Skip to content

The prestigious medical journal The Lancet recently released a report by its Commission On Pollution and Health on the effects of various types of pollution (water, air, occupational, chemical, etc) on people and world economies - that is, the effect of pollution on "global health". The main finding: Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16 percent of all deaths worldwide. Pollution is now known to cause a wide variety of diseases and health problems, including asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and birth defects in children; and heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer in adults. The list of health effects keeps increasing. [See all posts on pollution.]

The report states that certain types of pollution are increasing throughout the world - air, chemical, and soil pollution.They also discuss new and emerging pollutants (most of them chemical pollutants) whose effects on human health
are not yet fully understood, yet they are widely found in the environment and detected in most humans. The authors of the report even say: "At least some of these chemical pollutants appear to have potential to cause global epidemics of disease, disability, and death."

Chemical pollutants include: developmental neurotoxicants (e.g. pesticides, lead, mercury), endocrine disruptors (which have reproductive effects and can alter fertility), new classes of pesticides such as the neonicotinoids, chemical herbicides such as glyphosate (found in Roundup and the most commonly used pesticide in the world), nano-particles, and pharmaceutical wastes.

While most deaths from all sorts of pollution are currently occurring in poorer developing countries (e.g. China and India), we in the United States also have health effects and deaths from pollution - just not on the scale of those countries. Also, remember that winds carry pollutants globally - so that air pollution in China will cross the Pacific Ocean on the winds to the US.

Everyone agrees that taking action works - think of the success in banning lead, asbestos, and DDT in the United States. And amounts of six common air pollutants have been reduced by about 70% since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. We can thank laws, and organizations established due to environmental problems and crises in the past (e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Superfund legislation, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act) for that.

From Science Daily: Pollution responsible for 16 percent of early deaths globally

Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to a report. Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear is a Commissioner and author of The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health that has released a report detailing the adverse effects of pollution on global health. ...."Pollution, which is at the root of many diseases and disorders that plague humankind, is entirely preventable." 

Commission findings include: - Pollution causes 16% of all deaths globally. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16% of all deaths worldwide -- three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It kills more people than smoking, hunger and natural disasters. In some countries, it accounts for one in four deaths. - Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable. Nearly 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Within countries, pollution's toll is greatest in poor and marginalized communities. Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals in utero and in early childhood can result in lifelong disease and, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential. - Pollution is closely tied to climate change and biodiversity. Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution. Major emitters of carbon dioxide are coal-fired power plants, chemical producers, mining operations, and vehicles.

A few excerpts (lead & pesticides) from the report in The Lancet: The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

Another example of the economic benefits of addressing pollution is seen in the consequences of removing lead from gasoline in the USA. This intervention began in 1975 and, within a decade, had reduced the mean blood concentration of lead in the population by more than 90%, almost eliminated childhood lead poisoning, and increased the cognitive capacity of all American children born since 1980 by 2–5 IQ points. This gain in intelligence has increased national economic productivity and will yield an economic benefit of US$200 billion (range $110 billion–300 billion) over the lifetimes of each annual cohort of children born since 1980, an aggregate benefit to-date of over $6 trillion.

Developmental neurotoxicants: Evidence is strong that widely used chemicals and pesticides have been responsible for injury to the brains of millions of children and have resulted in a global pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity. The manifestations of exposure to these chemicals during early development include loss of cognition, shortening of attention span, impairment of executive function, behavioural disorders, increased prevalence of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and autism.

Pesticides: More than 20,000 commercial pesticide products, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides are available on world markets. More than 1.1 billion pounds of these products are used in the USA each year and an estimated 5.2 billion pounds globally. ....The organophosphate insecticides are a large and widely used class of pesticides. Members of this class of chemicals are powerful developmental neurotoxicantsand prenatal exposures are associated with persistent deleterious effects on children’s cognitive and behavioural function and with long-term, potentially irreversible, changes to brain structure that are evident on MRI. 

Chemical herbicides account for nearly 40% of global pesticide use and applications are increasing. A major use is in production of genetically modified food crops engineered to be resistant to glyphosate (Roundup), the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-resistant, so-called “Roundup Ready” crops, now account for more than 90% of all corn and soybeans planted in the USA, and their use is growing globally. Glyphosate is widely detected in air and water in agricultural areas, and glyphosate residues are detected in commonly consumed foods.

Once again the controversial herbicide (weed killer) glyphosate is in the news. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup (manufactured by Monsanto), and is the most commonly used pesticide in the world. Its use is increasing annually since the introduction of genetically modified crops that are tolerant of glyphosate being sprayed on them (Roundup Ready crops), and since the use of "preharvest" applications of Roundup. Over the years the US government has generally NOT been tracking how much glyphosate residues are in the foods we eat, but whenever a food is studied for glyphosate residues - they are found. (see all posts) Which means people are constantly ingesting low levels of glyphosate residues.

But what does that mean for humans? A  recently published study of 100 adults over the age of 50, residing in Southern California, and followed from 1993 to 2016, looked at detectable glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) residues in urine. They found that the number of people with detectable residues in urine, and also the actual levels found in the urine, really, really increased in the 23 years. The percentage of people who tested positive for glyphosate shot up by 500% in that time period - from 12 percent of the samples to 70 percent. WOW!

Are there health effects from constant ingestion in food from low levels of glyphosate? We don't know, because the studies on humans have not been done. There are a number of health concerns, including that it is a carcinogen (it has been classified as a "probable carcinogen" by some agencies), liver and kidney damage, that it acts as an antibiotic and disrupts the gut microbiome, and endocrine disruption. The researchers of this study are especially concerned about possible glyphosate health effects on the liver (liver disease), based on animal studies (animals exposed chronically to very low levels), and want to research this further.

However, the EPA keeps insisting it's safe (and to please ignore the conflicts and deals done with Monsanto in recent years), and actually raised the levels allowed in 2013 (due to corporate lobbying). Also, glyphosate is still not monitored by the Department of Agriculture's pesticide data program or the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) monitoring program of human exposure to environmental chemicals.

What can you do? Try to eat as many organic foods as possible because glyphosate (and Roundup) are not allowed to be used in organic farming. And don't use Roundup on your own property - because you can be exposed to it numerous ways (drinking and eating it in food, inhalation, through the skin).

From Medical Xpress: US study finds rise in human glyphosate levels

Levels of glyphosate, a controversial chemical found in herbicides, markedly increased in the bodies of a sample population over two decades, a study published Tuesday in a US medical journal said. The increase dated from the introduction of genetically-modified glyphosate-tolerant crops in the United States in 1994.

Researchers compared the levels of glyphosate in the urine of 100 people living in California. It covered a 23-year period starting from 1993, the year before the introduction of genetically-modified crops tolerant to Roundup. Glyphosate-containing Roundup, produced by US agro giant Monsanto, is one of the world's most widely-used weedkillers.

"Prior to the introduction of genetically modified foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate," said Paul Mills, of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, the study's principal author. Among the study group, detectable amounts increased from an average of 0.20 micrograms per liter in 1993-1996 to an average of 0.45 micrograms in 2014-2016.

In July, California listed glyphosate as carcinogenic, and the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer called it "probably carcinogenic" in 2015. There are few human studies on the effects of glyphosate, but research on animals demonstrated that chronic exposure can have adverse effects, said Mills. Along with the European Commission's proposal on Tuesday, the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the chemical to be banned by 2022.

Excerpts from Consumer Reports: We May Be Consuming More Glyphosate Than Ever Before

A 2016 report in the journal Environmental Health that looked at human and animal studies found a link between glyphosate exposure and a number of health problems, including liver and kidney damage, endocrine disruption, and an elevated risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But a vast majority of those studies were done with animals.

In fact, very few human studies have been done on the health effects of glyphosate, and no federal agency monitors how much of the chemical makes it from the environment into our bodies. That lack of information makes it difficult to even begin to assess how much glyphosate is potentially harmful to humans and whether current exposure levels are above or below that mark.

2

Image result for lobster meal wikipedia A recent study provided evidence that higher levels of cadmium in women may increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, and it occurs primarily in postmenopausal women. Endometrial cancer is associated with estrogen exposure (for example, being obese, and also from external or environmental sources of estrogen).

Cadmium is a metal commonly found in foods such as kidneys, liver, and shellfish, but also tobacco (cigarette smoking). Cadmium is toxic, it accumulates in the body, it is an estrogen-mimicking chemical, and it is associated with several hormone-dependent cancers. The researchers found that a doubling of cadmium exposure (as compared to those with low levels) was associated with a 22% increased risk of endometrial cancer.  Bottom line: Go ahead and enjoy these foods, but try to eat foods with naturally high levels of cadmium in moderation - such as shellfish, kidneys, and liver. From Science Daily:

Increased endometrial cancer rates found in women with high levels of cadmium

More than 31,000 new cases of endometrial cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2017. Through a five-year observational study recently published in PLOS One, researchers at the University of Missouri found that women with increased levels of cadmium -- a metal commonly found in foods such as kidneys, liver and shellfish as well as tobacco -- also had an increased risk of endometrial cancer. It's an observation the researchers hope could lead to new treatments or interventions to prevent the fourth most common cancer in women.

"Cadmium is an estrogen-mimicking chemical, meaning it imitates estrogen and its effects on the body," said lead author Jane McElroy, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the MU School of Medicine. "Endometrial cancer has been associated with estrogen exposure. Because cadmium mimics estrogen, it may lead to an increased growth of the endometrium, contributing to an increased risk of endometrial cancer."

The research team partnered with cancer registries in Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa to identify cases of endometrial cancer. The team enrolled 631 women with a history of endometrial cancer in the study and 879 women without a history of the cancer to serve as a control group. The participants were asked to complete a survey of more than 200 questions about risk factors potentially associated with endometrial cancer. Once they completed the questionnaire, participants were sent a kit to collect urine and saliva samples. Through tests conducted at the MU Research Reactor, the samples were analyzed for cadmium levels.

While more research is needed to better understand the risks associated with cadmium, researchers say there are steps individuals can take to limit their cadmium-associated cancer risks. "We all have cadmium present in our kidneys and livers, but smoking has been shown to more than double a person's cadmium exposure," McElroy said. "Also, we recommend being attentive to your diet, as certain foods such as shellfish, kidney and liver can contain high levels of cadmium. You don't necessarily need to cut these from your diet, but eat them in moderation. This is especially true if women have a predisposition to endometrial cancer, such as a family history, diabetes or obesity." [Original study.]

Image result for human sperm, wikipedia The last post discussed the steep ongoing decline in sperm counts and sperm concentration in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It mentioned a number of environmental causes that could be contributing to this, including the huge increase of chemicals, especially endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt our hormones) over the past few decades.

But another study was also just published that showed (in mice) that effects of chronic exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals are amplified over 3 generations - and each generation has even lower sperm counts, sperm concentration, and reproductive abnormalities. So each generation gets progressively worse with continued exposure.

As the researchers state: "Our findings suggest that neonatal estrogenic exposure can affect both the reproductive tract and sperm production in exposed males, and exposure effects are exacerbated by exposure spanning multiple generations. Because estrogenic chemicals have become both increasingly common and ubiquitous environmental contaminants in developed countries, the implications for humans are serious. Indeed, it is possible effects are already apparent, with population-based studies from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China reporting reductions in sperm counts/quality and male fertility within a span of several decades." Yikes...

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers an impairment in ability to fertilize an egg at 40 million sperm per milliliter or below, and the level where WHO considers fertilization unlikely is 15 million sperm per milliliter. This is why the sperm count study discussed in the last post is so frightening: North American, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand men  whose partners are not yet pregnant nor do they have children (i.e., they are not confirmed fertile men) have experienced a drop in average sperm count of about 50 percent over four decades, to 47 million sperm per milliliter. Niels Skakkebæk, a Danish pediatrician and researcher working on this topic said: "Here in Denmark, there is an epidemic of infertility."and "Most worryingly [in Denmark] is that semen quality is in general so poor that an average young Danish man has much fewer sperm than men had a couple of generations ago, and more than 90 percent of their sperm are abnormal." Uh-oh...What will it take for governments to address this serious issue?

In the meantime, see the last post for some tips on how to reduce your own exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Just note that you can reduce exposure, but you can't totally eliminate exposure. Excerpts from Environmental Health News:

Science: Are we in a male fertility death spiral?

Margaret Atwood's 1985 book, The Handmaid's Tale, played out in a world with declining human births because pollution and sexually transmitted disease were causing sterility. Does fiction anticipate reality? Two new research papers add scientific weight to the possibility that pollution, especially endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are undermining male fertility.

The first, published Tuesday, is the strongest confirmation yet obtained that human sperm concentration and count are in a long-term decline: more than 50 percent from 1973 to 2013, with no sign that the decline is slowing. "The study is a wakeup that we are in a death spiral of infertility in men," said Frederick vom Saal, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri and an expert on endocrine disruption who was not part of either study.

The second study, published last week by different authors, offers a possible explanation. It found that early life exposure of male mouse pups to a model environmental estrogen, ethinyl estradiol, causes mistakes in development in the reproductive tract that will lead to lower sperm counts. According to vom Saal, the second study "provides a mechanistic explanation for a progressive decrease in sperm count over generations." What makes this study unique is that it examined what happened when three successive generations of males were exposed—instead of just looking only at the first. Hunt, in an email, said "we asked a simple question with real-world relevance that had simply never been addressed."

In the real world, since World War II, successive generations of people have been exposed to a growing number and quantity of environmental estrogens—chemicals that behave like the human hormone estrogen. Thousands of papers published in the scientific literature (reviewed here) tie these to a wide array of adverse consequences, including infertility and sperm count decline. This phenomenon—exposure of multiple generations of mammals to endocrine disrupting compounds—had never been studied experimentally, even though that's how humans have experienced EDC exposures for at least the last 70 years. That's almost three generations of human males. Men moving into the age of fatherhood are ground zero for this serial exposure.

So Horan, Hunt and their colleagues at WSU set out to mimic, for the first time, this real-world reality. They discovered that the effects are amplified in successive generations. They observed adverse effects starting in the first generation of mouse lineages where each generation was exposed for a brief period shortly after birth. The impacts worsened in the second generation compared to the first, and by the third generation the scientists were finding animals that could not produce sperm at all. This latter condition was not seen in the first two generations exposed. Details of the experimental results actually suggested that multiple generations of exposure may have increased male sensitivity to the chemical[Original study.]

Once again a study (this time a review and meta-analysis of other studies) found an alarming and steep decline in sperm counts in men from Western countries over a 40 year period. This steep decline for both sperm concentration (SC) and total sperm count (TSC) is for men in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The sperm count and sperm concentration declined 50 to 60% in the period between 1973 to 2011 - with a downward slope showing a decline of -1.4% to -1.6% per year. On the other hand, men from South America, Asia and Africa did not show a decline.

The authors of the study were very concerned over the results showing this decline in Western countries, with no evidence of the decline leveling off. As these declines continue, more and more men will have sperm counts below the point at which they can reproduce. Instead they will be infertile or "sub-fertile" (with a decreased probability of conceiving a child). The threshold level associated with a "decreased monthly probability of conception" is considered to be 40 million/ml. Shockingly - this study found that in 1973 when Western men who were not selected for fertility, and didn't know their fertility status (e.g., college students, men screened for the military) - the average sperm concentration was 99 million/ml, but by 2011 it was 47.1 million/ml. These men were called "unselected" and are likely to be representative of men in the general population. Men known to be fertile (e.g., had fathered a child) were at 83.8 million/ml in 1976, but were down to 62.0 million/ml in 2011. Both groups had consistent declines year after year.

What about the men from South America, Asia, and Africa? There, studies showed that the "unselected" men (not selected for fertility and who didn't know their fertility status) started out at 72.7 million/ml in 1983, and were at 62.6 million/ml in 2011, while men known to be fertile started out on average at 66.4 million/ml in 1978 and were at 75.7 million/ml in 2011. They did not show the decline of the North American, European, Australian, and New Zealand group of men.

What does this mean? And what is going on? These results go beyond fertility and reproduction. The decline is consistent with other male reproductive health indicators over the last few decades: higher incidence of testicular cancer, higher rates of cryptorchidism, earlier onset of male puberty, and decline in average testosterone levels. Instead, it appears that sperm counts of men are "the canary in the mine" for male health - evidence of harm to men from environmental and lifestyle influences. These Western developed countries are awash in chemicals and plastics, also with endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors) in our foods, our personal care products, etc - and so studies find these chemicals in all of us (in varying degrees). Same with flame retardants, pesticides, "scented" products. Exposure to all sorts of environmental pollutants - whether in air, water, soil, our food - such as high levels of aluminum. All of these can have an effect on sperm counts and reproductive health. And note that chemicals that can depress sperm counts  are also linked to many health problems, including chronic diseases.

What can I do?  You can lower your exposure to many chemicals (e.g., pesticides), plastics, and endocrine disruptors, but you can't avoid them totally. Yes, it'll mean reading labels and ingredient lists on foods, personal care products (such as soaps, shampoo, lotion), and products used in the home. TRY TO AVOID OR LOWER EXPOSURE TO: phthalates, parabens, BPA, BPS, and even BPA-free labeled products (all use similar chemicals), flame-retardants (e.g., in upholstered furniture and rugs), stain-resistant, dirt-resistant, waterproof coatings, Scotchgard, non-stick cookware coatings, dryer sheets, scented products (including scented candles and air fresheners), fragrances, pesticides in the yard and home, and "odor-free", antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-mildew products. Don't microwave foods in plastic containers (including microwave popcorn bags). 

INSTEAD: Try to eat more organic foods, look for organic or least-toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) alternatives for the home and garden. Store foods as much as possible in glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers. Buy foods, if possible, that are in glass bottles - not cans (all lined with endocrine disrupting chemicals) and not plastic bottles or containers (plastics leach). Some people use water filters because there are so many contaminants in our water, even if they meet federal guidelines on "allowable levels" in the water. Avoid cigarette smoke or smoking. Try to lose weight if overweight. Open windows now and then in your residence to lower indoor air pollution. The list is long - yes, a lifestyle change! (see posts on ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS, FLAME RETARDANTS, and PESTICIDES)

From Medical Xpress: Study shows a significant ongoing decline in sperm counts of Western men

In the first systematic review and meta-analysis of trends in sperm count, researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report a significant decline in sperm concentration and total sperm count among men from Western countries.

By screening 7,500 studies and conducting a meta-regression analysis on 185 studies between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who were not selected based on their fertility status. In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, where far fewer studies have been conducted. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

"Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend," Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a "canary in the coal mine" signaling broader risks to male health. [Original study.]

  Human sperm. Credit: Wikipedia

Another study was just published with worrisome findings about phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used widely in common consumer products such as food packaging, toys, medical devices, medications, and personal care products. They are endocrine disruptors (can interfere with normal hormonal function) and are linked to a number of health problems (here, here, and here).

The study looked at urban Australian men and found that the higher the level of phthalates, the higher the rate of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and hypertension. The researchers also found that higher levels of chronic low-grade inflammatory biomarkers (meaning higher levels of low-grade inflammation) was associated with higher levels of phthalates. All these findings confirm what other studies, done in other countries, have found.

Phthalates, which are measured in the urine,  were detected in 99.96% of the 1504 men. Eating a western dietary pattern (fast food, highly processed, low fiber) was also associated with higher phthalate levels.  However, they did not find an association of phthalate levels with asthma and depression. From Science Daily:

Everyday chemicals linked to chronic disease in men

Chemicals found in everyday plastics materials are linked to cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure in men, according to Australian researchers. Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) investigated the independent association between chronic diseases among men and concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals widely used in common consumer products, such as food packaging and wrappings, toys, medications, and even medical devices. Researchers found that of the 1500 Australian men tested, phthalates were detected in urine samples of 99.6% of those aged 35 and over. "We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels," says senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi, from the University of Adelaide's Adelaide Medical School and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health, and a member of SAHMRI's Nutrition & Metabolism theme.

"While we still don't understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body's growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function. "In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body," he says.

Age and western diets are directly associated with higher concentrations of phthalates. Previous studies have shown that men who ate less fresh fruit and vegetables and more processed and packaged foods, and drank carbonated soft drinks, have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.... Associate Professor Shi says that although the studies were conducted in men, the findings are also likely to be relevant to women. "While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease," he says. [Original study.]

 This week a forceful statement paper was issued by more than 200 hundred scientists and health professionals expressing serious concerns about triclosan and triclocarban. This statement, called The Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban, asked that the use of these widely used antimicrobials be restricted due to their risks to human health, to wildlife, and its accumulation in water, land, wildlife, and humans. They stated that the negatives outweigh any benefits, and they also questioned the use of other antimicrobials (because they also have similar health and environmental concerns).

Not only do triclosan and triclocarban persist in the environment, they are also a source of toxic and carcinogenic compounds including dioxins, chloroform, and chlorinated anilines. They are endocrine disruptors that bioaccumulate (build-up) in humans and wildlife. They are toxic to aquatic and other organisms, yet they are found in the majority of people and freshwater streams. In other words, the chemicals are all around us and in us!

More than 2000 personal and consumer products, as well as building materials, contain triclosan and triclocarban. For example, they are found in soaps, toothpastes, detergents, clothing, toys, carpets, plastics, kitchen items, and paints. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee have concluded, “No evidence is available to suggest that use of [antimicrobial-impregnated articles and consumer items bearing antimicrobial labeling] will make consumers and patients healthier or prevent disease”. According to the FDA, which is responsible for regulation of foods, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, and similar products, there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective than nonantibacterial soap and water. So why is it in so many products? It's a marketing gimmick!

What should one do? Read labels and avoid products containing triclosan, triclocarban, or anti-microbials, and products labeled anti-odor, antibacterial, or anti-germ. No, you don't need antibacterial or anti-odor socks or cutting boards! See earlier posts on this topic (here, here, and here). From Environmental Health News:

Hundreds of scientists call for caution on anti-microbial chemical use

Two ingredients used in thousands of products to kill bacteria, fungi and viruses linger in the environment and pose a risk to human health, according to a statement released today by more than 200 scientists and health professionals. The scientists say the possible benefits in most uses of triclosan and triclocarban—used in some soaps, toothpastes, detergents, paints, carpets—are not worth the risk.

The statement, published today in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, urges “the international community to limit the production and use of triclosan and triclocarban and to question the use of other antimicrobials.” They also call for warning labels on any product containing triclosan and triclocarban and for bolstered research of the chemicals' environmental toll.

The statement says evidence that the compounds are accumulating in water, land, wildlife and humans is sufficient to merit action. The chemicals are used to kills microbes such as bacteria and viruses that make people ill. However, both chemicals affect animals’ hormone systems, causing reproductive and development problems.  And there is nascent evidence that the impacts may extend to humans as well—having been linked to reduced growth of fetuses, earlier births, and lower head circumference in boys at birth.

U.S. manufacturers are phasing out triclosan from hand soaps after the Food and Drug Administration banned it last year amid concerns that the compound disrupted the body's hormone systems. The FDA noted in the restriction that antibacterial hand soaps were no more effective than non-antibacterial soap and water at preventing illness. .... More worrisome, Lindeman said some manufactures of personal care products are simply substituting other antimicrobials for triclosan—some of which may pose the same risks to people and the environment. Because of the widespread use, most people have some levels of triclosan in them. A 2008 study of U.S. residents found it in the urine of about 75 percent of people tested.

Once the compounds get into the environment, they don’t readily go away.  Researchers have detected triclosan and triclocarban in water and sediment all over the world—including drinking water, oceans and streams. The U.S. Geological Survey found triclosan in 60 percent of U.S. streams. Studies have shown triclosan toxic to some algae, fish and other crustaceans.

The compounds impact hormones in animal studies. And there’s evidence that they may do the same to developing babies. Properly functioning hormones are critical for babies’ proper development. Last month Brown University researchers reported that mothers’ triclosan exposure during pregnancy was linked to lower birth weights, smaller heads and earlier births. ...In addition to endocrine disruption concerns, Lindeman and other signers outline two other potential human health impacts from exposure to triclosan: heightened sensitivity to allergens, and antibiotic resistance. Large studies of children in the United States and Norway have linked triclosan to allergies and worsening asthma. And there is evidence bacteria that develop resistance to triclosan also become resistant to other antibacterial compounds.

 Stop using the damn antibacterial products! Yes, stop using stuff that says "antibacterial", "antimicrobial", "germ-killing",  or "anti-odor". Whether in personal care items, or bedding, or socks, or hand wipes, or wherever else you see those labels - don't buy them and try to avoid using them. Plain soap works just as well for cleaning hands (see FDA page). The "antibacterial" chemicals in soaps, toothpastes, body washes, etc. are absorbed by the body where they may do harm. Yes - HARM. The harms may not be known initially, but over and over, at some later point, the various chemicals are shown to cause harm - whether in humans or the environment, or both.

A case in point is the antimicrobial triclosan. It has been used for years in soooo many products, and religiously used by those concerned with "killing germs". It is now finally banned by the FDA from soaps and body washes because of the harms it causes. These include various health effects - and also because it's an endocrine disruptor (disrupts hormones).  And yes, it also crosses the placenta and has been associated with effects on the developing baby. For example, a recent study found an "inverse relationship" - that higher levels of triclosan in the mothers' urine during pregnancy (meaning they had used and absorbed more triclosan products) were associated with lower birth weight, length, head circumference, and gestational age (length of pregnancy). Of special concern to us at Lacto Bacto is that it also disrupts our microbes - remember that antimicrobial products (whether Triclosan in soap or antibiotics) kill off both beneficial and harmful bacteria.

As a recent study shows - triclosan is absorbed by pregnant women (and can be measured in their urine) and, it is absorbed and found in the urine of children who washed their hands or brushed their teeth with products containing triclosan.  And the higher the socioeconomic status, the more triclosan in the body - after all, people pay a premium for products that are "antimicrobial". While triclosan is now banned from being used in certain products (soaps and body washes), it is still allowed in many, many other products. And there are all those other antimicrobials that also should NOT be used. So please read the labels, especially the ingredient lists, and try to avoid antimicrobial, antibacterial, germ-killing, and anti-odor products. From Environmental health News:

Hygiene leaves kids with loads of triclosan

Levels of a controversial chemical meant to kill bacteria spike in the bodies of young children after they brush their teeth or wash their hands, according to a new study. U.S. manufacturers are phasing triclosan out of hand soaps after the Food and Drug Administration banned it effective last year amid concerns that the compound disrupted the body's hormone systems. It remains in Colgate Total toothpaste, some cleaning products and cosmetics. Health experts say exposure is best avoided for babies in the womb and developing children.

The latest study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is one of the first to show that children’s levels rise through their first few years of life. Hand washing and teeth brushing have speedy, significant impact on levels, the researchers found. Braun and colleagues tested the urine of 389 mothers and their children from Cincinnati, collecting samples from the women three times during pregnancy and from the children periodically between 1 and 8 years old.

They found triclosan in more than 70 percent of the samples. Among 8 year olds, levels were 66 percent higher in those that used hand soap. And more washing left the children with higher loads—those who reported washing their hands more than five times per day had more than four times the triclosan concentrations than those washing once or less per day. Children who had brushed their teeth within the last day had levels 2.5 times higher than those who had a toothpaste-free 24-hour span.

Braun said the levels of triclosan rose as the children aged, eventually leveling off. “Their levels were almost to moms’ levels by the time they reached 5 to 8 years of age.” This, he said, is likely due to more frequent use of personal care products as the kids aged. Despite the hand soap ban, triclosan remains on the market because it is effective at fighting plaque and gingivitis. Colgate uses 0.3 percent of the antibacterial to “fight harmful plaque germs.”.

Braun, however, said there is “quite compelling” evidence from animal studies that triclosan decreases thyroid hormone levels. Properly functioning thyroid hormones are critical for brain development. Just last month, using the same mothers and children, Braun and others reported that mothers’ triclosan exposure during pregnancy was linked to lower birth weights, smaller heads and earlier births. In addition, Pessah and colleagues reported triclosan hinders proper muscle development. The researchers used mice and fish, finding that triclosan affects the process responsible for muscle contraction.

Since my last post on the most commonly used pesticide in the world - glyphosate - there have been a number of important developments. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed-killer or herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by the chemical giant Monsanto. There have been more questions raised about the safety of glyphosate, and also what went on behind the scenes recently between Monsanto and some officials at the EPA, especially EPA deputy division director Jess Rowland.

Was there a downplaying of the pesticide's health effects or squashing of researchers and studies that raised health concerns? (Remember that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found glyphosate to be a "probable carcinogen" in 2015, but the manufacturer Monsanto has fought long and hard against that designation) Was there corruption? Or ...?

A big problem is that the EPA relies on industry-funded studies to determine if something is safe or not - which is like the fox guarding the chicken house. Also, were the so-called "independent" research articles actually ghost-written by industry (Monsanto), which is what some documents are suggesting? And why was a government review of the pesticide squashed? Tsk.... tsk.... Another problem is that the EPA can choose which studies to include when making a decision - and they can choose to disregard independent peer-reviewed research (the better research) and rely on industry studies that are not peer-reviewed (definitely bias in these studies). And yes, this happened here. For example, the EPA has ignored more than 1500 published (and peer reviewed) studies on glyphosate from the last decade and instead relied largely on less than 300 unpublished, non-peer-reviewed studies. Another tsk...tsk....

Now a published paper by noted researchers (see below) makes the case that the debate over glyphosate remains unsettled and requires further review. The researchers recommend such things as better testing of glyphosate levels and its metabolites in the human body. They pointed out that some studies with rodents found that glyphosate is a carcinogen (can "induce cancers"), and other studies find glyphosate is associated with negative health effects in humans, such as chronic kidney disease and some cancers. Some research suggests that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor. Also, chemical mixtures can be more toxic than individual chemicals - this is a concern with the chemicals in Roundup. Studies are needed examining people exposed through their occupations (e.g., pesticide applicators), and also "vulnerable populations (e.g., pregnant women, babies, children). The researchers added that current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment.

I would like to add that this is why glyphosate residues need to be studied in food - we are eating the stuff unless we only eat organic food. Due to the practices of "preharvest application" of glyphosate (Roundup) and the increasing use of genetically modified crops (such as Roundup Ready crops) that allow the herbicide to be applied without killing the crop (but which means the pesticide is in the crop), the use of glyphosate is increasing rapidly. And then there is the use on school grounds, in suburban yards, and properties. Yikes! This is not a political issue - this is a health issue, and of having the right-to-know what is in our food, our bodies, and our environment (you don't think it just stays on the fields where it is used, do you?)

Excerpts from the NY Times article: Monsanto Weed Killer Roundup Faces New Doubts on Safety in Unsealed Documents

The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.... A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.

The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.

Excerpts from an article about the BMJ paper (see below) at Science Daily: Weedkiller chemical (glyphosate) safety standards need urgent review

But most of the science used to support the safety standards applied in the US was carried out more than 30 years ago, and relatively little of it was subject to peer review, they point out. More than 1500 studies have been published on the chemical over the past decade alone. "It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," say the experts. And despite the rapid increase in use there is no systematic monitoring system for tracking levels in human tissue, and few studies have looked at potential harms to human health.

But recent animal studies have suggested that glyphosate at doses lower than those used to assess risk, may be linked to heightened risks of liver, kidney, eye and cardiovascular system damage. And weed-killers, which combine glyphosate with other 'so-called inert ingredients,' may be even more potent. But these mixtures are regarded as commercially sensitive by the manufacturers and are therefore not available for public scrutiny, say the experts.

Excerpt from the BMJ Journal of Epidiomology and Community Health: Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) increased ∼100-fold from 1974 to 2014. Additional increases are expected due to widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, increased application of GBHs, and preharvest uses of GBHs as desiccants. Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago. We have considered information on GBH use, exposures, mechanisms of action, toxicity and epidemiology. Human exposures to glyphosate are rising, and a number of in vitro and in vivo studies challenge the basis for the current safety assessment of glyphosate and GBHs. We conclude that current safety standards for GBHs are outdated and may fail to protect public health or the environment.

Image result for fast food wikipedia  Another study is adding to the evidence that food packaging  is frequently coated  with harmful chemicals - called perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. The chemicals are used because they resist grease and stains, but unfortunately they then leach into the food, and when people eat the food - it gets into them. The evidence is also growing that these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, including endocrine disruption (they are hormone disruptors) - even in low doses. They are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high blood cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, development and immune system problems, low birth weights, and decreased sperm quality. (See earlier post) The list keeps growing each year.

Researchers tested about 400 pieces of food packaging from 27 fast food chains,  including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts (see how they scored). Overall, about 33 percent of the packages contained fluorine (a chemical not found in paper, but is an indicator of perfluorinated chemicals present to make the packaging grease and stain resistant). What is even more disturbing is that when the researchers more closely examined 20 samples to find out exactly what fluorinated compounds they contained - they found that 6 of the more rigorously tested packages contained PFOA (which was used in Teflon). PFOA was phased out for use in the USA years ago due to it being so long-lasting in the environment and its serious health effects, but other countries still produce it. Unfortunately, even the replacement chemicals  seem to be similarly harmful (not surprising because of the chemical similarities), and they also persist in the environment.

It should be pointed out that perfluorinated chemicals are also used in products such as stain and water resistant coatings on clothing, upholstery, carpeting and floor waxes. They are in non-stick coatings in pots and pans. The chemicals leach or migrate out of products and degrade very slowly — thus showing up in air, household dust, water, dirt, wildlife, and people. Yes, studies show that almost everyone in the U.S. has these chemicals in their blood, and unfortunately some of them can stay in the body for years. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. Exposure to perfluorinated chemicals from fast food packaging is of big concern for children, because one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily, and children may be especially susceptible to the adverse health effects.

Yes, we are surrounded by a sea of harmful chemicals that are tough to avoid, but we should at least try to minimize our exposure. Fast food restaurants should be encouraged to use nontoxic alternatives (e.g., aluminum foil or wax paper) - after all, the study showed that there is packaging out there without these chemicals.

What can we do to avoid PFCs? 1) Try to avoid or eat less fast food and food that comes in "grease-proof" containers. 2) Don't use non-stick pots and pans - use stainless steel instead. 3) Try to avoid clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpets with stain and water-resistant coatings. 4) Don't use microwave popcorn bags, and try to avoid microwaving foods in their packaging - use a glass dish instead. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead. 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro". *Please check out the Environmental Working Group site for more information (here and here).

From Science Daily: Extensive use of fluorinated chemicals in fast food wrappers: Chemicals can leach into food

Americans may be consuming fast food wrapped in paper treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) -- the same chemicals used in stain-resistant products, firefighting materials and nonstick cookware, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples of packaging materials, including hamburger and sandwich wrappers, pastry bags, beverage cups and French fry containers, and found evidence of fluorinated compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Of the materials tested, these chemicals were found in 56 percent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 percent of sandwich and burger wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard.

Previous studies have shown that these PFASs can migrate, contaminating the food and, when consumed, accumulating in the body....Previous studies have linked PFASs to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children, among other health issues. The chemicals have an especially long half-life and take many years before just 50 percent of the intake leaves the human body. The results are concerning when considering the role of fast food in the American diet. The National Center for Health Statistics reported one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily.

Samples were collected from a total of 27 fast food restaurant chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Panera and Chick-Fil-A, in and around Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The study did not include takeout containers, such as Chinese food boxes or pizza boxes. [Original study]

ez-2016-00435z_0002 Credit: From L. Schaider et al., Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging.