flame retardants

Image result for household dust  Flame retardants are in many products around us, both in and out of the home, but there is much concern over their health effects on humans. Older flame retardants (PBDEs) were phased out by 2013, but it turns out that the newer replacements (TBB and TBPH, including Firemaster 550) also get into people and also have negative health effects. So it shouldn't be a surprise that every single toddler tested in a study in New York City showed evidence of flame retardants on their hands (both the old kind and newer replacements), and that they had more on their hands than their mothers. Flame retardants were also found in all house dust samples. Since they are linked to many negative health effects, you really, really want to minimize the amounts in your body.

More and more research is finding health problems with flame retardants because they are "not chemically bound" to the products in which they are used - thus they escape over time. and get into us via the skin (dermal), inhalation (from dust), and ingestion (from certain foods and dust on our fingers). And because flame retardants are persistant, they bioaccumulate (they build up over time). They can be measured in our urine and blood. Evidence suggests that flame retardants may be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic, alter hormone levels, decrease semen quality in men, thyoid disruptors, and act as developmental neurotoxicants (when developing fetus is exposed during pregnancy)  so that children have lowered IQ and more hyperactivity behaviors.

Where are flame retardants found? All around us, and in us. They are so hard to avoid because they're in electronic goods, in upholstered furniture, polyurethane foam, carpet pads, some textiles, the foam in baby items (car seats, bumpers, crib mattresses, strollers,nursing pillows, etc.), house dust, building insulation, and on and on. What to do? Wash hands before eating. Try to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Try to avoid products that say they contain "flame retardants". Only buy upholstered furniture with tags that say they are flame retardant free. From Science Daily:

NYC toddlers exposed to potentially harmful flame retardants

Evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers has been uncovered by researchers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers.

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) within the Mailman School of Public Health report evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers. The Center's previous research has linked early life exposure to a common class of flame-retardants called PBDEs with attention problems and lower scores on tests of mental and physical development in children.

Beginning in the 1970s, manufacturers added PBDEs, persistent brominated flame-retardants, to couches, textiles, electronics and other consumer products to comply with flammability standards. They began phasing out PBDEs in 2004 and started using newer alternative flame-retardants, including TBB and TBPH, which are components of the commercial mixture Firemaster 550®. TBB and TBPH are brominated flame retardants for which little is known about their health effects in humans, though they have been linked to reduced fertility and endocrine disruption in animal models.

Researchers visited the homes of 25 mother-child pairs enrolled in the CCCEH Sibling-Hermanos birth cohort, which began in 2008. When children were 3 years old, dust was collected from their homes and hand wipes were collected from the mother and child; these samples were analyzed for flame retardant compounds....Results are consistent with other studies, which demonstrate that toddlers tend to have higher exposure to flame retardants when compared with adults, likely because of the amount of time they spend on the floor.

 Many articles have been written about endocrine disrupting chemicals and the numerous health problems they're linked to (see posts on them). It's been known for decades that endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a danger to human health because the compounds can interfere with natural hormone function. Chemical exposure occurs through routine contact with plastic bottles, vinyl items, toys, food cans, cosmetics, flame retardants, and other consumer products containing "endocrine-disrupting chemicals". We ingest, breathe them in (inhalation), or absorb them through the skin as consumer products are used and also as consumer products break down (the dust).

Finally a study examines the financial cost of these chemicals - an estimate of more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages (the authors say this is a conservative estimate). What can ordinary people do to lower their exposure to these chemicals? Avoid the use of pesticides in the home, lawns, and gardens. Eat as much organic foods as possible. Avoid buying food in cans, including soda. Store food in glass and stainless steel containers. Avoid microwaving in plastic containers (use glass instead). Avoid plastic bottles with the numbers 3, 6, and 7 on the bottom. Avoid vinyl items such as vinyl shower curtains and vinyl toys. Avoid fragrances (get unscented products). Read labels on lotions, shampoos, soaps, make-up - avoid phthalates and parabens. Avoid flame retardants (check the labels on new upholstered furniture). Avoid non-stick pots, avoid stain-repellant items, avoid air fresheners and dryer sheets. And that's just a partial list....From Environmental Health News:

Toxic economy: Common chemicals cost US billions every year

Exposure to chemicals in pesticides, toys, makeup, food packaging and detergents costs the U.S. more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages, according to a new analysis. The chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, impact how human hormones function and have been linked to a variety of health problems such as impaired brain development, lower IQs, behavior problems, infertility, birth defects, obesity and diabetes. The findings, researchers say, "document the urgent public threat posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals.” 

The researchers estimated costs by looking at exposures, then projecting 15 medical conditions linked to the chemicals and the associated health costs and lost wages. The findings are built upon calculations made by the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. A similar study conducted in Europe found about $217 billion in annual costs due to exposure to these compounds. 

The U.S. public has greater exposure to flame retardant chemicals, due in part to stringent fire-safety rules. These compounds are added to furniture foam and electronics to slow the spread of flames. In Europe, pesticides were the main cost driver. Both flame retardants and certain pesticides can impact brain development when unborn babies are exposed..... Conversely, Europe has been much more proactive in tackling a particularly concerning groups of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

PBDEs were the worst offenders in the U.S., accounting for nearly two thirds of the estimated health problems. PBDEs were estimated to annually cause about 11 million lost IQ points and 43,000 additional cases of intellectual disability to the tune of $268 billion. Pesticide exposure—the second most costly chemical group in the U.S.—causes an estimated 1.8 million lost IQ points and another 7,500 intellectual disability cases annually, with an estimated cost of $44.7 billion. The researchers also looked at common chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA), used in polycarbonate plastics, food tin cans and receipts; and phthalates, found in food containers and cosmetics.

Trasande countered that estimates are on the conservative side. Researchers calculated the health-related costs from just a fraction—less than 5 percent—of known endocrine disrupting chemicals, he said. “We also didn’t focus on chemicals already banned, such as persistent organic pollutants,” he said. Those compounds, which include DDT and PCBs, remain common in the environment and in human blood despite being off the market for years, even decades.

Trasande said the study highlights the need to address endocrine disruptor exposure in the United States, especially as the country updates the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The 2016 updates to the act, which regulates both existing and new chemicals, contained no mention of endocrine disruption, Trasande said. Chemicals should be screened for any potential impacts to human hormones before they hit the marketplace, he added. 

While many of these toxics linger in the body for a long time, people can take steps to avoid exposure. “We can ask questions about flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds when we buy rugs and furniture, and choose products without these substances,” Grandjean said. “We can choose to avoid tuna and other large predatory species of fish, and we can choose organic fruits and leafy vegetables.”  (Original study)

Image result for household dust Ten chemicals suspected or known to harm human health are present in more than 90% of U.S. household dust samples, according to a new study. The research adds to a growing body of evidence showing the dangers posed by exposure to chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis. The chemicals come from a variety of household goods, including toys, cosmetics, personal care products, furniture, electronics, nonstick cookware, food packaging, floor coverings, some clothing (e.g., stain resistant), building materials, and cleaning products. How do the chemicals get into the dust? The chemicals can leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas from the products, which winds up in the dust and  results in human exposure. (That's right:  vacuum a lot and wash your hands a lot, and try to avoid or cut  back use of products with these chemicals,)

What was found in the dust? The main chemicals were: phthalates — a group of chemicals that includes DEP, DEHP, DNBP and DIBP (these were present in the highest concentrations),  highly fluorinated chemicals (HFCs), flame retardants (both old and newer replacement ones), synthetic fragrances, and phenols. These chemicals are known to have various adverse health effects, including endocrine disruption, cancer, neurological, immune, and developmental effects. (See posts on endocrine disruptors and flame retardants) Studies typically study one chemical at a time, but household dust contains MIXTURES of these chemicals with effects unknown. How does it get into us? Inhalation, ingestion, and through skin contact. And while the levels we are exposed to may be low, research is showing that even low level exposure can have adverse health effects. From Medical Xpress:

Potentially harmful chemicals widespread in household dust

Household dust exposes people to a wide range of toxic chemicals from everyday products, according to a study led by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. The multi-institutional team conducted a first-of-a-kind meta-analysis, compiling data from dust samples collected throughout the United States to identify the top ten toxic chemicals commonly found in dust. They found that DEHP, a chemical belonging to a hazardous class called phthalates, was number one on that list. In addition, the researchers found that phthalates overall were found at the highest levels in dust followed by phenols and flame retardant chemicals....."The findings suggest that people, and especially children, are exposed on a daily basis to multiple chemicals in dust that are linked to serious health problems."

Chemicals from consumer products are released into the air and get into dust, which can settle on household items or on the floor. People can inhale or ingest small particles of dust or even absorb them through the skin. Infants and young children are particularly at risk for exposure to the chemicals found in dust because they crawl, play on dusty floors, and put their hands in their mouths, the authors say.

Zota and colleagues pooled data from 26 peer-reviewed papers and one unpublished dataset that analyzed dust samples taken from homes in 14 states. They found 45 potentially toxic chemicals that are used in many consumer and household products such as vinyl flooring, personal care and cleaning products, building materials and home furnishings. The meta-analysis combines information from smaller dust studies and thus offers solid conclusions with greater statistical power, the authors say. The team found that:

  • Ten harmful chemicals are found in ninety percent of the dust samples across multiple studies, including a known cancer-causing agent called TDCIPP. This flame retardant is frequently found in furniture, baby products and other household items.
  • Indoor dust consistently contains four classes of harmful chemicals in high amounts. Phthalates, substances that are used to make cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring, and other products, were found in the highest concentration with a mean of 7,682 nanograms per gram of dust-an amount that was several orders of magnitude above the others. Phenols, chemicals used in cleaning products and other household items, were the number two highest chemical class followed by flame retardants and highly fluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware.
  • Chemicals from dust are likely to get into young children's bodies. A flame retardant added to couches, baby products, electronics and other products, TCEP, had the highest estimated intake followed by four phthalates—DEP, DEHP, BBzP and DnBP. The intake numbers in this study probably underestimate the true exposure to such chemicals, which are also found in products on the drug store shelf and even in fast food the authors say.
  • Phthalates such as DEP, DEHP, DNBP, and DIBP, are not only found at the highest concentrations in dust but are associated with many serious health hazards. Phthalates are thought to interfere with hormones in the body and are linked to a wide range of health issues including declines in IQ and respiratory problems in children.
  • Highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS are also high on the potential harm scale. These types of chemicals, which are found in cell phones, pizza boxes, and many non-stick, waterproof and stain-resistant products have been linked to numerous health problems of the immune, digestive, developmental and endocrine systems.
  • Small amounts can add up. Many of the chemicals in dust are linked to the same health hazards, such as cancer or developmental and reproductive toxicity, and may be acting together. Exposure to even small amounts of chemicals in combination can lead to an amplified health risk, especially for developing infants or young children, the authors say.

In the meantime, consumers who want to reduce their exposure to chemicals in household dust and the environment around them can take a few simple steps such as keeping dust levels low by using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter; washing hands frequently; and avoiding personal care and household products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

From the original study in Environmental Science and Technology: Consumer Product Chemicals in Indoor Dust: A Quantitative Meta-analysis of U.S. Studies

Indoor dust is a reservoir for commercial consumer product chemicals, including many compounds with known or suspected health effects. However, most dust exposure studies measure few chemicals in small samples. We systematically searched the U.S. indoor dust literature on phthalates, replacement flame retardants (RFRs), perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), synthetic fragrances, and environmental phenols and estimated pooled geometric means (GMs) and 95% confidence intervals for 45 chemicals measured in ≥3 data sets. In order to rank and contextualize these results, we used the pooled GMs to calculate residential intake from dust ingestion, inhalation, and dermal uptake from air, and then identified hazard traits from the Safer Consumer Products Candidate Chemical List. Our results indicate that U.S. indoor dust consistently contains chemicals from multiple classes. Phthalates occurred in the highest concentrations, followed by phenols, RFRs, fragrance, and PFASs. Several phthalates and RFRs had the highest residential intakes. We also found that many chemicals in dust share hazard traits such as reproductive and endocrine toxicity

People in developed countries spend more than 90% of their time in indoor environments, creating an important link between indoor environmental quality and public health. Consumer products and building materials including furniture, electronics, personal care and cleaning products, and floor and wall coverings contain chemicals that can leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas from products resulting in human exposure. Consequently, chemicals such as phthalates, phenols, flame retardants, and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) are widely detected in the U.S. general population, including vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. Exposure to one or more of these chemical classes has been associated with adverse health effects including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, cognitive and behavioral impairment in children, cancer, asthma, immune dysfunction, and chronic disease.

 A new report authored by dozens of scientists, health practitioners and children's health advocates is highlighting the (growing annually) evidence that many common and widely available chemicals endanger neurological development in fetuses and children of all ages. The chemicals contribute to such health problems as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, lowered IQ, behavior disorders, and many other problems. Many of the chemicals have hormonal effects (endocrine disruptors) and interfere with normal hormonal activity. The chemicals of highest concern are all around us and are found in most pregnant women, their fetuses, and in growing children. In fact, in all of us.

Especially worrisome chemicals are:  leadmercury; organophosphate pesticides (used in agriculture and home gardens), phthalates (in medicines, plastics, and personal care products), flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (found in upholstered furniture, car seats), air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels), and polychlorinated biphenyls (once used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, but still pervasive). It is important to note that out of the thousands of chemicals that people are exposed to, that the great majority of chemicals are untested for neurodevelopmental effects.

Especially alarming is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened. This shows that we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.  Unfortunately the substitutes for problematic chemicals are NO better than the originals, because they tend to be similar chemically. For example, the substitutes for BPA are just as bad, if not worse, than BPA (bisphenol A). And remember, we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.

The report criticizes current regulatory lapses that allow chemicals to be introduced into people's lives with little or no review of their effects on fetal and child health. "For most chemicals, we have no idea what they're doing to children's neurodevelopment," Professor Schantz (one of the signers of the report) said. "They just haven't been studied." So why aren't policymakers doing something? Why is industry dictating what we're exposed to? Why are chemicals innocent until proven guilty, and even then they're allowed to be used? Who is looking out for the ordinary person, and especially developing children?

From the journal Environmental Health Perspectives: Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks. The TENDR Consensus Statement

Children in America today are at an unacceptably high risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities. These are complex disorders with multiple causes—genetic, social, and environmental. The contribution of toxic chemicals to these disorders can be prevented. 

Leading scientific and medical experts, along with children’s health advocates, came together in 2015 under the auspices of Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks to issue a call to action to reduce widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with fetal and children’s brain development. Based on the available scientific evidence, the TENDR authors have identified prime examples of toxic chemicals and pollutants that increase children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. These include chemicals that are used extensively in consumer products and that have become widespread in the environment. Some are chemicals to which children and pregnant women are regularly exposed, and they are detected in the bodies of virtually all Americans in national surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

Based on these findings, we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken. To help reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in our children, we must eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to chemicals that contribute to these conditions. We must adopt a new framework for assessing chemicals that have the potential to disrupt brain development and prevent the use of those that may pose a risk. This consensus statement lays the foundation for developing recommendations to monitor, assess, and reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. 

The TENDR Consensus Statement is a call to action to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children. The TENDR authors agree that widespread exposures to toxic chemicals in our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Di Renzo et al. 2015; Gore et al. 2015; Lanphear 2015; Council on Environmental Health 2011). This preventable threat results from a failure of our industrial and consumer markets and regulatory systems to protect the developing brain from toxic chemicals. To lower children’s risks for developing neurodevelopmental disorders, policies and actions are urgently needed to eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to these chemicals.

We are witnessing an alarming increase in learning and behavioral problems in children. Parents report that 1 in 6 children in the United States, 17% more than a decade ago, have a developmental disability, including learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and other developmental delays (Boyle et al. 2011). As of 2012, 1 in 10 (> 5.9 million) children in the United States are estimated to have ADHD (Bloom et al. 2013). As of 2014, 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder (based on 2010 reporting data) (CDC 2014).

Many toxic chemicals can interfere with healthy brain development, some at extremely low levels of exposure. Research in the neurosciences has identified “critical windows of vulnerability” during embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early childhood and adolescence (Lanphear 2015; Lyall et al. 2014; Rice and Barone 2000). During these windows of development, toxic chemical exposures may cause lasting harm to the brain that interferes with a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.

The developing fetus is continuously exposed to a mixture of environmental chemicals (Mitro et al. 2015). A 2011 analysis of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) biomonitoring data found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened (Woodruff et al. 2011). Among the chemicals found in the vast majority of pregnant women are PBDEs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perchlorate, lead and mercury (Woodruff et al. 2011). Many of these chemicals can cross the placenta during pregnancy and are routinely detected in cord blood or other fetal tissues.

The following list provides prime examples of toxic chemicals that can contribute to learning, behavioral, or intellectual impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder: Organophosphate (OP) pesticides, PBDE flame retardants, combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include PAHs, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, and other air pollutants for which nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are markers, lead, mercuryPCBs .

The United States has restricted some of the production, use and environmental releases of these particular chemicals, but those measures have tended to be too little and too late. We face a crisis from both legacy and ongoing exposures to toxic chemicals.....The examples of developmental neurotoxic chemicals that we list here likely represent the tip of the iceberg....Only a minority of chemicals has been evaluated for neurotoxic effects in adults. Even fewer have been evaluated for potential effects on brain development in children (Grandjean and Landrigan 2006, 2014). Further, toxicological studies and regulatory evaluation seldom address combined effects of chemical mixtures, despite evidence that all people are exposed to dozens of chemicals at any given time.

Some chemicals, like those that disrupt the endocrine system, present a concern because they interfere with the activity of endogenous hormones that are essential for healthy brain development. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) include many pesticides, flame retardants, fuels, and plasticizers. One class of EDCs that is ubiquitous in consumer products are the phthalates. These are an emerging concern for interference with brain development and therefore demand attention.

Under our current system, when a toxic chemical or category of chemicals is finally removed from the market, chemical manufacturers often substitute similar chemicals that may pose similar concerns or be virtually untested for toxicity. This practice can result in “regrettable substitution” whereby the cycle of exposures and adverse effects starts all over again. The following list provides examples of this cycle: When the federal government banned some uses of OP pesticides, manufacturers responded by expanding the use of neonicotinoid and pyrethroid pesticides. Evidence is emerging that these widely used classes of pesticides pose a threat to the developing brain (Kara et al. 2015; Richardson et al. 2015; Shelton et al. 2014). 

When the U.S. Government reached a voluntary agreement with flame retardant manufacturers to stop making PBDEs, the manufacturers substituted other halogenated and organophosphate flame retardant chemicals. Many of these replacement flame retardants are similar in structure to other neurotoxic chemicals but have not undergone adequate assessment of their effects on developing brains. When the federal government banned some phthalates in children’s products, the chemical industry responded by replacing the banned chemicals with structurally similar new phthalates. These replacements are now under investigation for disrupting the endocrine system.

 A new report released by the non-profit environmental research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been measured in people (detected in urine, blood, hair, etc). Exposure to these carcinogens is not just from on-the-job contact with industrial chemicals, but from ordinary everyday exposure such as consumer products, food, water, air, and pesticides used in the home and lawns.

EWG compiled this inventory of known or likely carcinogens that have been measured in people by reviewing scientific literature and publicly available biomonitoring studies. Biomonitoring is the laboratory analysis of blood, urine, serum, saliva, and other body fluids to identify the amount and number of certain chemicals (such as pesticides, fire retardants, BPA, etc) present in the human body.  Thus it measures the extent to which chemical pollution is absorbed by our bodies. The CDC has a National Biomoniitoring Program. From Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Hundreds Of Cancer-Causing Chemicals Pollute Americans’ Bodies

Hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals are building up in the bodies of Americans, according to the first comprehensive inventory of the carcinogens that have been measured in people. EWG released the inventory today. EWG spent almost a year reviewing more than 1,000 biomonitoring studies and other research by leading government agencies and independent scientists in the U.S. and around the world. The nonprofit research group found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been detected in blood, urine, hair and other human samples.

Studies of the causes of cancer often focus on tobacco, alcohol and over-exposure to the sun. But the World Health Organization and many other scientists believe nearly 1 in 5 cancers are caused by chemicals and other environmental exposures––not only in the workplaces, but in consumer products, food, water and air.

EWG’s review bolsters the findings and ongoing research of the Halifax Project, a collaboration of more than 300 scientists from around the world who are investigating new ways in which combinations of toxic chemicals in our environment may cause cancer. While most cancer research focuses on treatment, the Halifax Project and EWG’s Rethinking Cancer initiative are looking at prevention by reducing people’s contact with cancer-causing chemicals.

“The presence of a toxic chemical in our bodies does not necessarily mean it will cause harm, but this report details the astounding number of carcinogens we are exposed to in almost every part of life that are building up in our systems,” said Curt DellaValle, author of the report and a senior scientist at EWG. “At any given time some people may harbor dozens or hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals. This troubling truth underscores the need for greater awareness of our everyday exposure to chemicals and how to avoid them.”

EWG estimated that a small subset of the chemicals inventoried in the report were measured at levels high enough to pose significant cancer risks in most Americans ––risks that generally exceed Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. But those estimates are only for individual chemicals and do not account for a question scientists and doctors are increasingly concerned about––how combined exposures to multiple chemicals may increase risk?

EWG’s inventory comes at an auspicious moment for the issue of cancer and chemicals. Last week Congress passed the first reform in 40 years of the nation’s woefully weak toxic chemical regulations, which President Obama is expected to sign soon....“Many of the carcinogens this study documents in people find their way into our bodies through food, air, water and consumer products every day. Dozens of them show up in human umbilical cord blood—which means Americans are exposed to carcinogens before they’ve left the womb,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “We should focus on preventing cancer by preventing human exposure to these chemicals.”

 Flame retardants. All around us, and in us. So, so hard to avoid because they're in electronic goods, in upholstered furniture, polyurethane foam, carpet pads, some textiles, the foam in baby items, house dust, building insulation, and on and on. And unfortunately, while a number of toxic flame retardants have been phased out, it appears that the new replacements may be just as bad and are more easily inhaled (the small particles go down the air tract and into the lung tissue). What to do? Wash hands before eating. Try to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Try to avoid products that say they contain "flame retardants". Only buy upholstered furniture with tags that say they are flame retardant free. From Environmental Health News:

As Washington state decides on stronger toxics law, residents are breathing flame retardants

A new generation of chemicals added to furniture, building insulation and baby products like car seats to slow the spread of flames are escaping into air at higher levels than previously thought, according to a new study out of Washington state. The findings come as Washington lawmakers decide on bolstering flame retardant bans. The state was one of the first to ban an earlier generation of retardants, known as PBDEs.

The new research found flame retardant chemicals used to replace polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also escape, are ubiquitous in indoor air and suggest inhalation is a major route of exposure for people. The compounds, called chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, found in the study have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, and some can alter hormones essential for development. “We’ve been underestimating what total exposure is,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the study published this month in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

Researchers gave 10 people from Washington state an air sampler that simulates breathing to wear during a normal day: office work, commuting, hanging out at home. They tested for a suite of the new generation of chlorinated flame retardants and found all 10 were breathing some amount of them throughout the day. Exposure to one of the most prevalent compounds was up to 30 times greater than ingesting the chemicals via dust. The distinction is important: dust exposure occurs largely through the mouth, previously thought to be the major exposure route for banned PBDEs.

Chlorinated flame retardants are used mostly in polyurethane foam, often in building insulation and everyday products such as furniture, children’s car seats and baby strollers. The compounds are substitutes for PBDEs, which were widely used as flame retardants until scientists reported they were building up in people and wildlife and various bans took hold.

While chlorinated flame retardants have been around for decades, Salamova said scientists have recently started to understand them as, at first, it was thought they weren’t harmful or able to accumulate in people and wildlife. However there is evidence the replacement are following the same path as PBDEs: chlorinated flame retardants have been found in household dust, children’s products, drinking water, and mother-toddlers pairsTwo chlorinated flame retardants have been flagged by the state of California as carcinogens, and animal research suggests they may hamper brain development as well. 

From Medical Xpress: Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to poorer behavioral function in children

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests that prenatal exposure to flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) commonly found in the environment may have a lasting effect on a child's cognitive and behavioral development, known as executive function...."We examined the relationship between prenatal exposure to PBDEs and PFASs and executive function in children at 5 and 8 years of age," said Ann Vuong, DrPH, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Environmental Health. "The findings suggest that maternal serum concentrations of PBDEs and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), one of the most commonly found PFASs in human blood, may be associated with poorer executive functioning in school-age children."

From Science Daily: Exposure to common flame retardants may contribute to attention problems in children

Prenatal exposure to some flame retardants that have been widely-used in consumer products is associated with attention problems in young children. A new study is the first to show the effects of prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers on children's development at ages 3, 4, and 7 years. Children with the highest exposure to certain PBDEs had approximately twice the number of maternally-reported attention problems compared to the other children in the study. PBDEs are found in textiles, plastics, wiring, and furniture containing polyurethane foam to reduce flammability.

Very nice and thorough report about flame retardants written in 2013 by the highly regarded center EHHI (Environment and Human Health, Inc.): FLAME RETARDANTS THE CASE FOR POLICY CHANGE

  A report released this week by the Endocrine Society states that the list of health problems that scientists can confidently link to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals has grown to include: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, reproductive and developmental problems, thyroid impairment, certain reproductive cancers, and neurodevelopmental problems such as decreased IQ. This statement (report) is based on the summaries of 1300 studies on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and it also adds support to the idea that even minute doses of these chemicals can interfere with the activity of natural hormones, which play a major role in regulating physiology and behavior. The statement also stated that most industrial chemicals released into the environment—numbering in the tens of thousands—have never been tested for endocrine-disrupting potential. EDCs include such common chemicals as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, parabens, some pesticides (e.g., atrazine), flame retardants, some persistent organic pollutants, and dioxins.

Where are endocrine disruptors found? People are exposed to chemicals with estrogenic effects in their everyday life, because endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in low doses in thousands of products. Many plastic products, including those advertised as "BPA free", have been found to leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals (the substitute chemicals are no better than BPA, and may be worse). Examples: plastic food containers which then leach into foods, linings of metal beverage, formula, and food cans, soft plastic toys, dental sealants, consumer goods, receipts, personal care products that contain parabens or phthalates (e.g., found in lotions,sunscreens, fragrances), household products (such as cleaning products, vinyl shower curtains) , cars (that new car smell in car interiors), etc. Americans love plastics, but there is a serious human health cost. (NOTE: To minimize EDC exposure - try to avoid plastic food and beverage containers. Instead try to use glass, stainless steel, or ceramics. Eat as many unprocessed and fresh foods as possible. Use cloth shower curtains. Read labels and avoid BPA, phthalates, parabens. Avoid fragrances. Don't use or buy non-stick pans, stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets. When buying new furniture, check that it doesn't have added fire retardants.)

Of course any public discussion of the harms from endocrine disrupting chemicals, as well as the newly released Endocrine Society report, is drawing sharp criticisms from the chemical industry (especially the American Chemistry Council, the largest trade group for the chemicals industry). Of course. We all know that the lobbying efforts by the chemical industry to suppress and deny the evidence of harm to humans from EDCs has been and will continue to be massive. Sadly, but at this point EDCs are found in almost everyone on earth. More about the report, from Science Daily:

Chemical exposure linked to rising diabetes, obesity risk

Emerging evidence ties endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) exposure to two of the biggest public health threats facing society -- diabetes and obesity. EDCs contribute to health problems by mimicking, blocking or otherwise interfering with the body's natural hormones. By hijacking the body's chemical messengers, EDCs can alter the way cells develop and grow. Known EDCs include bisphenol A (BPA) found in food can linings and cash register receipts, phthalates found in plastics and cosmetics, flame retardants and pesticides. The chemicals are so common that nearly every person on Earth has been exposed to one or more.

"The evidence is more definitive than ever before -- EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health," said Andrea C. Gore, Professor and Vacek Chair of Pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the task force that developed the statement. "Hundreds of studies are pointing to the same conclusion, whether they are long-term epidemiological studies in human, basic research in animals and cells, or research into groups of people with known occupational exposure to specific chemicals."

The threat is particularly great when unborn children are exposed to EDCs. Animal studies found that exposure to even tiny amounts of EDCs during the prenatal period can trigger obesity later in life. Similarly, animal studies found that some EDCs directly target beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, fat cells, and liver cells. This can lead to insulin resistance and an overabundance of the hormone insulin in the body -- risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

"It is clear we need to take action to minimize further exposure," Gore said. "With more chemicals being introduced into the marketplace all the time, better safety testing is needed to identify new EDCs and ensure they are kept out of household goods."

In the statement, the Society calls for: Additional research to more directly infer cause-and-effect relationships between EDC exposure and health conditions. Regulation to ensure that chemicals are tested for endocrine activity, including at low doses, prior to being permitted for use. - Calling upon "green chemists" and other industrial partners to create products that test for and eliminate potential EDCs. Education for the public and policymakers on ways to keep EDCs out of food, water and the air, as well as ways to protect unborn children from exposure.

The statement also addresses the need to recognize EDCs as an international problem..... "Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during early development can have long-lasting, even permanent consequences," said Bourguignon. "The science is clear and it's time for policymakers to take this wealth of evidence into account as they develop legislation."

More than a year after California revised its flame retardant standards so that new furniture (the polyurethane foam in upholstered sofas, sofa beds, and chairs) does not have to use flame retardants, it is still hard to find out whether the furniture is flame retardant free. This is what I have experienced in the last few months - the store doesn't know and the manufacturer won't respond to emails. Note: the new furniture label should say TB 117-2013 , and then you still need to ask the retailer if there are flame retardants in the upholstered furniture. The new label means that the manufacturer does NOT have to use flame retardant chemicals anymore, but it does NOT mean they are chemical free. And flame retardants are still found in many baby products (car seats, bumpers, crib mattresses, strollers,nursing pillows, etc), some personal care products, and electronics. It's a buyer beware situation.

More and more research is finding health problems with flame retardants because they are "not chemically bound" to the products in which they are used - thus they escape over time. and get into us via the skin (dermal), inhalation (from dust), and ingestion (from certain foods and dust on our fingers). And because flame retardants are persistant, they bioaccumulate (they build up over time). They can be measured in our urine and blood. Evidence suggests that flame retardants may be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic, alter hormone levels, decrease semen quality in men, thyoid disruptors, and act as developmental neurotoxicants (when developing fetus is exposed during pregnancy)  so that children have lowered IQ and more hyperactivity behaviors.

How does one know if the foam in your furniture has flame retardants in it? Duke University will test it for free if you send them a small piece of the furniture's foam. http://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/superfund/whats-in-my-foam/ I originally read about this service a few months ago in The Atlantic:

How to Test a Couch for Toxins

It began with a smell. Kerri Duntley had just bought a pair of large, cream-colored couches....As the scent continued to fill her living room, Duntley asked herself a troubling question: What was causing the couches to smell like industrial chemicals? The answers weren’t easy to find. Duntley searched in web forums and even tried contacting the couches’ manufacturer. “I called and called and called,” she said. “They just would not give me the information.” She grew frustrated and began looking for new couches. It was then that she discovered an unusual service run by a Duke University lab.

The lab’s offer was simple. First, the lab instructed, wield a pair of scissors. Grab something made with polyurethane foam—say, a mattress or the innards of a couch cushion. Cut a small chunk from the foam. Wrap the surgical work in tinfoil, ziplock seal it and mail the crime-scene-looking evidence off to Durham, North Carolina. Wait up to 45 days, the lab said, and it’ll arrive: a report detailing toxic flame retardants embedded in the foam.

Duntley complied. When the results came back, she learned that her couch sample had tested positive for two flame retardants, including one that has proven harmful in animal studies, a finding that she called heartbreaking. Her experience points to a vast gap in safety information about consumer goods. With the U.S. government’s limited power to regulate chemicals, many consumers, like Duntley, are left to piece together their own crude health-risk assessments. That fabric softener? It may smell like the Elysian Fields, but what if its unlisted ingredients cause cancer? 

Government officials , academic researchers, the chemical industry and environmentalists agree: The U.S. system of chemical regulation is broken. But while the fight over reform continues in Washington, consumers remain blind to many of the chemicals that enter their homes. Duke’s service is looking in its small way to change that. The lab—which offers anyone a free chemical analysis of polyurethane foam—has informed hundreds of Americans about their furniture’s toxicity. At the same time, the foam samples have given Duke’s team a large bank of crowdsourced research. By offering a free service to an anxious public, Duke’s scientists are gaining a clearer view of chemical manufacturing. And they’re learning just how much we don’t know about the chemicals that enter our homes.

Stapleton was part of a scientific cohort that found ingesting dust—say, getting our dusty hands on a burger—is by far our largest source of exposure to flame retardants; flame retardants aren’t chemically bound to their products, and so they attach themselves to airborne dust.

But what began in California soon became a de facto national standard, since furniture companies didn’t want to manufacture separate lines. Stapleton was interested to see how chemically saturated our furniture really is. So she and her colleagues asked families for samples of their baby products’ foam. After reviewing 101 samples from across thirteen states, Stapleton’s 2011 study reached a startling conclusion: Flame retardants accounted for about 5 percent of the products’ weight, and the chemicals were found in 80 percent of the samples.

Some of the chemicals were carcinogens. Others were from a chemical class known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which have been linked to lower IQ scores, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and thyroid disorders. The most common flame retardant among the samples was tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl)phosphate, or TDCPP, which researchers say is likely to harm the neurological development of infants. TDCPP, in fact, was used throughout the 1970s in children’s pajamas, until critical health research led manufacturers in 1977 to stop using it. Yet the chemical had reemerged in products like strollers and baby mattresses.

The lab offered to test some of these strangers’ furniture for free. But the requests kept coming. That’s when Stapleton and her colleagues decided to expand the scope of the testing and conceived of a free service for the public. They’d test anyone’s polyurethane foam for a suite of seven common flame retardants as something of a public service, since it would be funded by a federal grant (itself funded by taxpayer dollars). The service would also aid Stapleton’s research, offering a valuable stream of crowdsourced data about the chemicals used in furniture.

By crowdsourcing her research, Stapleton has also uncovered a flame retardant that academic literature has yet to identify. The flame retardant is a chlorinated organophosphate, like TDCPP, and its health effects are unknown, she said. Stapleton said that this recent discovery-by-accident followed the same pattern as her research on Firemaster 550, a popular flame retardant that replaced two widespread PBDEs after they were withdrawn from the market... But emerging research has raised concerns about Firemaster 550, too. One study from Boston University and Duke researchers found that the chemical mixture may cause obesity in humans. Stapleton found the same effect in rats.

Informing pregnant women about environmental health hazards is absolutely necessary, especially because steps can be taken to avoid them (such as pesticides, mercury in fish, lead and BPA). Why isn't it happening routinely? From Huffington Post:

Doctors Fail To Counsel Pregnant Women On Toxic Chemical Risks

...dozens of environmental chemicals can course through a pregnant woman's body, cross the umbilical cord and wreck havoc on a developing fetus. Birth defects, IQ losses and childhood cancers are just some of the potential risks scientists have now tied to even low levels of exposure.

Among more than 2,500 doctors consulted for the survey, nearly all of them reported counseling patients on factors such as diet, exercise and cigarette smoking. However, only about 20 percent said they addressed environmental exposures. They pegged their hesitation to a number of factors, from the fear of overwhelming patients with anxiety-inducing worries to limited appointment time to a lack of environmental health education.

Just one in 15 doctors said they had received training on the harmful reproductive effects of toxic chemicals. "Medical school and residencies tend to frame their curriculum around the boards and required licensing exams," said Stotland. "This material is not yet on those tests." The result, according to the study authors and other environmental health experts and advocates, is a serious missed opportunity.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a statement in October that underscored mounting evidence of "significant and long-lasting effects" caused by industrial chemicals, and emphasized doctors' role in protecting pregnant women.

The actual study from Plos One summed up the importance of knowing about exposures to environmental hazards during pregnancy very nicely in the introduction:

Counseling Patients on Preventing Prenatal Environmental Exposures - A Mixed-Methods Study of Obstetricians

Exposure to hazardous environmental chemicals, i.e., manufactured chemicals and metals, is linked to adverse health outcomes across all stages of the human life cycle including fertility, conception, pregnancy, child and adolescent development, and adult health [1][5]. Human exposure to environmental chemicals is ubiquitous. A population-based study found that virtually all pregnant women in the U.S. had measureable levels of at least 43 different environmental chemicals in their bodies, including chemicals that were measured at levels similar to those associated with adverse developmental and reproductive health outcomes in epidemiologic studies [6]. There are currently over 80,000 chemicals in commerce [7][8], and exposure occurs through air, water, food and consumer products in the home and workplace. The majority of industrial chemicals have not been tested for potential reproductive/developmental harm [9].

Obstetricians are uniquely positioned to help prevent exposures to environmental chemicals with adverse developmental and reproductive health effects [2]. Pregnancy is a time when exposure to environmental contaminants can disrupt or interfere with the physiology of a cell, tissue, or organ [4], leading to permanent and lifelong adverse health outcomes that may be passed down to future generations [10]. Pregnancy is also an opportune time to prevent harmful exposures as it is a period when patient interest about health can be extremely high.

Finally, a paper on some (but only some) of the chemicals linked to breast cancer and how to measure them in a woman's body. From Medical Xpress:

Study lists dangerous chemicals linked to breast cancer

Certain chemicals that are common in everyday life have been shown to cause breast cancer in lab rats and are likely to do the same in women, US researchers said MondayThe paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives lists 17 chemicals to avoid and offers women advice on how to minimize their exposure. They include chemicals in gasoline, diesel and other vehicle exhaust, flame retardants, stain-resistant textiles, paint removers, and disinfection byproducts in drinking water.

Some of the biggest sources of mammary carcinogens in the environment are benzene and butadiene, which can come from vehicle exhaust, lawn equipment, tobacco smoke and charred food.

Other concerns are cleaning solvents like methylene chloride, pharmaceuticals used in hormone replacement therapy, some flame retardants, chemicals in stain-resistant textiles and nonstick coatings, and styrene which comes from tobacco smoke and is also used to make Styrofoam, the study said. Carcinogens can also be found in drinking water, researchers said.

"Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer has largely been ignored. Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women's lives." Brody described the paper as the first to comprehensively list potential breast carcinogens and detail ways for experts to measure them in women's blood and urine.

The study also recommends seven ways for women to avoid these chemicals:

1) Limit exposure to exhaust from vehicles or generators, don't idle your car, and use electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers instead of gas-powered ones. 2) Use a ventilation fan while cooking and limit how much burned or charred food you eat. 3) Do not buy furniture with polyurethane foam, or ask for furniture that has not been treated with flame retardants4) Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics5) If you use a dry-cleaner, find one who does not use PERC (perchloroethylene) or other solvents. Ask for "wet cleaning.6) Use a solid carbon block drinking water filter. 7) Keep chemicals out of the house by taking off your shoes at the door, using a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, and cleaning with wet rags and mops.