Although I'm not sure it's something to get worked up about, I do believe the barrage of environmental chemicals and toxins we are exposed to may potentially be leading to the increased rates of cancer, infertility and other chronic diseases. More research in this area of study and industry guidelines/watchdogs are definitely needed. Do we really know if flame retardants improve our survival in a house fire? What are the long term consequences of these chemicals? Read on for the full article.
Yours, in health,
From my AMA (American Medical Association) Morning Rounds:
"Two new studies on potentially toxic chemicals found in couches and other furniture in US households garnered extensive print and online coverage, but were not picked up by any of the major televisions stations. Most of the media sources noted that furniture manufacturers tend to tailor their products to meet California's standards because of the role its market plays in sustaining the nation's economy. The majority of sources also noted the health effects associated with the chemicals reported in the studies.
USA Today (11/29, Koch) reports, "More than half of US couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants that pose risks to humans as the chemicals migrate from furniture foam into house dust," according to a study published in the Nov. 28 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley, and Duke University found that 41 percent of the 102 couches they tested had "foam with chlorinated Tris, a probable human carcinogen removed from baby pajamas in 1977." They also discovered that 17 percent of the sofas "contained the chemical pentaBDE," which has been banned globally.
The Los Angeles Times (11/29, Boxall) "Greenspace" blog notes that the study team found that most (85%) of the couches which were purchased by US consumers "from 1985 to 2010," had been "treated with chemical flame retardants." However, another flame retardant, Firemaster 550, which "contains toxic ingredients, was detected in 13 couches, most of them sold in the last seven years."
The Bangor (ME) Daily News (11/28, Farwell) points out that studies "have found that exposing rats to high doses of Firemaster 550 can lead to lower birth weight and genital and skeletal deformities."
The Chicago Tribune (11/28, Hawthorne) noted that "several of the flame retardants detected in the new study have been linked to hormone disruption, developmental problems, lower IQ and impaired fertility." The American Chemistry Council responded to the study by issuing a statement saying, "There is no data in this study that indicate that the levels of flame retardants found would cause any human health problems." The industry trade group also "cited an analysis of a government-funded study that it said shows 'flame retardants in upholstered furniture can provide valuable escape time' from house fires." But the Tribune points out that studies by the "US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratories found that flame retardants in household furniture cushions provide no meaningful protection from fires."
The ABC News (11/28, Bockman) "Medical Unit" blog reports that because of California's "flammability standard, known as TB117 [pdf], many furniture manufacturers treat polyurethane foam with flame retardants. TB117 requires furniture sold in the state to withstand a 12-second flame exposure without igniting." Most US states have similar laws.
The NPR (11/29, Shute) "Shots" blog reports that in a second study published in the same journal, researchers at the Massachusetts-based Silent Spring Institute found "fire retardants in household dust." In 75 percent of the homes they "tested, the dust contained tris, which was banned in children's sleepwear in the 1970s because it caused cancer in lab animals." They also found that many homes "had related chemicals - TCEP and TDCIPP - which the state of California lists as carcinogens."
The studies are also covered by Forbes (11/29, Westervelt), the Huffington Post (11/28, Peeples), the CNN (11/29, Kounang) "Vitals" blog, the Fox News (11/28) website, the Baltimore Sun (11/29, Walker) "Picture of Health" blog, California Watch (11/29, Jewett), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (11/28, Robison) "Boomer Consumer" blog, Alabama Live (11/29, Oliver), the MinnPost (11/29, Perry) "Second Opinion" column, HealthDay (11/29, Preidt) and WebMD (11/28, Boyles).
Studies come as lawmakers push for stricter regulations. The San Francisco Chronicle (11/28, Lee) notes that the new studies "arrive as state and federal lawmakers are pushing for stricter regulations on potentially hazardous chemicals that go into furniture, electronics and other products." California Gov. Jerry Brown "now wants regulations to reduce the number of chemicals permitted in furniture, but experts say the law has already done damage nationwide."
Similarly, The Hill (11/29, Viebeck) "Healthwatch" blog reports that the release of the new research on Wednesday prompted advocates to "argue for passage of the Safe Chemicals Act." The bill, which Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sponsored, "would restrict the use of chemicals that are not proven to be safe.'"
Still not convinced that your health and climate change are connected? Don't believe that preserving rain forests impacts your health and the future of man-kind? Then check out this article from Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, on the connection between climate change and the spread of infectious disease. It's sure to explain a few connections and the concern that public health workers have for our future.
Enjoy and have a GREAT and SAFE Labor Day weekend!
Internship Opportunity Announcement: Man, I wish I was a college student!
CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (NCEH/ATSDR) is offering a 10-week summer internship program for students majoring in environmental, physical, biological, chemical, and/or social sciences, or related fields. During the course of the internship, students are introduced to environmental health at the federal level through collaborative projects, experiential learning opportunities, individual environmental health presentations, journal clubs, field trips, brown bag lunches, and shadowing and mentoring relationships at CDC/ATSDR. Interns will be based at CDC/ATSDR’s Chamblee Campus. Students are paid $500 a week during the course of the program. Please go to the CDC's website www.cdc.gov/nceh/cleh for more information and application instructions.
Application due date: February 2, 2011. Program dates: June 8-August 12, 2011
Eligibility requirements for CLEH interns:
1. US citizenship or Permanent Resident with a green card,
2. Full time enrollment at a college or university as a rising junior or rising senior by fall 2011
3. Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.