Entries in Chemicals (6)


Chemicals Found in Manufacturing Affect Some Childhood Vaccines

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(ROCHESTER) -- New research finds that chemicals commonly found in non-stick cookware, microwave popcorn bags and other manufactured goods may make childhood vaccines less effective, perhaps making it easier for certain diseases to spread through the population.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that exposure to perfluorinated compounds, called PFCs, before and after birth may lower a child's ability to make disease-fighting antibodies for tetanus and diphtheria later in life.

Researchers studied nearly 600 children and their mothers from the Faroe Islands, a small nation in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Scotland. The researchers tested the levels of PFCs in the blood of the mothers when they were pregnant and in the children at age 5 and 7. The researchers also measured the children's immune system responses to vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria.

The study found that higher levels of PFCs in both mothers and children meant lower numbers of disease-fighting antibodies in the children. Mothers who had twice the level of PFC in their blood had children with a 40-percent decrease in the number of antibodies formed after getting the diphtheria vaccine. The 7-year-old children who had doubled PFC levels had nearly a 50-percent reduction in their antibody levels.

Study author Philippe Grandjean said very few chemicals are known to have such an effect on the body's immune system.

"The PFCs make the immune system more sluggish, so that it doesn't respond as vigorously against micro-organisms as it should," Grandjean said. "If vaccinations don't work, there may be an increased risk of epidemics."

Experts say a weaker vaccine can still be effective in fighting disease. But Paige Lawrence, director of the toxicology training program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, said a vaccine's reduced effectiveness may affect people differently.

"For some people, a 40 percent reduction in immune response might not matter at all. For others, it could matter tremendously," Lawrence said. "What we can't do is predict who will be most affected. We don't have the ability to look at individuals and know who will get sick and who won't."

The study authors said the marine diet of Faroese people may have influenced the levels of PFCs in the children in the study, since the chemical is commonly found throughout the environment, even in polar bears that live far from pollution sources.

But exposure to the chemicals is also high in the United States. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the blood of more than 2,000 Americans and found certain types of PFCs in nearly 98 percent of them.

And it's no wonder. PFCs are everywhere. They're found in Teflon cookware and some food wrappings, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes. Cleaning products, like the original Scotchgard, some shampoos, floor wax and carpet treatments are a common source of PFCs.

Industrial waste from some chemical plants has also dispersed PFCs in air and water, though the Environmental Protection Agency has been strengthening its regulation of the use of the chemicals in manufacturing in the past decade. In 2010, the agency announced new regulations requiring companies to submit notices when they intend to make PFCs. Eight companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of PFCs in their products as part of an EPA program.

"Certainly, this study begs to have further testing done on PFCs so, if in fact, subsequent studies demonstrate an impact on the immune system, this product is at least taken out of use going forward," said Dr. Ari Brown, co-author of Baby 411 and a developmental pediatrician in in Austin, Texas.

This isn't the first study to find potential negative health effects of PFCs. A 2009 study linked exposure to the chemicals to potential delays in getting pregnant for a group of more than 1,200 women.

Lawrence said scientists need a better understanding of just how these chemicals affect humans.

"Often when we think about pollutants and how they affect our health, we think about important and scary diseases like cancer," Lawrence said. "That is very important, but as a society we often tend to overlook more subtle adverse effects, such as how a chemical affects our ability to fight infections."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The Indoor Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, but have you ever thought about the purity of the air that you are breathing as you sit inside your home, office or even a restaurant?

Indoor air quality is considered to be the fourth greatest pollution threat to Americans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Even if you can never see, and can’t always smell, the chemicals inside your home, they are there.  It comes from cleaning products, dry-cleaning chemicals, plastic products like computer keyboards, furniture, paint, carpeting and more.

With the help of the Greenguard Environmental Institute, part of Underwriters Laboratories, ABC's Good Morning America set out to investigate exactly what kind of threat indoor air pollution posed to the average person by setting up a child’s nursery with a new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations.

Seven days of testing later, the results were in.  The air in our new nursery contained 300 different chemicals  -- compared to just two right outside the same house.  The EPA confirms that indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air.

The rocker in the nursery contained seven times California’s recommended level of formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer.  The crib mattress gave off more than 100 different chemicals, including industrial solvents and alcohols. Meanwhile, the paint used on the nursery’s walls contained chemical gases at five times the recommended limit.

Yet, none of the products used in the GMA testing were in violation of any law. Fortunately for consumers, there are easy, practical steps you can take today to minimize you and your family’s exposure to your home’s chemicals.

Look for certifications.  Certifications for low chemical emissions are in their infancy, but the more people who buy and request certified products, the more there will be.  Greenguard, part of Underwriters Laboratories, certifies furniture, paint, and other office and household products.  Scientific Certification Systems is another certifier.  And, for carpet, you can look for the “Green Label Plus” created by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI).

Choose unscented products.  Many manufacturers make both scented and unscented versions of their products.  Always choose the unscented ones.

Avoid pressed wood.  Pressed wood and wood composite materials are manufactured using strong glues that often contain volatile organic compounds.

Unwrap.  When you buy new furniture, unpackage it outdoors and let it sit outside for at least one week to air out.  Similarly, make sure to unwrap your dry-cleaning outdoors before bringing it into your house.

Ventilate.  Try to paint in the spring and fall when you can comfortably leave your windows open for ventilation.  Same goes for new furniture or cabinetry.  Keep your windows open for a couple of weeks, if possible.

Paint first.  It’s a good idea to paint your home first, then ventilate for several days before installing new carpeting and other textiles.  That’s because these products can absorb chemicals from the paint and re-release them into the air over time.

Buy used.  Chemical emissions are at their highest when a product is brand new, so one solution is to buy used furniture that has already off-gassed in somebody else’s house.  You should look for furniture built after 1978, when lead paint was banned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hormones and Weight Among Biggest Breast Cancer Risks

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SAN ANTONIO) -- A new report by the Institute of Medicine found that some environmental exposures play a well-established role in elevating breast cancer risk, while others -- such as certain chemicals -- have no impact at all, drawing its conclusions from previous research.

IOM researchers, who presented their findings at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, evaluated the impact of numerous environmental factors on the risk of developing breast cancer and found women could take a few preventive steps to possibly lower their risk. Women could, for example, avoid unnecessary medical tests that involve radiation, skip certain types of post-menopausal hormone replacement therapies, drink alcohol in moderation, exercise and maintain a healthy weight and not smoke.

Ionizing radiation from medical diagnostic tests, estrogen-progestin hormone replacement therapy and being overweight are well-established risk factors uncovered in previous studies, the authors found. For the purposes of their research, they determined environmental factors can be anything not determined by DNA.

But scientific evidence is less conclusive about other environmental factors, such as exposure to the chemicals benzene, 1,3-butadiene and ethylene oxide, found in such common substances as tobacco smoke and gasoline fumes.

"The epidemiologic evidence is more limited, contradictory or absent," they wrote. "Evidence from animal or mechanistic studies sometimes adds support to the epidemiologic evidence or suggests biologic plausibility when human evidence is lacking for a particular factor."

Studies on animals also suggest that chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) "suggest biological plausibility as a hazard," but findings from some other studies are contradictory.

The researchers also found that hair dyes and ionizing radiation from cell phones and other devices did not impact a woman's risk for breast cancer.

Despite their findings, the authors said since exposure varies from woman to woman, so does potential risk. Since much of the data on some of these substances are inconclusive, and exposure does vary so widely, the breast cancer community needs to develop better ways to study the impact of some environmental factors, according to the report.

Experts said while the IOM findings aren't new, they helped highlight how difficult it can be to determine breast cancer risk, since so many factors may play a role. The report, they say, also serves as further evidence that for breast cancer, the environment plays a much bigger role than genetics.

The authors hope their report leads research into a new direction, including a closer look at certain chemical exposures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Not Just Arsenic: Scientists Spot Many Chemicals in Food

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- People may have been surprised to find out this week that apple juice contains arsenic, but scientists say that many foods contain trace levels of compounds that sound scary but are virtually harmless at low levels.

"Arsenic is something we all take in," said ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, Dr. Richard Besser.  "We take in small amounts of a lot of things that if you take in large quantities are dangerous, but in small amounts aren't."

Besides arsenic, the Food and Drug Administration keeps tabs on a variety of chemicals and compounds that are present in small amounts in foods.

Dioxins, chemical compounds that come from burning fuels and waste incineration, can be found in trace levels in foods with animal fats, like meat, fish and dairy products.

Acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer and nerve damage with high exposure, accumulates in small, harmless amounts in potato or grain products when they are fried, roasted or baked.

Fish and shellfish are safe to eat, even though they certain types contain mercury.

Even bananas contain low levels of radioactive potassium.

The FDA says that consumers are in no danger from these compounds and should eat a balanced diet made up of many foods.

Dr. David Acheson, who directs food and import safety for Leavitt Partners, said it's important to understand how much of those compounds is safe to consume.

"If you analyze food down to the molecular level, you'll find many things that are really scary if you take them literally," Acheson said.  "It's not just the presence or absence of a compound that's important, but the levels at which they are present."

Dr. Mehmet Oz caused a stir last week by saying on his national program, The Dr. Oz Show, that many popular brands of apple juice contain arsenic.  Scientists and the FDA agree that apple juice does contain arsenic, but add that the element is present in such small amounts that it is harmless.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chemical Suicides: Quick Deaths, Public Health Hazards

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For more than three years now, news reports have painted eerily similar pictures of Americans killing themselves with toxic fumes: a man or woman slumped lifelessly over a steering wheel, windows up, doors locked, buckets or bottles of household chemicals nearby and homemade signs warning of poisonous gases inside.

From San Diego to Siesta Key, Florida, at least 37 people have died after mixing up baneful brews that in most of the cases cloaked them in invisible clouds of hydrogen sulfide so concentrated that one whiff can kill.  A few of them used similarly lethal hydrogen cyanide gas.

Local, state and federal agencies including the Justice Department have been monitoring the cases, although none have released official tallies. They trace the U.S. incidents to a rash of similar deaths in Japan, a country with high suicide rates.

In March 2008, Miyuki Asou, a Japanese actress who had recently appeared in pornographic films, committed "detergent suicide."  In the first half of 2008, more than 500 other Japanese killed themselves with instructions easily accessible online.  When a 14-year-old girl from Konan, Japan, committed detergent suicide in her bathroom, she inadvertently sickened 90 residents of an apartment building, demonstrating that chemical suicides pose public health hazards.

Whether they extinguish their lives in cars, or in college dormitories, apartments, homes or hotels, those who perish this way unwittingly endanger the lives of passersby or emergency response teams.

After a laboratory worker killed himself in his pickup truck on Dec. 21, 2009, four Kansas City, Missouri firefighters and one of the man's relatives were taken to a hospital after exposure to hydrogen cyanide.  He hadn't posted any warnings.

Emergency operations and law enforcement agencies have scrambled to use such examples to educate employees about donning breathing masks and hazmat suits before getting close to chemical suicide sites.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Experts Want Legislative Changes to Protect Children from Chemicals

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Health experts are calling on lawmakers to make legislative changes to ensure that children are properly protected from chemicals in products, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The last few decades have witnessed the introduction of numerous chemicals into the environment, but the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which governs chemical management policy, hasn't undergone any meaningful changes since its introduction in 1976. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that U.S, chemical management policy be substantially revised, requiring that safety assessments consider the consequences of exposure on children and pregnant women, our most vulnerable population.

Medical experts say an update is long overdue as the current law is ineffective and it never required that companies provide safety data before introducing new chemicals into the market.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio