Happy Friday! Big news: Scientific groups representing more than 40,000 researchers and clinicians have come together in the pages of the super-influential journal Science to insist that federal regulators do more—and do more, more quickly—to assess the human safety of the 12,000 new substances registered every day at the American Chemical Society.
“The need for swifter and sounder testing and review procedures cannot be overstated,” the letter says.
The letter’s corresponding author Patricia Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences, said:
“As things stand now,” she added, “things get rapidly into the marketplace and the testing of them is tending to lag behind.”
Hunt told ScienceDaily that the letter was inspired by growing concerns about BPA, which more than 300 studies have found to cause adverse health effects in animals. Hormone disruptors more broadly, were also of concern. She says:
“Hormones control everything—our basic metabolism, our reproduction. We call them endocrine disruptors. They’re like endocrine bombs to a certain extent because they can disrupt all these normal functions.”
Boom. She also said one of the problems is that the methods used to assess safety—primarily toxicology—are insufficient. “The FDA and EPA need to look beyond the toxicology of substances to the other ways chemicals can affect us. … One of the problems they have is they look at some of the science and don’t know how to interpret it because it’s not done using the traditional toxicology testing paradigm,” she said. “We need geneticists, we need developmental and reproductive biologists and we need the clinical people on board to actually help interpret and evaluate some of the science.”
I think this qualifies as a sign that things are changing, no?
Thanks to a recent Chicago Tribune investigation into skin-lightening creams sold in the area, the Illinois EPA has now issued a warning about these products.
It appears that of the 50 products the Tribune tested, five of those made in Asia but sold in Chicago contained high levels of mercury. The EPA has now issued a fact sheet for retailers. From their report:
Do not sell or distribute any cream or cosmetic that lists any of the following on the label: “mercury,” “mercurio,” “calomel,” or mercury compounds such as “mercurous chloride.” It also makes sense to take special precautions when dealing with imported cosmetic products. Do not sell imported skin lightening creams if there is no label on the container, or if there are no ingredients printed on the product’s box or container.
Mercury poses a serious health risk and is readily absorbed through the skin. There are a host of reasons to avoid skin-lightening creams, and we cover them extensively in the book, so if you have any concern that the cream you’re using isn’t safe, please stop. A few more notes from the EPA fact sheet:
People who use mercury-containing skin creams have been found to have elevated mercury levels in their hair, blood and urine. Mercury absorbed through the skin from prolonged exposure can cause damage to the brain, nervous system and kidneys. Using mercury-containing skin products may also result in rashes, irritation and other changes to the skin. Young children and developing fetuses are more sensitive to the adverse effects of mercury. While pregnant women who use mercury- containing skin creams may not experience symptoms of mercury poisoning; fetuses could become poisoned, leading to brain damage and other developmental problems.
So far Minnesota is the only state to legally ban mercury from beauty products. Are you next Illinois?
Have you ever used skin-lightening products?
Happy Monday! Here’s some news from the shame-on-you department: The EPA—the government agency entrusted, at least in theory, with protecting the environment—was warned by its own scientists about an insecticide used to grow corn and other crops, and it didn’t do squat about it. That same pesticide, produced by the German company Bayer, made $262 million in sales to farmers in 2009. Oh also, it’s super-toxic to honeybees.
For the last several years, scientists and environmentalists have been dismayed over what’s happening to the honeybees (short version: they’re dying), scrambling for explanations as to why. Several theories have been presented, and recently, headlines squawked about how a virus was responsible, which set off alarms in my Nancy Drewish brain.
Really? I thought. That’s curious. An environmental catastrophe that can’t be blamed on humans?
Well, according to documents leaked to Grist, the pesticide, which is banned in Germany (the country that makes the stuff), France, Slovenia and Italy, is known to be toxic to bees—on which the entire food chain relies, remember. From the report:
Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis.
We’ll be following the story closely. Grist called the EPA last week and an unnamed spokesperson said the hard-to-pronounce pesticide will continue to be used, and will be available for spring crops.