discussion of government efforts to remedy the situation.

The article describes how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is attempting to referee various seals of approval, eco-labels and other marketing schemes that advertise green benefits like biodegradability. The FTC’s Green Guides for manufacturers provide some guidance but have not been revised since 1998. A current review of the outdated guides may address some of the marketing changes since then.

The story also shows how transparency with respect to self-endorsement or third-party approvals has become an issue. For example, SC Johnson’s Greenlist program won a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yet the way the Greenlist system is applied to products remains proprietary and the labels are added at the company’s sole discretion.

Other government agencies are taking steps to address the concerns highlighted in the article. For example, the EPA’s Design for the Environment Program (DfE) offers labels for a variety of consumer products deemed to be best-in-class. The DfE scheme calls for continuous improvement in eco-friendly attributes and is based on strict, transparent criteria. Legislation introduced earlier in April would give the EPA greater authority to recognize safer alternatives to hazardous products in this way.

By mentioning these intitiatives, the reporter would have added important information for consumers who are concerned about the issue of false claims.

Copyright © 2003 Environmental Health Sciences. All rights reserved.

Intelligent commentary on a ‘Green Chemistry’ standard.

Common Ground For Going Green

Effort to develop a chemical industry standard is driven by the need to share comparative data

Stephen K. Ritter

May 10, 2010
Volume 88, Number 19, pp. 38-41

Chemical companies large and small are eager to become greener. They want to be able to select greener starting materials and use cleaner chemical processes to make environmentally preferred products. But there are no authoritative marketplace criteria to identify green, greener, or greenest. And for those who think they are green, there’s uncertainty over the best way to communicate the supporting information.

The solution: Develop a comprehensive voluntary industry standard that enables everyone from raw material suppliers and manufacturers to retail consumers and policymakers to exchange common information in a standard format on the environmental performance of chemical products and processes.

Government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, some chemical companies, and large retailers such as Walmart and Carrefour have already set out to develop assessment tools and enhanced metrics to achieve that ideal. But so far, these efforts are specific for individual classes of chemicals or market segments such as home cleaning products (C&EN, Jan. 25, page 12). In addition, the efforts tend to focus more on the consumer and less on the business-to-business world, where most chemical companies operate.

“There is a hunger in the marketplace for reliable, consistent, compelling information on which to base greener, more sustainable choices,” says Neil C. Hawkins, Dow Chemical’s vice president of sustainability and environmental health and safety. “Chemical companies need a life-cycle view—greenhouse gases, water, energy, renewables, waste reduction, recyclability—that encompasses all parts of the supply chain,” he says. “A standard is needed that provides guidance on the different types of data required, who should be publishing the data, in what form, and in what quality, so that you end up with a robust decision-making apparatus that will allow businesses and consumers to make fair comparisons and better choices.”

To that end, the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) is spearheading an effort to create the Greener Chemical Products & Processes Standard. This standard will provide data to allow anyone to evaluate the relative environmental performance of chemical products and their manufacturing technologies.

Many green standards already exist and typically are highlighted by product ecolabels, notes GCI Director Robert Peoples. Those standards are usually issued by companies themselves, industry trade groups, or environment-focused nongovernmental organizations, he says. They tend to center on one or two attributes, such as volatile organic compound emissions or percent recycled content. In addition, the tools used to establish such standards focus on the final products but don’t include the manufacturing process.

“We are building a multiattribute, consensus-based standard with third-party verification that a company can certify against to say that it has a greener product or manufacturing process than a competing product or a technology that it aims to replace,” Peoples explains.

Nearly 60 participants, including stakeholders from chemical companies, academia, trade groups, federal and state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, are providing a balance of opinions to help establish the standard, he adds.

The process is being administered by NSF International, a global expert in standards development. The end goal is to have the standard issued by the American National Standards Institute. A draft of the standard is nearly complete and is expected to be released for public comment over the summer. The plan is to have final approval by the end of the year.

Peoples notes that the effort to develop the standard is drawing inspiration from green chemistry initiatives already in place. A primary example is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program, which encourages collaborative efforts between companies and environmental groups to screen chemicals and promote use of safer materials.

EPA staff develop DfE protocols for conducting screens of alternative chemicals based on threshold values for human and aquatic toxicity, bioaccumulation, persistence, and other parameters. Products that contain ingredients posing the least concern among chemicals in their class earn DfE certification and the right to use the DfE logo on the product label.

This strategy, known as “informed substitution,” is based on selecting chemical products that are fully assessed, have low hazard, and provide life-cycle benefits, notes Lauren G. Heine, science director at the virtual environmental nonprofit organization Clean Production Action. The goal of informed substitution is to move away from using the most hazardous chemicals, she says. Inherent in this model is an allowance for continual improvement by obtaining more data and a better understanding of what is greener and more sustainable over time.

The subscription online database CleanGredients is one business-to-business tool that uses DfE criteria to identify surfactants and solvents—and coming soon fragrances and chelating agents—that have optimal performance and environmental characteristics for making cleaning products. CleanGredients was created through a partnership between EPA and the nonprofit GreenBlue Institute, in Charlottesville, Va., where Heine previously worked.

CleanGredients encourages cleaning-product formulators to use greener chemicals and gives specialty chemical makers an opportunity to showcase their greener, safer products. Formulator companies don’t manufacture chemicals but instead purchase ingredients from chemical companies and then use proprietary recipes to mix them.

Even with tools such as CleanGredients, cleaning-product formulators spend a considerable amount of effort trying to analyze the properties of ingredients they want to use, “and they are feeling pretty challenged when they don’t have the resources of a large company like a Walmart,” notes Anne P. Wallin, Dow Chemical’s director of sustainable chemistry, who is participating in the GCI-led greener chemical standard-setting process. “They aren’t necessarily chemists, and they likely don’t have a toxicologist on their team. If we can give them reliable information in the form of a standard, it will be a huge leap forward for sustainability.”

Taking the CleanGredients model one step further is the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals, one of the tools developed by Heine and her colleagues at Clean Production Action.

Green Screen is the first open-source method to rank chemicals according to a comparative hazard assessment, Heine says. The screening tool goes beyond cleaning-product ingredients to evaluate all types of chemicals, which are categorized into one of four quantitative benchmarks, from “avoid—chemical of high concern” to “prefer—safer chemical.”

The benchmarks include hazard criteria that a chemical, its metabolites, and predicted breakdown products must pass, with a focus on the use and end-of-life phases, she adds. It also fills in data gaps with structure-activity relationship modeling data and expert judgment calls. Green Screen doesn’t include process or energy use information, but it can be applied to chemicals at any stage of the supply chain.

“Comparative hazard assessment tools are becoming an important piece of the sustainability puzzle,” Heine says. “People approach greening their chemical inventories by first moving away from chemicals of concern, perhaps driven by regulation. Once you start moving away from a known problem, you are pushed to the next level, where you have to consider more critically what is safer.”

Stakeholders working to frame the new Greener Chemical Products & Processes Standard are being informed by the best elements of initiatives such as CleanGredients and the Green Screen along with federal regulations as they generate the standard, notes GCI’s manager, Jennifer L. Young, who is representing the institute in the standards process.

The standard’s first phase, which is currently under development, covers individual chemicals and the processes to make them, Young explains. But it’s leaving out certain life-cycle elements such as sourcing raw materials and tracking the downstream use of the chemicals in making manufactured goods, an omission that’s caused some controversy among stakeholders.

Some of the stakeholders believe the standard should start out covering a chemical’s complete life cycle to understand its full environmental impact, from raw material extraction such as mining and oil and natural gas production to the end of a manufactured product’s lifetime and its recycling. The decision to move forward without those elements is not being taken lightly, Young emphasizes. But the effort required of companies to immediately go out and gather the new data, which many of them have never tracked before, would delay getting the standard implemented, she notes.

Looking past the scope of the standard, the framework includes multiple parameters in three primary categories: chemical characteristics, chemical processing, and social responsibility, Young says. The chemical characteristics category covers physical properties, human health effects, and environmental impacts. The chemical processing category includes water usage, treatment, and recycling data; efficiency of materials use with a focus on waste prevention; process safety; and energy use, Young explains. The third category, social responsibility, takes a look at global corporate practices such as adhering to labor laws and complying with regulations, she says.

Within the chemical characteristics category, there are three classification tiers based on hazard level and the amount of information available on a chemical, Young adds. The first tier includes chemical characteristics that are well studied and for which there are data determined by validated methods. A pesticide, for example, might require chronic ecological toxicity data from a 14-day test on earthworms with the results reported in milligrams per liter.

“Comparative hazard assessment tools are becoming an important piece of the sustainability puzzle.”

The second tier includes chemical characteristics that don’t have a lot of information and still may have cause for concern. In some cases, the data might not be available because the testing hasn’t been done, or they may not be provided by the manufacturer.

Young says the standard has to provide a balance between providing transparent but useful comparative information without giving away proprietary information. But data that are withheld because they’re considered confidential will be treated as missing data, she notes, which could lower the value of the chemical in the standard’s hierarchy and possibly prevent the chemical from gaining certification.

The third tier includes chemical characteristics that are new, considered to be problematic, or have little or no data, Young notes. For example, no one knows yet if some types of nanomaterials could pose a problem or not, she says. The standard makes no provision for requiring disclosure of these characteristics.

Some stakeholders are eager for the standard to provide a rating index or points system for ranking chemicals, Young says. Such a system would identify the “greenest” chemical in a class of compounds and provide a reference point for a company to gauge its progress in improving the chemical’s profile over time. But the initial version of the standard will leave it up to users to make their own comparisons, she says.

In addition, some members of the stakeholder group are dismayed that the standard is reactionary, rather than proactive, when it comes to addressing endocrine disruption, which is currently a polarized issue in science. Endocrine disrupters typically are man-made chemicals in the environment. They mimic hormones and can disrupt the endocrine system, potentially leading to negative health effects. Although scientists understand that people are susceptible to the effects of endocrine disrupters, it’s still unclear to what degree and under which conditions, and EPA is just beginning a long-delayed screening program (C&EN, Oct. 26, 2009, page 7).

Validated tests and models to understand dose-response relationships in endocrine disruption are still being optimized. As a result, data on endocrine disrupters are not initially required for the standard, Young notes. However, if endocrine-disrupter characteristics are associated with a chemical, the expectation is that the manufacturer will report that information to the customer. In a qualitative way, knowing that a chemical has been fingered as a potential endocrine disrupter could help a user make a judgment, she adds.

Because the majority of truly green chemicals and chemical products haven’t yet been invented, these criticisms point to a concern that setting a standard now could dilute the science of green chemistry by creating a “good enough” threshold. The concerned scientists say that such a threshold might allow chemicals that meet minimum qualifications to be certified, making it seem acceptable for some intrinsically dangerous chemicals to continue to be used, particularly if the standard is used to guide regulatory decisions. Given that possibility, some members of the green chemistry community have suggested that the word “greener” be struck from the standard’s title.

“Standards-making is messy,” Dow’s Wallin says. “You are trying to get a broad group of stakeholders together with a diverse set of viewpoints to find some middle ground and build on it. The need and the potential for a standard are both tremendous, and it is definitely worth the effort. It will be very powerful if we can work through all these issues and create a standard that the whole group can get behind.”

The science of sustainability and green chemistry is rapidly evolving, GCI’s Peoples adds. He emphasizes that just because someone initially certifies a product or process against the standard, it doesn’t mean it’s 100% green. “We need to revise and improve the standard over time,” Peoples says. “That means tightening the requirements and recognizing innovation as new science and technology are developed.”

A natural question asked about green chemistry and developing screening tools and standards is whether or not they can make a difference in the chemical marketplace. It’s still early in the sustainability game, but Peoples points to SC Johnson‘s Greenlist as a harbinger of success for the new green standard.

SC Johnson is the maker of many familiar brands of home cleaning, storage, and pest-control products, including Pledge and Windex surface cleaners, Ziploc storage bags and containers, and Raid insecticides. In 2001, the company created Greenlist with EPA’s backing as a methodology to rate the ingredients that make up its products. For Greenlist, environment and human health data are included alongside performance criteria and cost in the company’s chemical formulary, an index of ingredients that scientists use when designing products. The materials are rated 0 for restricted use, 1 for acceptable, 2 for better, and 3 for best.

When the program started in 2001, 18% of listed materials were rated better or best. The most recent data reveal that this number has climbed to 47%. But more critically, the zero-rated restricted-use materials have dropped from 10% to 2% of the total.

At first, SC Johnson had to challenge its suppliers to create better rated chemicals, according to the study. Now, the shoe is on the other foot; companies are designing new chemicals based on Greenlist criteria and are pitching them to SC Johnson to add to the formulary.

After the greener chemical standard is approved, communicating the information behind the certification will move to the forefront, Peoples says. One outcome could be an ecolabel that can be used on packaging for products made with certified ingredients. Individual chemicals don’t lend themselves to having an ecolabel because they are bought and sold mostly in bulk, he adds. Thus product documentation akin to a food nutrition label or a graphical label that shows sustainability attributes could be appropriate. For the business-to-business marketplace, information sheets and online reports for certified chemicals might be a format for communicating the standard’s supporting information, Peoples says.

“The importance of the standard-setting process is that we and our families are all inhabitants of this planet,” Peoples observes. “We don’t want to have problems with the quality of the water we drink or the air we breathe. But at the same time, we need to compromise and be creative,” he says. “There are billions or trillions of dollars of capital sunk into the ground in the chemical enterprise. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t wave a magic wand and suddenly replace it tomorrow with pure green chemistry. It will take time to increase the level of awareness about the standard and decades to transition. But we need to agree now on a path forward and start taking our first steps.”

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