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TiPED circle 200

A New Tool to Design Safer Products

   New publication:  A New System to Assess New Chemicals for Endocrine Disruption

    A groundbreaking new paper outlines a safety testing system that helps chemists design inherently safer chemicals and processes.       Resulting from a cross-disciplinary collaboration among scientists, the innovative “TiPED” testing system (Tiered Protocol for Endocrine  Disruption) provides information for making chemicals and consumer products safer. TiPED can be applied at different phases of the chemical design process, and can steer companies away from inadvertently creating harmful products, and thus avoid adding another BPA or DDT to commerce.

    The study, “Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Chemicals,” is online in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry.

    The 23 authors are biologists, green chemists and others from North America and Europe who say that recent product recalls and bans reveal that neither product manufacturers nor the government have adequate tools for dealing with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  EDCs are chemicals commonly used in consumer products that can mimic hormones and lead to a host of modern day health epidemics including cancers, learning disabilities and immune system disorders. The authors conclude that as our understanding of the threat to human health grows, the need for an effective testing strategy for endocrine disrupting chemicals becomes imperative.

Historically, chemists have aimed to make products that are effective and economical. Considering toxicity when designing new chemicals has not been their responsibility. This collaboration between fields expands the scope of both biologists and chemists to lead to a way to design safer chemicals.

Scientific understanding of endocrine disruption has developed rapidly over the past 2 decades, providing detailed, mechanistic insights into the inherent hazards of chemicals.  TiPED uses these insights to guide chemical design toward safer materials.  And as consumers are increasingly concerned about endocrine disruption (eg BPA, flame retardants) they are demanding products that do not contain EDCs, creating a market opportunity for companies that can take advantage of the new science.

There is a companion website to the paper, www.TiPEDinfo.com. One can access the paper there and learn more about the TiPED system.

 

New Tools to Design Safer Chemicals

PRESS RELEASE: “A New tool to design safer products”

New publication:  A New System to Assess New Chemicals for Endocrine Disruption

A groundbreaking new paper outlines a safety testing system that helps chemists design inherently safer chemicals and processes. Resulting from a cross-disciplinary collaboration among scientists, the innovative “TiPED” testing system (Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruption) provides information for making chemicals and consumer products safer. TiPED can be applied at different phases of the chemical design process, and can steer companies away from inadvertently creating harmful products, and thus avoid adding another BPA or DDT to commerce.

The study, “Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Chemicals,” is online in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry.

The 23 authors are biologists, green chemists and others from North America and Europe who say that recent product recalls and bans reveal that neither product manufacturers nor the government have adequate tools for dealing with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  EDCs are chemicals commonly used in consumer products that can mimic hormones and lead to a host of modern day health epidemics including cancers, learning disabilities and immune system disorders. The authors conclude that as our understanding of the threat to human health grows, the need for an effective testing strategy for endocrine disrupting chemicals becomes imperative.

Historically, chemists have aimed to make products that are effective and economical. Considering toxicity when designing new chemicals has not been their responsibility. This collaboration between fields expands the scope of both biologists and chemists to lead to a way to design safer chemicals.

Scientific understanding of endocrine disruption has developed rapidly over the past 2 decades, providing detailed, mechanistic insights into the inherent hazards of chemicals.  TiPED uses these insights to guide chemical design toward safer materials.  And as consumers are increasingly concerned about endocrine disruption (eg BPA, flame retardants) they are demanding products that do not contain EDCs, creating a market opportunity for companies that can take advantage of the new science.

There is a companion website to the paper, www.TiPEDinfo.com. One can access the paper there and learn more about the TiPED system.

 

 

New stain repellent chemical doubling in blood every 6 years.

Nov 26, 2012

Glynn, A, U Berger, A Bignert, S Ullah, M Aune, S Lignell and PO Darnerud. 2012. Perfluorinated alkyl acids in blood serum from primiparous women in Sweden: Serial sampling during pregnancy and nursing, and temporal trends 1996-2010. Environmental Science and Technology http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es301168c.


Synopsis by Craig Butt and Wendy Hessler
2012-1119frisbeeinrain
erikschmidt/flickr

 

As the phased-out stain repellent PFOS steadily decreases in people, its replacement is rising rapidly at levels that are doubling every six years, a Swedish study shows. Levels of perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) in the women’s blood rose 11 percent per year between 1996 and 2010. Whether there are any potential health effects of these exposures — which are still far lower than PFOS levels — is unknown.

 

Context

Polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals (PFASs) are applied to clothing, furniture, carpeting, cookware and food packaging to make the products stain repellent. PFASs – commonly referred to as PFCs – are a large group of chemicals that are unique because they repel both grease and water.

The PFAS chemicals used in commercial products fall into two main categories: the large fluorinated polymers that are used in clothing, furniture and carpet treatments and the phosphate surfactants that are used to coat paper.

Commercial products often contain the parent PFAS chemicals used to make the polymers and phosphate surfactants – called precursors – as impurities. PFASs break down in the atmosphere and in our bodies to form very long-lived perfluorinated alkyl acids (PFAAs).

People are exposed to PFAAs and their precursors mainly through food, air and water. Studies suggest the chemicals may contribute to kidney damage, and prenatal exposures have been linked to low birth weight.

Two of the most well-known and well-studied PFAA varieties are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). In addition to forming as breakdown products, small amounts of PFOS and PFOA were directly produced for specialized products. PFOS was used in fire-fighting foams as well as in the semiconductor industry. PFOA was used in the production of Teflon, but is typically not detected in the final products.

In 2002, the 3M Company – a leading manufacturer of PFOS and PFOA – voluntarily stopped manufacturing both PFOS and the chemicals that degrade to form PFOS because they were accumulating in humans globally and in animals – such as polar bears – that live in remote areas (Hansen et al. 2001; Giesy and Kannan 2001; Butt et al. 2010).

The company has substituted PFOS-based chemicals with another PFAA variety that is based on perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). PFBS has four carbons whereas PFOS has eight. Otherwise, their molecular makeup is identical.

The smaller PFBS clears from the human body much faster than PFOS. PFOS has a half-life in people of 4 – 5 years, but PFBS’s half-life is only 26 days (Olsen et al. 2009).

After 3M stopped making PFOS-based compounds, production of other compounds made by another manufacturing process rapidly increased. These are called fluorotelomer-based chemicals. The fluorotelomer compounds are used for the same purpose as the PFOS-based compounds were: to make fluorinated polymers and surfactants. However, these chemicals degrade to form perfluorinated carboxylates (PFCAs), including PFOA.

Due to the increasing concern about PFOA, the eight major manufacturers have committed to eliminate PFOA emissions by 2015.

 

What did they do?

The research is part of a larger study that examined time trends of persistent organic pollutants in the blood and breast milk of pregnant and nursing women in Uppsala County, Sweden.

Blood samples were collected from first-time mothers, aged 19 – 41 years, three weeks after delivery. Samples were collected each year between 1996 and 2010, except in 2003 and 2005. For each year, several individual blood samples were pooled together for analysis. In general, three pooled samples per year were analyzed.

The study investigated levels of 13 PFAAs, including PFBS and PFOS. The study also measured perfluorooctane sulfonamide (FOSA), which is known to degrade to PFOS.

A unique aspect of this study was the ability to measure PFBS levels at very low levels.  It was this improved analytical capability that allowed the researchers to detect the PFBS  trends over time.

In addition to examining time trends, the study also investigated PFAA trends at different stages during pregnancy and after delivery.

 

What did they find?

The study showed that PFBS blood concentrations in the Swedish women increased by 11 percent per year between 1996 and 2010. The levels doubled every 6.3 years. This is the first study to show increasing PFBS levels in humans.

However, during the same time period, PFOS levels decreased by 8.4 percent per year. The study also showed decreasing levels of perfluorodecane sulfonate (PFDS), PFOA and FOSA.

In contrast, blood levels of two PFCAs – perfluorononanoate (PFNA) and perfluorodecanoate (PFDA) – increased by 4.3 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively, from 1996 to 2010.

The study also looked for longer-chain length PFCAs: perfluorododecanoate (PFDoA), perfluorotridecanoate (PFTrA) and perfluorotetradecanoate (PFTA).  But these PFCAs were not found in the women’s blood.

 

What does it mean?

Perfluorobutane sulfonate or PFBS – the chemical that replaced the PFOS-based fluorinated chemicals used as stain repellents – is building up in human blood with levels doubling every six years. This is the first study to show increasing PFBS levels in humans.

The study showed that PFBS levels in Swedish women are rapidly increasing. This means that humans are widely exposed to PFBS and its precursors. Exposure to these chemicals has increased dramatically from 1996 to 2010.

These findings were surprising because it was thought that PFBS would not accumulate in humans due to its very short half-life (26 days). But the new research shows that PFBS is building up at an alarming rate.

However, PFBS levels are still about 75 times lower than PFOS.

The study did not investigate whether there were any health effects associated with the increasing PFBS levels. There have been few toxicology studies on PFBS, and the toxic effects are generally less than PFOS and PFOA (Lieder et al. 2009).

PFBS-based chemicals were introduced as replacements for PFOS-based chemicals after 3M stopped their manufacture in 2002. In the current study, PFBS levels did not start increasing until 2002. Presumably, this increase in PFBS blood levels is a reflection of increased use of PFBS precursors in commercial products and their release into the environment after 2002.

The new study also showed that PFOS and FOSA levels are decreasing in Swedish women’s blood. FOSA is formed when PFOS precursors are metabolized in the body.

These results show that 3M’s PFOS ban in 2002 had a rapid effect on PFOS blood levels. Studies from the United States (Kato et al. 2011; Olsen et al. 2012) and Norway (Haug et al. 2009) have also shown decreasing PFOS blood levels after the 3M ban.

In contrast, PFNA and PFDA levels were shown to increase in the Swedish women. These chemicals are breakdown products of fluorotelomer-based compounds that are used in some polymers and surfactants. They have similar uses as the PFOS-related chemicals. In addition, PFNA is used in the production of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and trace amounts can be detected in the final products. Production of fluorotelomer chemicals increased after the 3M PFOS ban. The increasing blood levels of these chemicals most likely represents the increased use of their precursors in commercial products.

Because the study only monitored Swedish women, it will be necessary to confirm the trends in other regions of the world. This is because fluorinated chemical use varies in different areas of the world. For example, China began producing PFOS-chemicals in 2003. Their production in China may represent a new source of PFOS to the world.

Scientists are concerned when blood levels of a chemical increase in our bodies because it shows that our exposure is increasing. However, it is necessary to determine if the contaminant levels are enough to cause harmful effects in wildlife and people.  Future research is needed to determine if the increasing PFBS levels are affecting human health.

Resources

Buck, RC, J Franklin, U Berger, JM Conder, IT Cousins, P de Voogt, AA Jensen, K Kannan, SA Mabury and SPJ van Leeuwen. 2011. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the environment: Terminology, classification, and origins. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 7:513-541.

Butt, CM, U Berger, R Bossi and GT Tomy. 2010. Levels and trends of poly- and perfluorinated compounds in the arctic environment. Science of the Total Environment 408:2936-2965.

Giesy, JP and K Kannan. 2001. Distribution of perfluorooctane sulfonate in wildlife. Environmental Science & Technology 35:1339-1342.

Hansen, KJ, LA Clemen, ME Ellefson and HO Johnson. 2001. Compound-specific, quantitative characterization of organic fluorochemicals in biological matrices. Environmental Science & Technology 35:766-770.

Haug, LS, C Thomsen and G Bechert. 2009. Time trends and the influence of age and gender on serum concentrations of perfluorinated compounds in archived human samples. Environmental Science & Technology 43:2131-2136.

Kato, K, LY Wong, LT Jia, Z Kuklenyik and AM Calafat. 2011. Trends in exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in the U.S. population: 1999-2008. Environmental Science & Technology 45:8037-8045.

Lieder, PH, RG York, DC Hakes, S-C Chang and JL Butenhoff. 2009. A two-generational gavage reproduction study with potassium perfluorobutanesulfonate (K+PFBS) in Sprague Dawley rat. Toxicology 259:33-4.

O’Connor, Mary Catherine. Greenpeace scolds outdoor apparel makers for chemical use. Outside Magazine Nov 12, 2012.

Olsen, GW, SC Chang, PE Noker, GS Gorman, DJ Ehresman, PH Lieder and JL Butenhoff. 2009. A comparison of the pharmacokinetics of perfluorobutanesulfonate (PFBS) in rats, monkeys, and human. Toxicology 256:65-74.

Olsen, GW, CC Lange, ME Ellefson, DC Mair, TR Church, CL Goldberg, RM Herron, Z Medhdizadehkashi, JB Nobiletti, JA Rios, WK Reagen and LR Zobel. 2012. Temporal trends of perfluoroalkyl concentrations in American Red Cross adult blood donors, 2000-2010. Environmental Science & Technology 46:6330-6338.

Designing the next generation of sustainable chemicals.

Environmental Factor, November 2012 see original article here.

By Thaddeus Schug

Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D.  Heindel, center, goes to work creating a toxic pumpkin, while Tom Zoeller, Ph.D., left, and Wim Thielemans, Ph.D., take part in the fun. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)

Scientists committed to developing green solutions for replacing problem chemicals in the marketplace gathered Oct. 15-17 for a meeting on “Building the Path Forward for the Next Generation of Sustainable Chemicals,” held at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, N.Y.

The meeting, sponsored by the non-government organizations Advancing Green Chemistry  and Environmental Health Sciences,  brought together a mixture of chemists, toxicologists, and biologists. Representatives from NIEHS and NTP included Division of Extramural Research and Training program administrators Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., and Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D.; Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., director of the newly named NTP Office of Health Assessment and Translation; and NTP Biomolecular Screening Branch Chief Ray Tice, Ph.D.

Designing safer chemicals

There are more than 83,000 chemicals in commerce today, many of which pose potential toxic hazards to human health and the environment. The challenge facing chemists designing replacement materials involves figuring out what kind of testing will need to be done to determine if the new chemical is safer than current ones to human health and the environment. One area of growing concern is how to ensure that the next generation of chemicals does not have the potential to act as endocrine disrupting compounds.

The meeting at Pocantico aimed to build upon a new set of testing tools — the Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruptors (TiPED) — developed by the group over the past two years. The protocol, which will be published online Dec. 6 in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry,  is not regulatory, but rather a tool to guide chemists as they develop a new chemical, to give them confidence as to whether the substance is or is not likely to be an endocrine disruptor.

The TiPED protocol offers a five-tiered approach, starting with what should be the fastest and cheapest assays, and working through increasingly specialized tests. 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 goal of refining, reducing, and replacing animal testing as much as possible. The last two tiers are whole animal assays, to be used for looking for integrated endpoints and less understood systemic responses.

“The idea is that if chemists hit a positive early on, they would either go back to the drawing board or, if that positive was in a specific area, such as an estrogen receptor in a high throughput assay, they would follow that up with more comprehensive assays,” said Heindel. “A hit anywhere along the tiered system means chemists need to pull back, reanalyze, or throw the chemical out.”

The project emphasizes fundamental changes in the way that scientists design new chemicals, and in the process of bringing them into the marketplace. Chemists generally have little training in toxicology, so this plan offers guidelines they can follow early on in the product development process.

Moving forward with the plan

Following a team-building exercise on the evening of Oct. 15, involving pumpkins and toxicological design criteria, the first full day of the meeting was divided into discussion sessions aimed toward refining the specific testing strategies within each phase of the screening model. A good deal of time was dedicated to establishing criteria needed to assess the quality of assays within each tier of the protocol.

The meeting wrapped up with a discussion on strategies to conduct test runs of the protocol, using test chemicals synthesized by John Warner, Ph.D., president and founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a health scientist in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

Disclaimer: This report was written by members of the NIEHS staff based on materials prepared for this meeting and the discussions that took place there. It reflects the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, its trustees, or its staff.

 

Coach Barn of the Pocantico Center, which is also known as the John D. Rockefeller Estate  The meeting was held on the ground floor of the Coach Barn of the Pocantico Center, which is also known as the John D. Rockefeller Estate. Take a video tour.  (Photo courtesy of Ray Tice)
Ray Tice, Ph.D., and Kristina Thayer, Ph.D.  Tice, left, and Thayer take part in a discussion of the endocrine disruptor screening protocol. (Photo courtesy of Pete Myers)
Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruptors (TiPED) working group  The TiPED working group enjoyed the fall weather and the beautiful scenery at the Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Ray Tice)

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.

Student Power: How University of California Berkeley students brought Green Chemistry to their department.

Living on Earth:  New Era, New Curriculum

GELLERMAN: For more than 60 years the chemical company DuPont promised, “Better things for better living through chemistry”. Well, these days the slogan might say: “better chemistry for better living.”

In laboratories across the country chemists are trying to come up with new formulas to make safer products. And students at many universities are learning how to do it. It’s called green chemistry. Living On Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on the changes at one of the nation’s most influential chemistry departments: the University of California, Berkeley.

Environmental Health Researcher Dr. Michael Wilson (UC Berkeley)

[SOUNDS OF AN AUTO REPAIR SHOP, TORQUE WRENCH]

LOBET: Two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, Michael Wilson stands outside a garage.

WILSON: So, we’re at a very typical automotive repair shop. We have about six or eight mechanics working here with vehicles on hydraulic jacks and as you can see this is a fairly solvent-intensive process.

LOBET: Wilson is a professor of public health now, but eight years ago he was a fire fighter-paramedic, studying for his PhD here in environmental health, when he heard about the case of an injured worker.

WILSON: A young man, a 24-year old automotive mechanic, with really advanced symptoms of neurological disease. He had lost his sensory and motor function in his limbs. He had at lost his grip strength; he was in a wheelchair.

LOBET: The state health department had a hunch about what was happening to this young man.

WILSON: He was going through about eight to ten cans a days of a commercially available, break-cleaning solvent product that was formulated with hexane and acetone. And that formulation causes nerve damage.

LOBET: Wilson wondered whether this was an isolated case, so he started visiting other auto repair shops. He found 14 more mechanics with similar neurological damage just in the Bay Area. They would spray the cleaning solvent on cars, then work while the vapor evaporated, as Wilson put it, in their breathing zone.

[SOUNDS OF TOOLS DROPPING]

LOBET: This toxic brake cleaner wasn’t something that had been around for years and somehow escaped the attention of California regulators. It was a new product. California officials had asked manufacturers to remove some of the hexane from their cleaner because it can turn into ozone, which burns people’s lungs and aggravates asthma. They did. And replaced it with acetone.

WILSON: Why is it that a known neurotoxic solvent was used under completely uncontrolled conditions by workers across the state of California?


A typical fume hood. Some departments are remodeling their labs with fewer of these hoods. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

[SOUND OF THE BERKLEY BELL TOWER]

LOBET: On campus, Mike Wilson says, he found himself in the precarious position of wanting to change a profession he was just entering.

WILSON: Our field has typically been about measuring the extent of the damage, and I became interested in the next level of question which was: Why are we creating these occupational and environmental health hazards in the first place? Don’t we have the have the talent and the resources to create safer chemicals and safer products from the beginning?

LOBET: These questions led Wilson to the field of green chemistry. Established by Paul Anastas and John Warner in the 1990s, it’s the emerging field that looks at where chemicals end up in people and the environment, and advocates safer substances. Next, Wilson began talking with the university chemistry department.

WILSON: What we found here at the Berkeley campus was that chemistry education hadn’t really changed much in the last 30-40 years.

LOBET: Not too long after, Wilson met a new chemistry grad student who’d arrived at the university. Marty Mulvihill and Mike Wilson had something in common—call it a public interest approach.

MULVIHILL: While I was here, it was really important to me not only that I do research, but that I reach out to my community and think about the ways that chemists specifically could influence society. Like, we use a lot of resources from society—chemistry is a very resource intensive thing—like, how do we give back?

LOBET: With this kind of community orientation it was natural that the first thing Mulvihill did when he got to Berkeley was start organizing other chemistry grad students.

MULVIHILL: The name of that group was actually Chemists for Peace, which turned out to be far too controversial for a place like Berkeley. I mean, there’s like that perception that Berkeley is an activist-oriented thing, but when you look at chemistry, anything that even appears political is not widely accepted.

So, we produced a lot of coffee mugs, people generally liked that we were around, but it never really took hold.


Dr. Marty Mulvihill stands at a traditional hood. Some school are trying to reduce the need for vapor hoods by using more benign substances. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

LOBET: It dawned on Mulvihill that he needed to be speaking science to scientists. So he and a core of other grad students organized their own seminar series.

They got a grant from the Dow chemical company, and brought in top thinkers in green chemistry: John Warner, Paul Anastas, Terry Collins. At first Mulvihill says, the Chemistry department wouldn’t even give them a room to meet in, but gradually the students prevailed.

MULVIHILL: I can remember the evening it happened. The dean had just come in. I think it was his first, maybe his second year. The graduate seminar was going on and John Warner, one of the fathers, one of the guys who wrote the original book on green chemistry, had agreed to come to campus and give a talk. And the Dean actually showed up to that talk. Not only show up for the talk, but he came out to dinner afterwards, and it was so fun to watch as the Dean and John Warner, so it’s Dean Rich Mathies and John Warner interacted and all of a sudden I realized, now it is bigger than me.

LOBET: To really appreciate the significance of what’s happening at Berkeley and other campuses around the country, you have to understand just how remote health concerns have been for most chemists. This area of science is toxicology: the study of the adverse affects of chemical, and also physical and biological agents on living things.

MULVIHILL: A traditional chemistry training doesn’t teach you a lot about the fate of things. You learn a lot about how to make it, and how to make it cheaply and efficiently- that’s all part of the traditional science training. Where they end up, what their possible effects are on human health and the environment, that just traditionally hasn’t been part of a chemistry education.


Alison Narayan is a fifth year organic chemist and organizer of the student-led green chemistry seminar at Berkeley (Photo: UC Berkeley)

NARAYAN: We’re working with these chemicals all the time but we don’t necessarily know how toxic they are. Or if they are toxic, like what their mode of action is, or why they are harmful to you.

LOBET: That’s Alison Narayan, another organizer of the student-run seminar series. Narayan is a fifth year organic chemist, making entirely new compounds.

NARAYAN: Really how we are trained is to focus on the reactivity of the chemicals and developing new reactions and new ways to build things, not necessarily even evaluating the performance of those materials or the toxicity of those materials.

LOBET: Narayan says she’s been surprised by the lack of toxicology training in her chemistry education. And environmental health scientist Michael Wilson says it seemed strange to him too.

WILSON: The fact is that in the United States you can earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and a PhD in chemistry at the universities and colleges across the United States and never demonstrate a basic understanding of how chemicals affect human health or the environment. And, so, are we surprised than toxic materials are finding their way into consumer products that are widely available on the market? We probably shouldn’t be.

LOBET: And Wilson says chemists aren’t the only scientists who have not paid much attention to toxicology. Amazingly, even public health experts often aren’t trained in it.

WILSON: So we are seeing a transformation in the school of public health embracing this idea of green chemistry, where, up to now, our job has really been about identifying, measuring characterizing the extent of the problem. It’s simply no longer possible for us in public and environmental health to clean the mess up at the end of the pipe. We have to design chemicals, we have to design products in ways they don’t show up in human blood, and in breast milk, and in hazardous waste sites, and in groundwater.

LOBET: The first big signs of changes taking place at Berkeley, besides the student-organized seminar, happened last summer. For the first time, the university offered its entry-level chemistry course with the option of a single lab section that was green.

[SOUND OF STUDENTS WORKING ON LAB BENCH]

LOBET: On this day, second-year students Swetha Akella and Michael Poon are doing a practice run through one of the new labs.

Second year students Michael Poon, Max Babicz and Swetha Akella help refine one of the new green lab experiments. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

POON: What she’s actually trying to do find the concentration of the dyes in the drinks to see how much we are consuming. Red 40 is very common in a lot of consumables. Because the amount of dye is very small, to get a measurable amount you have to boil off the water, and that increases the percentage of dyes in the sample. This is Sunkist and Hawaiian Punch.

AKELLA: I think the thing that really appeals to me is the practicality, because a lot of times you do a lab where you find, like, a concentration and you just like, forget about it afterwards. But when you do like, the sunscreen lab, or this lab, you really think about it the next time you put on sunscreen or the next time you decide to drink a soda.

LOBET: Poon points out, it’s not just a question of lab subject matter.

POON: I think it is a really important to think about where your actions are leading. If you pour something down a drain, where does it go? Think about that, and what needs to be done to process that to clean it up, to make it so that that water is usable again.

LOBET: A review of class evaluations from students who took that first green chemistry lab in the summer shows a lot of enthusiasm. Chantelle Khambholja was won of those freshmen.

KHAMBHOLJA: Well, our first lab section was on biofuels. And, in the first lab we went through and looked at the effects of biofuel on germination of seeds to measure ecotoxicity. In the second lab, we actually synthesized our own biodiesel, which was awesome, and in the third lab, we measured the amount of energy produced when it was burned.

LOBET: This fall term, the Berkeley Chemistry department converted all of the introductory lab sections into green chemistry labs. Berkeley chemistry lecturer Michelle Douskey oversees teaching assistants for the introductory classes. She says traditional chemistry curricula have been too focused on memorization. She’s trying to change that. The overlay of green chemistry, she says, will make content even more relevant for students who are already asking these questions.

DOUSKEY: The students are really curious about personal care products. What is in their water bottle? Is there lead in the paint in my really old apartment? And, all of these are chemistry problems.

Dr. Michelle Douskey lectures in chemistry at Berkeley. (Photo: Scott Olson)

LOBET: A typical curriculum or text, Douskey says, might devote one problem to someone concerned about lead in drinking water, then move on to the next problem.

DOUSKEY: Maybe if we look at lead in paint, we might look at it from many different angles. We might revisit it throughout the semester. Is it going to stay in the paint or not? If it get’s in the dust then where does it go? Then there’s all of that chemistry stuff like how do I even detect for lead in paint? So that’s how we wrap in things like, well, light interacts with matter and we have certain instruments that help us to put some numbers on these things. So, I kind of feel like the green chemistry perspective is going to allow us to tell a more complete story. It was like we were telling part of a story before, you know, ‘oh well, you don’t need to know where this came from.’

LOBET: That idea, of teaching the whole story, has been central at the University of Oregon for more than a decade. As a leader in green chemistry, it’s taught two hundred chemistry faculty from around the country in annual week-long workshops. That gives U of O assistant department head Julie Haack a clear view of the changes at Berkeley.

HAACK: I think the changes that are happening at Berkeley are an incredible validation of this approach.

LOBET: A validation because of Berkeley’s heft and reach. Each year, 24 hundred incoming students will be learning their most basic chemistry principles …green.

HAACK: I think the impact is huge. These are the future decision makers in our society and what we’ve seen, once the students are armed with the tools of green chemistry, they really become empowered to participate in the solutions of finding more sustainable products and processes.

LOBET: If chemist Alison Narayan is any indication, the changes will be broad, from the mundane to the profound.

NARAYAN: So it does make me think about the way I do chemistry, for example reducing the amount of waste you have. We actually had a discussion last night in our research group meeting about reusing test tubes. So, we use lots of test tubes and then usually when we’re done with these, we just throw them away. So in my spare time when I am in my hood working up reactions, or on the bus on my way to lab, I find myself thinking about what else could you make that from? Instead of using this commodity chemical from petroleum, what else could you make that from? So it does, it does color the way I think about things and the type of daydreaming that I do.

LOBET: Berkeley has now opened a center for green chemistry. It’s planning a new graduate course in the spring. And it will be offer a new green chemistry emphasis that students may choose and that shows up like a minor on their transcripts. All these changes have not escaped the notice of the chemical industry, says Mike Wilson.

WILSON: These are discussions that strike at the very heart of the chemical enterprise, the things that we are writing about and the things that we are teaching have enormous influence for some of the largest industry groups and the largest companies in the world. And they certainly have an interest in influencing what we do here, and so we have had to be very careful, because we certainly want these companies to embrace the idea of green chemistry, not as a green wash, as a fundamental element of their corporate mission. But we also have to be independent in the way that we conduct our work, so there is an inherent tension there that we work with almost every day.

LOBET: That tension may be stronger at Berkeley, where the changes in chemistry teaching have implications for chemical policy across California. But the shift to green chemistry at universities around the country seems clear. Again, Julie Haack of the University of Oregon.

HAACK: Our goal is that green chemistry will just become the way chemistry is taught. And, pretty soon green chemistry will disappear and it will just become the way chemistry is done.

LOBET: At Berkeley professors say the goal is to turn out the next generation of not just chemists, but writers, politicians, and attorneys who can understand the consequences of the way things are made. For Living On Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet.

Related links:
Green Chemistry Education Network at U of O
Database of curriculum material for educators GEMS — Greener Education Materials
Green Chemistry Community
Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry
U Mass Center for Green Chemistry
Yale Center for Green Chemistry
Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry
American Chemical Society Green Chemistry
EPA Green Chemistry Education Site

Electronics production in Batam, Indonesia: “OSH is the most important. If we are sick we cannot earn our salaries.”

Category: Occupational Health & Safety
Posted on: October 29, 2010 7:19 PM, by The Pump Handle

by Elizabeth Grossman

Batam, one of Indonesia’s Riau Islands, sits across the smog-choked strait from Singapore, just one degree north of the equator. On October 21 and 22, the days that I’m there, newspaper headlines announce that Singapore is experiencing its worst air pollution since 2006 due to fires, most likely from illegal forest clearing in Sumatra. From a high point above the harbor where we go to see the view, the ship traffic below is mostly obscured by gray haze. A tourist brochure extols the island’s natural features, but what’s most evident is rampant development. Enormous gaudy housing and shopping complexes, strip malls, and new industrial parks appear to be eating up the tropical greenery and eroding the hillsides. Traffic, as in Bandung and Jakarta, is a road-clogging scrum in which motorcycles weave precariously between bumper-to-bumper cars and trucks. It is almost 100ºF, so hot that in the un-airconditioned FSPMI union headquarters, sweat from my hand soaks through my notebook page.

Thanks to much of the island’s designation as a special economic zone beginning in 1989, Batam has been experiencing explosive growth. In the 1970s, the island’s population was under 10,000. Today it has soared to about 900,000 and continues to grow. The industry here is primarily electronics – shipbuilding and general manufacturing are also major industries – with Batam’s workers providing inexpensive labor for assembly line production for Singapore-based operations of international companies. Panasonic, Epson, Sanyo, Siemens, Flextronics, Infineon, Teac, Schneider, Unisem, and Philips are some of the names we see on factory buildings in the Batamindo Industrial Park, one of the island’s largest industrial parks. The website for its Singapore-based developer notes that more than 60,000 people work for the companies located here.

The entrance to the industrial park is guarded, and fencing surrounds both factories and workers’ dormitories. The FSPMI (Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers, which is affiliated with the International Metal Workers Union) union leaders who are driving my colleagues and me around the park caution against taking pictures within sight of the security guards or police we pass frequently on our tour. The dormitories are numbered, three-storey buildings. Laundry hangs from some balconies and fire extinguishers are mounted on outside walls. All windows are completely covered by identical green shades.

At a union meeting
FSPMI hosts an evening meeting so workers can share information. We meet in a hotel that specializes in accommodations for people making the haj to Mecca. Clocks behind the reception desk show “Jakarta time,” “Singapore time,” and “Mecca time.”
That electronics workers here are unionized is remarkable, as unions are the exception throughout the electronics industry worldwide – a legacy of the historical anti-union bias of the microchip industry. But there are several different unions representing workers in Batam. Wages have traditionally been the focus, with occupational safety and health often being overlooked, one of the FSPMI leaders says. “But OSH is the most important issue,” he says. “Because if we are sick we cannot work and cannot earn our salaries.”

There are about two dozen people around the table, roughly three-quarters of them men and the rest from the union’s Women’s Forum. Most of the women wear headscarves. People introduce themselves by describing the companies they work for and the products they work on. “Epson – printer scanner.” “Singapore company supplying Sanyo, Epson, Philips.” “Unisem – integrated circuits.” “Seagate Technology. “Alcatel manufacture for AT&T, Dell, Compaq, Bose.” “Japanese company making Blu-Ray, DVD, CD disks.” “Wiring systems for Toyota, Sumimoto, Honda, Suzuki.” “Varta – lithium battery. “Techtron – MP3 and toys.” “Sanyo – battery for mobile phone.” “Fujitsu, HP – hard drive.” And the list goes on.

Along with this information, people share some of the concerns they have about the health effects of this work. Heat, dust, noise, physical discomfort, muscoskeletal and ergonomic problems are mentioned. Problems with eyesight are cited by people who use what they call “scopes” to examine products.

One union member describes his hearing loss after working at the same factory for ten years. He’s had to go to Jakarta (about 540 miles away) for treatment, he says, showing us copies of his audiometry tests. Another, who’s worked for Varta for 15 years making nickel metal hydride batteries, tells us of colleagues suffering from cancer. Yet another union member tells us about co-workers who’ve been diagnosed with lung disease official diagnosis is TB – “from printed circuit board cutting dust.”

Several people mention women’s reproductive health concerns, among them menstrual problems, miscarriages, birth defects, and quadruplets. One man puts his hand on his wife’s shoulder and tells us of her breast cancer. She’s spent 15 years working in a plant assembling lithium batteries. No one knows if there’s a connection, but when pressed, the company management paid for her treatment.

The FSPMI Women’s Forum was established in 2009 so women could discuss workplace issues specific to them. Among these are reproductive health hazards and reproductive health rights, including those for pregnant workers. We’re told of one plant where almost 90 percent of the workers are women.

“No information or training on chemicals”
The next day, I speak with a young woman named Wulan, who tells me that many of the women who work in the plant with a 90 percent female workforce have come to Batam from far away in other parts of Indonesia, many recruited just after high school.

Wulan came to Batam from Yogyakarta in west central Java – near Mount Merapi, the volcano currently erupting – in 2007. Until her contract was ended recently, she had been working at a Panasonic plant in safety control. Her job was to prepare protective gear for the workers and make sure everyone going into the clean room was properly outfitted with face mask, booties, hairnet, coveralls, etc. A typical working day is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., she tells me, with three hours of that, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., as overtime. But there’s also a night shift. She tells me she calls her family every day.

She also tells me that co-workers in line production have become sick from work they do cleaning parts. “There are lots of solvents,” she days. People have problems with their legs from whole days standing. Reproductive health problems are mentioned again.

“The union has tried to investigate chemicals using MSDS (material safety data sheets) and found that all the chemicals being used are dangerous,” one union member tells us. “The MSDS says because of gas respiratory protection should be used but workers only use paper or cotton masks,” he says. Methylene chloride, benzene, TCE, lithium, methanol, metal solvent, nickel metal hydride, isopropyl alcohol, nickel, Pergasol, and other metals and solvents are among the chemicals people have questions about.

When I ask if workers are given any special training on handling hazardous chemicals, I am told, “No information or training on chemicals. Just what we learn from MSDS.” Another issue raised is that workers move from factory to factory – many on short-term contracts, some only three moths long – so it’s difficult to build leadership on these issues, let alone organize workers. This also makes it difficult to trace diseases.

At one plant assembling circuit boards, recounts one union member, the management said theirs was a “clean industry” because “they collect all the particles.” We’re also told that at some plants workers are offered milk at the end of the day – with the intent of counteracting chemical effects. When concerns about health impacts of chemical exposure were raised with management, one response from employers has been, “What is your scientific proof that this industry can be hazardous?”

Some of the factories described are apparently ISO certified or ROHs compliant. But none of this guarantees employees the right to know the identity or hazards of the chemicals they’re working with. The people we meet are working hard to inform themselves.