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.'"
From the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center website:
"New data show that, despite previous efforts to curb their use, toxic chemicals have a major impact on health care costs and childhood morbidity.
NEW YORK, NY – May 4, 2011 /Press Release/ –– In three new studies published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers reveal the staggering economic impact of toxic chemicals and air pollutants in the environment, and propose new legislation to mandate testing of new chemicals and also those already on the market.
Leonardo Trasande, MD, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, analyzed the costs of conditions – including lead poisoning, childhood cancer, asthma, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – associated with exposure to toxic chemicals. Dr. Trasande and his team calculated the annual cost for direct medical care and the indirect costs, such as parents’ lost work days, and lost economic productivity caring for their children, of these diseases in children.
The researchers found the annual cost in the United States to be an estimated $76.6 billion, representing 3.5 percent of all U.S. health care costs in 2008. The breakdown includes: lead poisoning ($50.9 billion), autism ($7.9 billion), intellectual disability ($5.4 billion), exposure to mercury pollution ($5.1 billion), ADHD ($5 billion), asthma ($2.2 billion), and childhood cancer ($95 million).
"Our findings show that, despite previous efforts to curb their use, toxic chemicals have a major impact on health care costs and childhood morbidity," said Dr. Trasande. "New policy mandates are necessary to reduce the burden of disease associated with environmental toxins. The prevalence of chronic childhood conditions and costs associated with them may continue to rise if this issue is not addressed."
Dr. Trasande also reviewed an earlier study of 1997 data, which was conducted by Philip J. Landrigan, MD, and documented $54.9 billion in annual costs forchildhood diseases associated with environmental toxins in the United States. Reviewing this prior analysis, Dr. Trasande found that while exposure to lead and costs associated with asthma had diminished, new chemicals and new environmentally-induced diseases, like ADHD, have increased the overall burden of disease. Dr. Landrigan is currently Dean for Global Health, and Professor and Chair of Preventive Medicine, and Professor of Pediatrics, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
In a related article also in the current issue of Health Affairs, Dr. Landrigan and Lynn R. Goldman, MD, Dean of the School of Public Health at George Washington University, propose a three-pronged approach to reduce the burden of disease and rein in the effects of toxic chemicals in the environment:
In a separate article in Health Affairs, Perry Sheffield, MD, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, evaluated the little-studied correlation between air pollution and infectious respiratory illness in children, and the resultant health care costs.
Dr. Sheffield and her team analyzed hospitalization data between 1999 and 2007 for children aged one month to one year who had bronchiolitis – a type of viral lung infection with symptoms similar to asthma – and monitored the air quality surrounding in the hospitals where the patients were treated. They found a statistically significant association between levels of fine particulate matter pollutant surrounding the hospitals, and total charges and costs for infant bronchiolitis hospitalizations.
Her team revealed that as the amount of air pollutants increased, infant bronchiolitis hospitalization costs increased by an average of $127 per patient. As a result, they concluded that reducing the average level of fine particulate pollutant by just seven percent below the current annual standard could save $15 million annually in U.S. health care costs.
"While more research is required to understand the full effect of air pollutants on infectious disease severity and health care costs, our findings are indicative of the tremendous impact new legislation on air quality control standards could have on the health of our children," said Dr. Sheffield.
To access these three articles in Health Affairs, please visit http://www.healthaffairs.org."
I've been reading a lot about updates on the health effects of environmental toxins and thought I'd share them with you all. First of all, I'd like to tell you all about two books I've recently gotten a hold of - "Healthy Child, Healthy World" and "Not Just a Pretty Face". They both discuss the innumerable toxins in household items like cleaning supplies, foods and more specifically, beauty and hygiene products, in the latter. As many of you know, companies are not required to list the chemicals in their products, leading to the use of the cheapest, harshest chemicals in products we use every day. These chemicals are known to disrupt hormone pathways and/or cause direct damage to DNA, increasing risk of cancer and other disease processes. These chemicals are even being found in high levels in pregnant women, leading me to think of a connection between chemicals and increasing rates of childhood cancers and ADHD among U.S.-born children. (http://healthland.time.com/2011/01/14/pregnant-women-awash-in-chemicals-is-that-bad-for-baby/?xid=yahoo-feat)
Until we get a handle on the ubiquitious nature of these chemicals, I will continue to read about it and report it on my blog and Facebook pages. That is the purpose of this post. These books are easy to read and both give practical tips to decreasing your exposure to toxic chemicals and easy alternatives to use. (Yes, there ARE alternatives!) I've posted the President's Cancer Panel Report twice on my blog, because it is crucial that you all see the SCIENTIFIC evidence that has been widely accepted by the NIH and other scientific communities. These two books discuss the movement that built the case for environmental awareness and/or reform. So, download them to your kindles/ipads and get to reading!
I've also been introduced to the work of Dr. Phillip Landrigan of Mount Sinai Hospital in NY. This ground-breaking preventive medicine physician and researcher led the way in childhood lead intoxication research in the 1970s and the policy changes that resulted as a consequence. Here's a link to an Op/Ed of his featured in the NY Times...pretty much sums up the issues:
(It may seem like I present a lot of doom and gloom through my blog, but I do not feel this is the case. I just firmly believe that education and knowledge lead to reform. And we as consumers have been in the dark for TOO long! So, once again, I urge you to read about these issues in order to become informed consumers.)
Let me know if you'd like more info on this topic or have any questions...I'm always willing to find out more!
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.