Daily exposure to a class of chemicals used in the production of many household items may lead to cancer, thyroid disease, and childhood obesity, a new study shows. The resulting economic burden is estimated to cost Americans a minimum of $5.5 billion and as much as $63 billion over the lifetime of the current population.
The new work revolves around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of over 4,700 humanmade chemicals that experts have detected for decades in the blood of millions of people. The chemicals are used, for example, in the production of water- and oil-resistant clothing, electronics, and nonstick cookware, and people are thought to ingest them as food comes into contact with packaging. The substances are believed to disrupt the function of hormones, signaling compounds that influence many bodily processes.
Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new study in roughly 5,000 Americans identified 13 medical conditions that may result from PFAS exposure, such as infertility, diabetes, and endometriosis, a painful disorder of the uterus. Together, the diseases generate medical bills and reduce worker productivity across a lifetime to create the costs measured by the study, say the study authors.
It’s one of the biggest industries in the world, consumes more than 10% of fossil fuels produced globally and emits an estimated 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, more than India’s annual emissions – yet the chemicals sector has largely slipped under the radar when it comes to climate.
This sprawling industry produces a huge range of products, many of which support other industries – pesticides for agriculture, acids for mining, lubricants for machinery, ingredients in cleaning agents, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and plastics.
While the industry has an important role to play in moving to low-carbon economies – providing coatings for solar panels, lightweight plastics to reduce vehicles’ energy consumption and insulating materials for buildings – it’s also hugely carbon intensive and predicted to become more so. Oil companies have been betting on chemicals as a way to remain profitable as the world pledges to turn away from fossil fuel energy. The International Energy Agency predicted that petrochemicals could account for 60% of oil demand in
A new study that checked American women’s breast milk for PFAS contamination detected the toxic chemical in all 50 samples tested, –and at levels nearly 2,000 times higher than the level some public health advocates advise is safe for drinking water. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds that are used to make products like food packaging, clothing and carpeting water and stain resistant. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans. They are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts and a range of other serious health problems. The peer-reviewed study, published on Thursday in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, found PFAS at levels in milk ranging from 50 parts per trillion (ppt) to more than 1,850ppt.
There are no standards for PFAS in breast milk, but the public health advocacy organization Environmental Working Group puts its advisory target for drinking water at 1ppt, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, within the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends as little as 14ppt in children’s drinking water.
northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined. Warmer air temperatures due to climate change could thaw much of the existing permafrost layer in the northern hemisphere. This thawing permafrost could release a large amount of mercury that could potentially affect ecosystems around the world. Mercury accumulates in aquatic and terrestrial food chains, and has harmful neurological and reproductive effects on animals. The study found approximately 793 gigagrams, or more than 15 million gallons, of mercury is frozen in northern permafrost soil. The study also found all frozen and unfrozen soil in northern permafrost regions contains a combined 1,656 gigagrams of mercury, making it the largest known reservoir of mercury on the planet.
Exposure to chemicals found in everyday products could affect the amount of fat stored in the body, according to a study by University of Georgia researchers. Phthalates are chemicals found in everything from plastic products to soap to nail polish—they give plastic its bendy stretch. But growing research shows that these chemicals could be harming people’s health. Because levels of phthalates were found in human fluids in previous studies, the researchers wanted to see if a specific phthalate, benzyl butyl phthalate, or BBP, had an effect on the accumulation of fat in cells. Their findings were published in Toxicology in Vitro.
The results of BBP’s effects were compared with bisphenol A, or BPA, an environmental endocrine disruptor that is known for its role in adipogenesis, or how fat cells develop. BBP caused a response in the cells that is similar to BPA: Both chemicals prompt the accumulation of lipid droplets. However, the droplets from BBP-treated cells were larger, something that suggests BBP exposure may lead to obesity.
The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has suspended the use of a larvicide after reports pointed to a potential link between the chemical and the devastating birth defect microcephaly. Brazil has seen a spike in microcephaly cases thought to be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus. But two health advocacy groups say the spike may actually be linked to a larvicide made by a Japanese subsidiary of Monsanto that has been used to stop the development of mosquito larvae in drinking water.
The new film “Dark Waters” tells the story of attorney Rob Bilott’s 20-year battle with DuPont over contaminated drinking water in West Virginia from toxic chemicals used to make Teflon. The Environmental Working Group credited Billot with “uncovering the most heinous corporate environmental conspiracy in history,” and the issue of contaminated water from the plastics industry continues to devastate areas across the country. On Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group released a shocking report about how toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS have been found in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas including Miami, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. The so-called forever chemicals are linked to cancer, high cholesterol and decreased fertility, and they do not break down in the environment. We speak with attorney Robert Bilott, who has just published a new book titled “Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont.” He is portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the Hollywood film “Dark Waters.” We’re also joined by Tim Robbins, Academy Award-winning actor and director, who plays Bilott’s boss at his law firm in “Dark Waters.”