Sonoma County Gazette, May 2015: Updates Needed on Toxics Laws

We are surrounded by toxins in products so familiar that we can forget to take precautions with use.
The new Sonoma County Recycling Guide lists common household toxics needing to be stored, used, and disposed of with care, such as antifreeze or other auto fluids, fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and lamp oil, along with paint thinners, solvents, and wood finishes. Pesticides and weed killers are included also.

In the kitchen and bath dwell assorted cleaners, cosmetics, drain openers, aerosol sprays, and of course pharmaceuticals. Medications ending up in the waste stream at very low levels continue to be biologically active and capable of causing harm to humans, pets, fish and other aquatic life coming in contact with it. Even most effluent passing through advanced wastewater treatment systems such as reverse osmosis and advanced membrane technology, retain remnant toxins. Experts have stated that no existing treatment technologies eliminate all toxins.

Toxins much too common in food and cosmetics….
Harmful chemicals are also found in our food. For example, a recent alert from Environmental Working Group (EWG) stated that, “…propyl paraben, a preservative linked to endocrine disruption and not allowed in food sold in the European Union, is in nearly 50 U.S. snack foods, including Sara Lee cinnamon rolls, Weight Watchers cakes….etc.” While some cosmetic companies have removed propyl paraben from their formulations, food companies have not followed suit.

Cosmetic companies are weakly regulated. A recent article entitled “Bill Would Give F.D.A. More Muscle on Cosmetics” (Rachel Abrams, Business Day, April 20, 2015) states: “Regulating cosmetics has not changed much since passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938. The F.D.A. can only ask companies to voluntarily recall products, and manufacturers are not legally required to disclose adverse health effects reported by consumers.”

A new bill recently proposed by Senators Sue Collins and Dianne Feinstein is called the Personal Care Products Safety Act and would give Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broader oversight in regulating cosmetics. FDA would be required to investigate five potentially risky ingredients each year, (Note: If there are 85,000 chemicals in existence, can this be nearly enough?) and if found to pose health risks, FDA could ban or restrict use. EWG strongly backs this legislation and states, “Many Americans are surprised to learn that the ingredients in their makeup, shampoo and body lotion are largely unregulated and, in some cases, harmful to their health…” (Note: Environmental Working Group maintains website that provides very useful information on toxins in personal care products, food additives, cleaning products, and much more at )

Fish are affected also…..
Many of these toxins are not only dangerous for humans, but they get into the food chain through the fish we eat.   In a notice released by United States Geological Survey on March 24, 2015, entitled “Laboratory Study Shows Future Generations of Fish Affected by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure”, and states, “Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later…..”

They add, “Aquatic environments are the ultimate reservoirs for many contaminants, including chemicals that mimic the functions of natural hormones. Fish and other aquatic organisms often have the greatest exposures to such chemicals during critical periods in development or even entire life cycles.” They found that subsequent generations were more affected by the toxins than the fish experiencing the original exposure. Some studies have indicated the same response in humans when pregnant women are exposed to these toxins. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren may be more affected than their own child. (Note: in the case of fish, they live in river toxins 24/7, and never get relief from constant exposure.)

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are commonly found in the environment….
Many household and personal care products are endocrine disruptors (Note: see list: Laura Vandenberg PhD, Environmental Health Scientist at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, notes that after twenty years of peer reviewed scientific studies, that include many controlled experiments with animals showing clear links between environmental exposures to toxins and endocrine disruption affects on wildlife reproduction, there is no question that extremely low doses can affect functions of the endocrine system. There are also many human epidemiological studies that provide similar evidence.

This is in contrast to current risk assessment assumptions that ascertain the dose makes the poison and the goal is to discover the safe dose at which no adverse effects occur. This assumption has now been turned on its head with endocrine disrupting chemicals and very low dose exposures (in some cases, in the parts per trillion range, can have critical impacts.

Competing bills vie for attention as proposed toxics legislation….
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976 and provided Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with authority to require reporting, record-keeping, and testing requirements, along with restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures, but excluded food, drugs, cosmetics & pesticides. Since that time, EPA has required safety testing for just 200 of the estimated 85,000 chemicals in existence, with only five having been banned or restricted out of all those currently registered for use. We have no information on the many new toxins formed within those 85,000 through combination with one another.

There are significant differences between two pieces of proposed legislation to update TSCA, that have come forward from the House and the Senate. The Markey-Boxer Senate Bill version of the update is titled “The Alan Reinstein & Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act”. The House version is proposed by Tom Udall of New Mexico and David Vitter of Louisiana.

This latter bill is believed to have been influenced by the Chemical Industry and would take away States’ rights currently allowing them to create their own toxics legislation and thereby undermining current regulations. Furthermore, EPA is concerned this House version might be exploited by the industry by delaying review of very hazardous toxic chemicals indefinitely while EPA is forced by this legislation to review less hazardous chemicals requested by industry, thereby taking away resources that are needed for more dire toxicity evaluations. (Note: There are numerous other substantive issues that will need to be covered in future Gazette articles.)

The Boxer-Markey Bill would require EPA to use stronger safety standards, require immediate attention on chemicals that accumulate in our bodies and the environment, assure consistency with recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, preserve EPA’s authority to regulate products and mixtures containing dangerous chemicals, and more…..

This article is only a small part of the story which will be continued in future articles.