Toxic Chemical and Product Safety News for Investors

Headline stories are selected by IEHN staff from environmentalhealthnews.com's "Above the Fold" daily news service. IEHN releases annotated versions several times monthly. Headlines listed here are linked to their original sources and are subject to those sources' archiving policies.

March 30, 2009

Will NAFTA exterminate Canadian pesticide bans?
Toronto CTV
March 29, 2009

A battle brewing over cosmetic pesticides between one of North America's biggest chemical companies and Canadian lawmakers may end up re-shaping the future of Canada's environmental policies in the years ahead. Next month, Onatario is set to become the second province in the country (after Quebec) to ban the sale and use of most off-the-shelf cosmetic pesticides. Environmental and health advocates hail the provincial bans as big steps in protecting public safety and children. But the pesticide prohibitions are not sitting well with the Dow Chemical Company. When Quebec enacted similar regulations, the Dow AgroSciences unit of the company filed a notice of action against Ottawa claiming the Quebec legislation violates NAFTA.

Dow's fight is centred on one chemical in particular: 2,4-D, which is used as one of the world's most common herbicides. Dow says it's safe if used according to instructions. But proponents of the pesticide ban say studies have shown that 2, 4-D is linked with cancer, neurological impairment and other health problems. They say putting the chemical into herbicides, which are then thrown onto fields and lawns, doesn't make sense.

Could your recliner be dangerous?
The Oregonian
March 29, 2009

Should Oregon have more say over the chemicals used to make your baby's bottle, her toys, your dishwasher detergent and your sofa? Potential toxics on the hit list range from fire retardants in upholstered furniture to phosphates in dishwasher soap to plastic additives in baby bottles and soft plastic toys. The chemicals are commonplace. They're found at low levels almost everywhere, including human blood and urine, umbilical cords, breast milk, drinking water, birds and fish. They're also part and parcel of our consumer economy. That's what makes them so tough to legislate.

Ottawa plans limit on flame retardant
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 28, 2009

Environment Canada has joined the European Union in prohibiting a chemical known as deca that is widely used as a flame retardant in televisions, computers and textiles. Deca reduces the fire hazard from electrical products, but its use has raised alarms among many scientists who have found that traces of it are building up rapidly in wildlife and inside homes. Although there are no human health studies showing harm from deca, the compound known as a polybrominated diphenyl ether is made up of flame-retardant chemicals that have been removed from the market. Researchers worry that PBDEs are able to interfere with thyroid hormone function and are capable of causing conditions similar to attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders in laboratory test animals.

Calculating the costs of nanohazard testing
Environmental Science and Technology
March 25, 2009

If all existing nanomaterials were to be tested for toxicity, it would cost U.S. industries between $249 million and $1.18 billion, but the testing could take as long as 53 years at current levels of investment, according to the first study to estimate the costs and time needed for nanotox testing. Researchers argues that instead of testing all existing nanomaterials, manufacturers can overcome the costs and time constraints of toxicity testing by taking a tiered approach. This would involve prioritizing the materials that need the most rigorous testing by using existing information on toxicity and exposure. The tiered approach is also used in the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) statute.

'Green chemistry' movement sprouts in colleges, companies
New York Times
March 25, 2009

Slowly, the chemical industry is going green. Many companies are starting to emphasize reducing or eliminating hazardous substances to save money, reduce inefficiencies and promote their brands as eco-friendly. "Industry really sees the value of 'green chemistry,'" said Julie Haack, assistant head of the University of Oregon's chemistry department. "If you want to recruit the best chemists, wouldn't it make sense to promote the opportunity to work in an environment where they can align their interest in the environment with their passion, which is chemistry?" Many universities are responding by creating a green-chemistry curriculum. Their efforts require addressing what green chemistry advocates call a fundamental problem in chemistry education: a lack of toxicology training. Students, faculty and industry are starting to change that by pushing for programs and courses about alternate design principles, slowly shifting chemistry education.

Safety concern over pet products
NBC News
March 24, 2009

For many of us, pets are like members of the family. Which is why it would be devastating if your dog were to suddenly collapse, or drop dead, after you used a pet product that is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Investigators found tens of thousands of reported incidents, including thousands of deaths, when they looked over the U.S. EPA's database of reported incidents involving domestic animals, from all products containing a pesticide commonly used in flea and tick shampoos.

Is dry wall the next Chinese import scandal?
Time Magazine
March 23, 2009

Hundreds of homeowners in Florida allege that toxic levels of chemical pollutants such as sulfur are issuing from contaminated drywall made in some Chinese factories. At least four class-action lawsuits have been filed in Florida; others have been filed in California, Louisiana and Alabama. The Florida Department of Health has not yet concluded its own tests of the drywall in question, but homeowners insist the common symptoms suffered by the Chinese-drywalled houses and their occupants can't be mere coincidence. Since 2006, more than 550 million lb. of drywall has been shipped here from China, mostly to Florida. The imports amount to a fraction of the 15 million tons of drywall produced domestically each year, but it was used to build more than 60,000 homes in at least a dozen states — including some post-Katrina reconstruction in Louisiana.

Retailer withdraws 'tainted' shampoo
China Daily
March 19, 2009

The Shanghai-based NGS supermarket Group withdrew Johnson & Johnson's infant bath products from its 3,500 supermarkets and convenience stores in East China, after these were alleged to contain carcinogens on Monday. So far no other major retailers took similar action, but some of them admitted that the "tainted" products were not selling as well as before. "Few people come to buy Johnson & Johnson's infant products, once very popular among young parents," said a cashier at one supermarket. "After all, no parents want to run the risk of using products of uncertain quality for their children."

China investigates baby products
Wall Street Journal
March 19, 2009

Chinese health authorities are investigating baby products made by Johnson & Johnson in response to a U.S. consumer group's charges, disputed by the company, that some chemicals contained in the products could cause cancer. The probe by Shanghai's Food and Drug Administration follows a move Monday by Shanghai-based Nonggongshan Supermarkets Corp. to halt sales of J&J's baby shampoo, soap and lotion at its more than 3,500 outlets.The investigation was prompted by a report by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of American nonprofit health and environmental groups. It said that formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane, chemicals found in small amounts in baby-care products, including those by J&J that are sold world-wide, are known to cause cancer in animals.

March 13, 2009

Big news on BPA has come out during the past few weeks. Thanks to continued pressure from state Attorney General's offices, and growing consumer awareness, six baby bottle companies have stopped making baby bottles containing bisphenol A. Sunoco became the first manufacturer of BPA to acknowledge the safety concerns about this chemical, and has begun restricting sales of BPA to companies that can guarantee BPA will not be used in food and water containers for young children. Additionally, lawmakers in Suffolk County, NY voted to ban BPA from use in baby bottles and sippy cups. Exposure to BPA may come from more sources than previously thought. New research from Health Canada revealed that Bisphenol A was detected in 96 per cent of soft drinks tested. in quantities below regulatory limits. A growing body of science suggests the chemical may have harmful effects at levels far below those limits. These risks have led to a rapid rise in popularity of glass baby bottles. Researchers in Germany have found traces of an unknown estrogen-mimicking chemical leaching into mineral water from a widely used type of plastic bottle made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.  According to a report released by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, many children's bath products contain chemicals that may cause cancer and skin allergies. A probe into the federal agency responsible for protecting the public near toxic pollution sites, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, reveals that it tends to "deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns." A new federal toy safety law stuck manufacturers and retailers with $1 billion worth of goods which have -- or are suspected of having -- illegal levels of lead or plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates. The toys must be recycled or destroyed.

Estrogenic toxin found in widely used plastic
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 12, 2009

Researchers in Germany have found traces of an unknown estrogen-mimicking chemical leaching into mineral water from a widely used type of plastic bottle. The bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, and the scientists detected estrogenic activity in 78 per cent of samples, according to a study published online in Environmental Science and Pollution Research. The testing is the first to find consistent contamination of bottled water with a hormonally active substance leaching from PET, one of the world's most popular packaging materials. The plastic is also used for soft-drink bottles and a host of other food and beverage containers and is identified by the recycling-industry symbol of the numeral "1" encased in a triangle.

Sunoco restricts sales of chemical used in bottles
Associated Press
March 12, 2009

Sunoco has begun restricting sales of a controversial chemical used in baby bottles and food containers that some researchers believe can harm infants. The move by the gas and chemical giant makes Sunoco the first manufacturer to acknowledge safety concerns about bisphenol-A, or BPA, which recently led retailers like Wal-Mart to pull thousands of baby and water bottles off store shelves. Environmental groups want to ban BPA in products for infants because of concerns that it can interfere with biological functions needed for growth. But government scientists have issued conflicting opinions about the chemical's risks. In light of that uncertainty, Sunoco said in a letter Thursday it has begun requiring customers to guarantee that its BPA will not be used in food and water containers for children under 3. "We will no longer sell BPA to customers who cannot make this promise," Thomas Golembeski, head of public relations, wrote in a letter to two investors.

Group finds carcinogens in kids bath products
USA Today
March 12, 2009

Many children's bath products contain chemicals that may cause cancer and skin allergies, according to a report released Thursday by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Twenty-three of 28 products tested contained formaldehyde, the report says. Formaldehyde — considered a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, — is released as preservatives break down over time in a container. Formaldehyde can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, the report says, and Japan and Sweden have banned formaldehyde from personal care products.

Federal probe finds health risks missed
Associated Press
March 11, 2009

The federal agency charged with protecting the public near toxic pollution sites often obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis and fails to zero in on toxic culprits, congressional investigators and scientists say. A House investigative report says officials from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry "deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns."

Creating a safer baby bottle
Dallas Morning News
March 10, 2009

From dropped pacifiers to crumbs on the kitchen floor, babies are known for sticking germs into their mouths. But most parents never suspected anything toxic about baby bottles, until recently. With growing concern over some No. 7 plastics, moms and dads are turning to an old, reliable standby. Glass baby bottles – which lost favor to their lighter, sturdier plastic cousins years ago – have become the new chic. "They are flying off the shelves," says a sales associate of the WeeGo glass bottles. Their new-fangled cushioning sleeves, which prevent breakage, are the latest invention stemming from the plastic-chemical scare. And, with growing consumer pressure, manufacturers and retailers had to rethink the entire realm of plastic feeding products. "BPA-free" is the new catchphrase.

Companies Stop Using BPA
Hartford Courant
March 6, 2009

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Thursday that six companies have stopped making baby bottles containing Bisphenol-A, a chemical that some studies suggest might be harmful to infants. Avent America Inc., Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex Products, Inc and Evenflo Co. are complying with the request, Blumenthal said. "This step is profoundly important as a message to the rest of the industry, that there are viable, affordable substitutes for this toxic chemical to make plastic usable and shatterproof and those substitutes ought to be used instead of BPA," Blumenthal said Thursday. The companies that have agreed to stop using the chemical make the majority of baby bottles in the U.S., according to Blumenthal's office.

Makers are pushing back on toxic-toy law
Wall Street Journal
March 5, 2009

Makers of children's products and charities that run second-hand shops are stuck with more than $1 billion of inventory they can't sell because of a new federal product-safety law, according to surveys by trade groups and the charities. The goods, which have -- or are suspected of having -- illegal levels of lead or plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates, include everything from beach balls to second-hand clothes to brand-new all-terrain vehicles for children. The goods -- piled up in warehouses and storerooms -- will have to be incinerated or dumped, resulting in write-offs and disposal costs that the suppliers say they can ill afford. Goodwill's Mr. Gibbons says its stores may have to destroy $170 million in merchandise. The Salvation Army say it will have $100 million in lost sales and disposal costs related to used goods.

New EFSA opinion on the potential risks from nanotechnologies in food
European Food Safety Authority
March 5, 2009

The European Food Safety Authority is today publishing its scientific opinion on nanoscience and nanotechnologies in relation to food and feed safety. EFSA’s Scientific Committee (SC) has concluded that established international approaches to risk assessment can also be applied to engineered nano materials. The committee also concluded that a case-by-case approach would be necessary and that, in practice, current data limitations and a lack of validated test methodologies could make risk assessment of specific nano products very difficult and subject to a high degree of uncertainty.

NY county lawmakers vote to ban BPA baby bottles
The Associated Press
March 4, 2009

Lawmakers in a Long Island county have voted to approve what would be the nation's first ban on baby bottles and toddler sippy cups made with a chemical that some studies suggest may be harmful to infants. The ban on Bisphenol-A (BPA) was approved unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday. It will take effect if County Executive Steve Levy signs it, but he has not indicated whether he will do so. The FDA had said last fall that BPA was safe, but after an independent report found deep flaws in its study the agency announced in December that it was planning more research.

Tests find Bisphenol A in majority of soft drinks
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 4, 2009

The estrogen-mimicking chemical BPA, already banished from baby bottles and frowned upon in water jugs, has now shown up in significant levels in soft drinks. Tests by Health Canada scientists revealed the highest levels were in energy drinks, the often caffeine-loaded beverages that have become popular with teenagers seeking a buzz and athletes chasing a quick pick-me-up. But the study also found the controversial compound in a wide variety of ginger ales, diet colas, root beers and citrus-flavoured sodas. Bisphenol A was detected in 96 per cent of soft drinks tested, in quantities below regulatory limits. But a growing body of science suggests the chemical may have harmful effects at levels far below those limits.

Study: Combining pesticides makes them more deadly for fish
Associated Press
March 2, 2009

Common agricultural pesticides that attack the nervous systems of salmon can turn more deadly when they combine with other pesticides, researchers have found. Scientists from the NOAA Fisheries Service and Washington State University were expecting that the harmful effects would add up as they accumulated in the water. They were surprised to find a deadly synergy occurred with some combinations, which made the mix more harmful and at lower levels of exposure than the sum of the parts.

List of pesticide-free towns growing
Newark Star-Ledger
March 1, 2009

Bernards Township last week joined a growing list of New Jersey towns to announce it is going "pesticide-free," by eliminating the use of chemical pesticides in parks and using them minimally on other township land. Part of a statewide effort spearheaded by the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the change is intended to reduce pesticides' impact on the environment and the public. "We feel that from a health standpoint, it would be better off for our residents," said Bernards Mayor Carolyn Kelly. The township in December adopted an "integrated pest management" policy that calls for things like manual weeding; aerating soil; and letting grass grow taller as a way to maintain grounds.