Chemicals Banned in Kids’ Toys Found in Mac and Cheese

Boxed macaroni and cheese is often a favorite food among youngsters, but a recent study suggests the packaged food contains dangerous, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been banned in toys: phthalates. [1]

Phthalates are a group of toxic additives in plastics. They’re used to make plastics soft and flexible, and are commonly found in artificial fragrances, inks, coatings, adhesives, and other consumer and industrial products, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains.

These chemicals are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in equipment and materials for food handling, processing, and packaging. Because of this, phthalates often wind up in high-fat, highly-processed foods.

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging – which includes the NRDC – recently sent a small sample of mac and cheese and other popular cheese-food items for laboratory testing, and received some unsettling results.

Phthalates were found in 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese, including 8 out of 9 Kraft products. [2]

It’s Time to Remove Phthalates from Food Products

The coalition believes the federal government should step in to regulate and ultimately ban phthalates, but since that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, the onus is on Kraft Heinz to remove phthalates from its food products.

Kraft not only has the largest market for powdered cheese in the industry, but the company has taken action in the past to remove unsafe ingredients from its products (largely due to increasing consumer pressure). For example, in 2016, the company quietly removed artificial dyes from its Mac & Cheese recipe and replaced them with paprika, annatto, and turmeric.

In total, the coalition tested 30 samples – 10 cheese powder, 5 sliced cheese, and 15 natural cheese samples – and 29 of them were found to contain phthalates. Some of the products tested were labeled organic. The highest levels of phthalates were found in the powdered macaroni and cheese samples.

Mike Belliveau, the executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said:

“The phthalates concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than 4 times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese, and cottage cheese.” [3]

These chemicals are accidentally making their way into the food system, via processing and packaging. It’s not that Kraft workers are standing over giant vats of powdered cheese, dumping phthalates into them. The key to keeping dangerous substances out of the bellies of hungry kiddos is to ensure safer food processing and packaging methods are in place. [2]

The European Union (EU) has already taken the crucial step of banning phthalates in food contact materials.

Coalition member Peter Lehner said in a statement:

“Parents and their children should not have to wait longer to know that their food does not contain toxic chemicals. We are asking manufacturers to act now.”

No word from Kraft Heinz just yet.

Tom Neltner, the chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said:

“A chemical is not allowed in food unless there is a reasonable certainty it will cause no harm. We don’t think the FDA can say there is a reasonable certainty of no harm.” [3]

Phthalate Dangers

Once you consume phthalates, they can travel through your bloodstream to your organs. Prenatal phthalate exposure is especially concerning, since the chemicals can easily cross from the mother’s body into the placenta. Phthalates can also wind up in breast milk. [1]

Researchers have linked prenatal phthalate exposure to impaired neurological development in children, lower IQ, learning and memory impairment, and antisocial behavior. Boys that are exposed to phthalates in-utero run the risk of genital defects.

In 2008, Congress prohibited the use of DEHP, a chemical known to negatively affect the development of the testicles and the production of normal sperm in young animals, in toys and childcare products. It is considered a “gender-bending” chemical because it can cause males of all species to adopt more female traits.

In 2015, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed a ban on several additional phthalates used in toys and other children’s products, but the proposal has yet to be finalized.

A report released in late 2015 showed that more than 81% of 164 dollar-store products tested contained concerning levels of at least 1 toxic chemical. Everything from toys to jewelry, to personal care products contained chemicals that were carcinogenic, or otherwise hazardous.

Sources:

[1] Natural Resources Defense Council

[2] New York Daily News

[3] Popsugar


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Sunscreen Ingredient Becomes Toxic in Sunlight and Water

A chemical commonly found in sunscreen breaks down into toxic compounds when exposed to sun and water, research shows.

Avobenzone is an oil-soluble compound that is notable for its ability to absorb ultraviolet (UV) light. It is most often an ingredient in sunscreen and cosmetics, including lip balms and moisturizers. The compound converts UV rays into safer wavelengths that don’t damage the skin, and transforms UV energy into thermal energy. [1]

The chemical was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in commercial cosmetics in 1988. It is a known endocrine-disruptor.

According to researchers in Russia, exposure to water and sunlight causes avobenzone to break down into chemicals that are potentially dangerous to people.

When the team exposed avobenzone to a chlorinated water solution simulating that used in swimming pools, the ingredient broke down into a mix of aromatic acids, aldehydes, phenols, and acetyl benzenes, several of them extremely toxic. Researchers tracked the process using chromatomass spectrometry. [2]

Albert Lebedev, a chemist at Lomonosov Moscow State University, said in a news release:

“On the basis of the experiments one could make a conclusion that a generally safe compound transforms in the water and forms more dangerous products. In spite of the fact that there are no precise toxicological profiles for the most established products, it’s known that acetyl benzenes and phenols, especially chlorinated ones, are quite toxic.” [2]

Read: Environmental Working Group Releases 2017 Guide to Sunscreens

He added:

“Studying the products of transformation of any popular cosmetics is very important as very often they turn out to be much more toxic and dangerous than their predecessors. In principle, basing on such researches, one could obtain results, which could restrict or even put under a ban the usage of one or another product, and preserve health of millions of people.” [1]

Lebedev and his colleagues are now studying how avobenzone breaks down in seawater and freshwater.

Sources:

[1] UPI

[2] R&D


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Environmental Working Group Releases its 2017 Guide to Sunscreens

If you’re planning to spend summer days by the pool or beach-side, you’ll likely reach for a bottle of sunscreen to prevent you from becoming red and crispy. These products are not all created equal, however, and it can be difficult to know what to purchase when you’re staring at the multitude of options available at the supermarket. Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put out a list of the best and worst sunscreens every year since 2007 to help you decide.

This year, nearly ¾ of the products EWG examined offered inferior sun protection, or contained ingredients that can harm humans and/or the environment. One of those ingredients is oxybenzone, an endocrine-disrupting chemical which has also been linked to coral reef deaths.

The group says it has discovered a dramatic increase in the availability of mineral-only sunscreens, up from 17% of products in 2007 to 34% in 2017. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide products typically get positive reviews, as they are more stable in sunlight, offer a better balance between protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and rarely contain potentially harmful additives.

EWG says on its website that it remains concerned that a common sunscreen additive, a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, can harm skin. It notes that government test data shows more skin tumors and lesions on animals treated with retinyl palmitate. Fortunately, the use of this potentially hazardous ingredient in sunscreen has decreased greatly – from nearly 40% of products in 2007, to just 14% of products reviewed in 2017.

Read: Synthetic Vitamin A Found in Sunscreens Linked to Skin Cancer

It should be noted that EWG considers sunscreen a last resort, behind the following protective measures:

  • Wearing clothing, which can reduce your risk of suffering a nasty sunburn by 27%;
  • Planning your day around the sun – the sun is lower in the sky and there is less of a burn risk early in the morning and in the late afternoon;
  • Finding or making shade, which can reduce the risk of multiple burns by 30%;
  • Sunglasses, which protect the eyes from UV rays;
  • Checking the UV index.

Of course if you know that you’ll be out in the sun for any extended period of time, I’d still recommend using sunscreen over turning into a lobster and suffering from UV damage.

Concerning Chemicals

Source: Yahoo Health
  • Oxybenzone is the EWG’s biggest concern health-wise, and for good reason. The endocrine disruptor is pervasive and has been detected in nearly every American. It has also been detected in breast milk. Oxybenzone is associated with relatively high rates of skin allergy.
  • Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate) has been detected in breast milk, is an endocrine disruptor, and has been shown to alter animals’ behavior and thyroids in studies. It is associated with moderate rates of skin allergy.
  • Homosalate has been found in mothers’ milk; disrupts estrogen, androgen, and progesterone; and leaves behind toxic breakdown products.
  • Octocrylene has shown up in breast milk, and is associated with relatively high rates of skin allergy.

A High SPF Doesn’t Always Mean More Protection

If you’re light-haired and fair-skinned, you should not assume that a higher SPF sunscreen offers significantly more protection than a lower one. EWG writes on its website:

“Theoretically, applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 100 would allow beachgoers to bare their skin 100 times longer before suffering a sunburn. Someone who would normally redden after 30 minutes in the midday sun could stay out for 50 hours.

But for high-SPF sunscreens, theory and reality are two different things. Many studies have found that people are misled by the claims on high-SPF sunscreen bottles. They are more likely to use high-SPF products improperly and as a result may expose themselves to more harmful ultraviolet radiation than people relying on products with lower SPF values.”

An SPF 100 product should – theoretically – provide twice as much protection as an SPF 50 sunscreen. But, in truth, the difference is negligible. A sunscreen with an SPF of 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, while an SPF 100 blocks 99%. If you apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or a little more , you should be adequately protected from developing a sunburn, no matter how fair you are.

Source: The New York Times

High-SPF products may come with greater health risks, as well. These sunscreens require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low-SPF sunscreens, and these chemicals have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption, not to mention skin allergies. The risks simply aren’t worth it – they don’t do a better job of protecting you.

Which Sunscreens You Should buy

This year, Environmental working Group gave 239 beach and sport sunscreens a green rating, the highest rating assigned to products by the group. There are also 239 green-rated sunscreen lotions for kids.

EWG also lists the worst of the worst sunscreens in its report, which includes recognizable names such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, CVS Health, Equate (Wal-Mart brand), and Neutrogena.

Source:

Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens

Image Sources:

The New York Times

Yahoo Health


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EPA Delays Rule That Would Help Prevent Pesticide Poisoning

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed a safety rule aimed at ensuring that pesticides (which are linked to human health problems) are safely applied by adult agricultural workers. This, just days after 50 farm workers in California were sickened by pesticide poisoning. [1]

The Certification of Pesticide Applications safety rule had been scheduled to go into effect on March, 2017, but the EPA has proposed delaying it until May, 2018. The rule would require that workers be 18 years old to apply atrazine, chlorpyrifos, and other restricted-use pesticides for agricultural use. In addition, the rule would enforce other protections for workers applying pesticides out in the field.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The public was given less than a week to comment on the EPA’s proposed delay, which falls short of the 30 days federal agencies traditionally give for open comment periods, according to Colin O’Neil, the agriculture policy director at Environmental Working Group (EWG).

“In general, federal agencies normally hold open comment periods ranging from 30 to 60 days and in certain circumstances, when the issue is complex or the rule-making is complex, they extend it up to 180 days. It’s nearly unheard of, and very unprecedented, for agencies to have such short public comment periods.”

O’Neil’s fear: That the move sets a precedent for future public comment solicitations.

“This has an alarming tone for how the EPA under the Trump administration plans to solicit public comments and shows how the brazen disregard for the public’s input on issues important to parents, families, and kids’ health.”

The EPA says that “the agency has determined that a full 30-day comment period is impractical, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest.”

Pesticide Dangers – Atrazine and Chlorpyrifos

Atrazine is one of the most commonly-applied pesticide in the United States. It’s mainly applied to corn, and is a known hormone disruptor that is linked to decreased fetal development, and increased risk of miscarriage and abdominal defects. It is also a possible carcinogen, according to the Pesticide Action Network.

Chlorpyrifos is similar to atrazine, but is mainly applied to oranges, apples, and other fruits. It attacks the nervous system, and short-term exposure can cause weakness, nausea, and headaches. Exposure to the pesticide over longer periods can lead to neurodevelopmental issues, lower IQ among children, and can act as an endocrine disruptor.

The Obama administration mulled banning chlorpyrifos, but Trump’s EPA has rejected calls to ban it outright, citing a need to “provide regulation certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos.”

The Need for more Research and Safety Protocols

There is currently no minimum age to how old farmworkers must be to apply pesticides, and it’s a downright crime. Research has shown that children who live near pesticides applied to soy – including chlorpyrifos – suffer serious genetic damage. Chlorpyrifos has also been linked to brain disorders in children.

O’Neil said:

“For the first time, EPA was going to make sure that kids and youths are not applying restricted-use pesticides. We felt it was alarming and appalling that the Trump administration would put aside health and safety in further delaying this important rule aimed at protecting farmworkers and young Americans from dangerous pesticides.”

Restricted-use pesticides are defined by the EPA as those with the “potential to cause unreasonable adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders without added restrictions.” [2]

By law, anyone who applies restricted-use pesticides must complete safety training. The proposed rule would have required workers who use the pesticides to be re-trained every 5 years, as well as to “verify the identity of persons seeking certification.”

In early May, more than 50 farmworkers in Bakersfield, California, were sickened when a nearby mandarin orchard was sprayed with a chlorpyrifos-based pesticide. A dozen farmworkers sought medical attention, but the others left before medical personnel and local authorities arrived. Officials believe they may have left because they were undocumented workers. [1]

Jeannie Economos, the project coordinator for Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health at the Farmworker Association of Florida, said:

“We had farmworkers tell us outright that their contractors or their supervisors will tell them ‘if you complain, I’m going to turn you into immigration. Whether they would or they won’t isn’t the point, but it’s enough of an intimidation and threat to the farmworkers to not stand up for their rights.”

Sources:

[1] Think Progress

[2] Mother Jones

U.S. Geological Survey


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