Compostable Food Containers Could Release PFAS into Environment

Compostable food containers seem like a great idea: They degrade into nutrient-rich organic matter, reducing waste and the need for chemical fertilizers. But much of this packaging relies on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to repel water and oil. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology Letters have shown that PFAS can leach from the containers into compost. However, the potential health effects of applying this material to crops are unknown.

PFAS are widely used in manufacturing because of their flame-retardant and water- and oil-repellent properties. Two long-chain PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), have been linked to negative health effects, so companies in the U.S. have voluntarily phased out their production. As a result, many manufacturers have switched to shorter-chain PFAS, whose health effects are less well known. Previous research has shown that PFAS in biosolids applied as fertilizer can migrate from soil to plants and then accumulate in humans through the food chain. Because compostable food packaging is becoming increasingly popular, Linda Lee and colleagues wanted to find out how much PFAS end up in the composted material.

The researchers obtained 10 samples from five states: nine from commercial facilities and one from a backyard compost bin. The researchers extracted perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), which are compounds produced by microbial degradation of PFAS during composting, and analyzed them using mass spectrometry. The samples from seven facilities that accepted compostable food packaging had higher total levels of PFAAs than the two that didn’t or the one from the backyard bin, which did not contain food packaging. The researchers found PFAAs corresponding to PFOA and PFOS, which are still produced in some countries, in all of the samples, but most of the detected compounds were short-chain PFAAs. The results from this study contributed to the passage in 2018 of the State of Washington’s Healthy Food Packaging Act, which will ban the use of PFAS in paper food packaging after January 1, 2022, the researchers say.

Source : American Chemical Society


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Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Enter Bloodstream at Potentially Unsafe Levels

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

For years, you’ve been urged to slather on sunscreen before venturing outdoors. But new U.S. Food and Drug Administration data reveals chemicals in sunscreens are absorbed into the human body at levels high enough to raise concerns about potentially toxic effects.

Bloodstream levels of four sunscreen chemicals increased dramatically after test subjects applied spray, lotion and cream for four days as directed on the label, according to the report.

The levels far exceed the FDA-set threshold which require topical medications to undergo safety studies, said Dr. Kanade Shinkai, a dermatologist with the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

“It’s not like they went a little bit over,” she said. “It’s really quite high, orders of magnitude higher than that.”

However, experts are quick to say you shouldn’t stop using sunscreen because of this study. At this point, the known risk of harm from the sun’s rays exceeds the potential risk posed by these chemicals.

“I am concerned that people are going to stop wearing sunscreen,” Shinkai said. “We know ultraviolet light from the sun has very deleterious effects on the skin. It causes photoaging. It causes sunburn. And, as such, it causes melanoma and [other] skin cancer.”

Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed.

“I think it’s confusing,” Green said. “While it’s more than the FDA recommends for their toxicology, we really don’t know what that means in terms of human health. I would not want people to stop using sunscreen based on this one study.”

Possible effects on hormones

The sunscreen study was led by the FDA’s Dr. David Strauss, and appears May 6 in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the nation’s leading medical journals.

Most sunscreens on the shelf use chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone and octocrylene to block harmful rays. These organic chemicals absorb ultraviolet radiation and convert it into a small amount of heat.

However, animal studies have raised concerns that the chemicals, oxybenzone in particular, might disrupt normal hormone patterns in people, the FDA researchers noted in their study.

“These molecules are chemical rings, essentially, and they absorb light,” said Shinkai, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “Chemical rings are also the fundamental basis for a lot of hormones, and chemical rings tend to enter cells.”

Oxybenzone has been found in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood, the FDA researchers said.

For its study, the FDA randomly had 24 adults apply either a sunscreen spray, lotion or cream four times a day for four days. The participants applied the sunscreen to three-quarters of their body surface.

The study took place in a lab, and the agency drew 30 blood samples from each participant over a week to see whether the chemicals in the sunscreen got absorbed through the skin.

Levels of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule increased in the bloodstream after sunscreen use, researchers found.

“There is definitely reason for concern, because if you think about it, any medication you buy over the counter, you would expect that everything in there has been tested, it’s safe, it’s effective,” Shinkai said. ‘This has never been proven for sunscreen.”

More real-life data needed

But it was a very small-scale laboratory study that simply shows the need for more research, said Dr. Raman Madan, a dermatologist with Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y.

“While this is a starting point, the relevance of this result is unknown,” Madan said. “There needs to be further studies done to show what this really means. While it could have real-world consequences, it could very well mean nothing.”

The study also differs from real life in that people applied the sunscreen while hanging about a lab, Shinkai said.

“They weren’t doing the things people typically do when they use sunscreen,” such as swimming or working in the yard, Shinkai said. Because of this, their exposure might differ from that of everyday people.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), a group representing sunscreen makers, also said it’s far too soon for consumers to have doubts about these products.

“Sunscreen manufacturers, FDA, and dermatologists are aligned on the goal of protecting the public from the harmful effects of the sun,” the group said in a statement. “Sunscreens save lives.”

CHPA said the FDA is committed to learning more about the safety of chemicals within sunscreens, however, and the new data “is consistent with these efforts.”

Options are out there

The FDA has been tussling with sunscreen manufacturers over studies to test the safety of their products, said Shinkai.

The agency has set a November 2019 deadline for manufacturers to provide safety data on their sunscreens, including evaluations of systemic absorption, the risk of cancer from the chemicals, and their effect on reproductive health, Shinkai said in her editorial.

The publication of this study might be intended to put pressure on the sunscreen industry to meet the deadline, she said.

“The FDA is a regulatory agency. It’s not a testing agency. For them to perform a research study is highly unusual,” Shinkai said. “I think that’s an important thing that suggests how concerned they were about this issue, and maybe perhaps the frustration on their part.”

People who are concerned about the safety of chemical sunscreens can opt to use mineral sunscreens, Shinkai said.

Those sunscreens rely on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect sunlight from the skin, rather than absorbing it like chemical sunscreens.

“These we know are safe,” Shinkai said of mineral sunscreens. “This is something that is evidence-based.”

Source: HealthDays


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Serotonin

Annamarya Scaccia wrote . . . . . . . . .

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter, a chemical nerve cells produce. It sends signals between your nerve cells. Serotonin is found mostly in the digestive system, although it’s also in blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system.

Serotonin is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid must enter your body through your diet and is commonly found in foods such as nuts, cheese, and red meat. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels. This can result in mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

What does serotonin do?

Serotonin impacts every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It’s the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting. Serotonin also helps:

  • reduce depression
  • regulate anxiety
  • heal wounds
  • Simulate nausea
  • maintain bone health

Here’s how serotonin acts in various functions across your body:

Bowel movements: Serotonin is found primarily in the body’s stomach and intestines. It helps control your bowel movements and function.

Mood: Serotonin in the brain is thought to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. Low levels of the chemical have been associated with depression, and increased serotonin levels brought on by medication are thought to decrease arousal.

Nausea: Serotonin is part of the reason why you become nauseated. Production of serotonin rises to push out noxious or upsetting food more quickly in diarrhea. The chemical also increases in the blood, which stimulates the part of the brain that controls nausea.

Sleep: This chemical is responsible for stimulating the parts of the brain that control sleep and waking. Whether you sleep or wake depends on what area is stimulated and which serotonin receptor is used.

Blood clotting: Blood platelets release serotonin to help heal wounds. The serotonin causes tiny arteries to narrow, helping form blood clots.

Bone health: Serotonin plays a role in bone health. Significantly high levels of serotonin in the bones can lead to osteoporosis, which makes the bones weaker.

Sexual function: Low levels of serotonin are associated with increased libido, while increased serotonin levels are associated with reduced libido.

Natural serotonin boosters

The following factors can boost serotonin levels, according to a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatry and NeuroscienceTrusted Source:

  • Exposure to bright light: Sunshine or light therapy are commonly recommended remedies for treating seasonal depression. Find a great selection of light therapy products here.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can have mood-boosting effects.
  • A healthy diet: Foods that can increase serotonin levels include eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon, tofu, and pineapple.
  • Meditation: Meditating can help relieve stress and promote a positive outlook on life, which can greatly boost serotonin levels.

Source: Healthline

Dangerous Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals

Hilary Brueck wrote . . . . . . . . .

Through the course of a single day, your hands, mouth, and body come in contact with countless pieces of paper, plastic, fabric, and furniture.

You probably don’t think about the chemicals these substances might harbor, or consider that they have a drug-like effect on health. But some do. They can make metabolisms slow down, subtly lower IQs, contribute to ADHD in children, and mess with sperm counts in men.

They’re called “endocrine disruptors,” and they’re around us all the time. The chemicals change how our bodies work by shifting the way hormones operate, according to Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and public-health researcher at NYU Langone Health.

“Hormones are the basic signaling molecules in our body that take on so many actions for practically every organ system,” Trasande told Business Insider. “And endocrine disruptors are synthetic chemicals that scramble those signals, contributing to disease and disability.”

In his new book, “Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future … and What We Can Do About It,” Trasande lays out the four big categories of endocrine disruptors he’s most concerned about, based on evidence from scientific studies and observations in his patients.

They are:

  • Bisphenols, like BPA, which are often found in the linings of aluminum-canned food and drinks and on cash-register receipts.
  • Brominated flame retardants that are in some carpets, furniture, and clothing.
  • Synthetic pesticides on food.
  • “Plasticizer chemicals” called phthalates that show up in plastic food packaging, lotions, and cosmetics.

BPA makes fat cells bigger, contributing to obesity and lower sperm counts

The chemical BPA, and others like it, could make the body turn more calories into fat instead of muscle, predisposing people to obesity.

In the lab, BPA acts like an obesogen. “It makes fat cells bigger,” as Trasande writes. This is especially true if human embryos are exposed to the chemicals while still in a mother’s womb.

Trasande said the obesogen effects of BPA are fairly small compared to what diet and exercise can do for health, but they’re real.

“BPA exposure may explain nearly 2% of all obesity in 4-year-olds,” Trasande says in his book. That stat is based on his analyses of data on childhood obesity and adult heart issues published in the journal Health Affairs in 2014.

The chemical is also dangerous for babies and pregnant women; it can up the odds of a premature birth, and mess with placenta function.

Men are not immune to the effects of BPA, either. The chemical can mess with androgens (male sex hormones) like testosterone, contributing to lower sperm counts, and even testicular-cancer rates.

The vast majority of us are exposed to the chemical. A 2013-14 CDC survey suggested 95% of US adults have detectable levels of BPA.

Counter to the adage that “the dose makes the poison,” with hormone-disrupting chemicals there are often nonlinear relationships between the amount of chemical exposure and risk as the body’s enzymes duke it out and compete with the hormone disruptors.

“The notion that everything needs to be linear — in a straight-line relationship — is really our own intellectual construct on a scientific reality that’s much more complicated,” Trasande says.

Many manufacturers are switching to BPA-free products. But that doesn’t always mean they’re safer, Trasande says, because many of the so-called replacements are just BPA relatives and the chemicals have similar effects on our health.

“To a large extent, when you don’t know what’s replacing [BPA], it’s often BPS, BPF, BPP, BPZ — what I like to joke of as the artist formerly known as Prince,” he said.

Brominated flame retardants found in most furniture we use

Brominated flame retardants — flame-stomping chemicals found in furniture, carpeting, clothing, and car-seat foam — can change the way the thyroid functions in a similar way to BPA, shifting how the body processes fats and carbohydrates.

What’s more, a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation found that the firefighting chemicals, which are standard fare in foam cushions, don’t work well to stop flames.

One large study of the flame retardants in houses pinpointed a link between ADHD and exposure to the chemicals. More research is ongoing.

Concentrations of the chemicals in human blood, sweat, and breast milk are much higher in the US than in parts of the world, such as Europe, where more brominated flame retardants are banned.

Chemicals we spray to kill bugs can mess with us too

Certain pesticides used on food are also a concern, including bug-killing chlorpyrifos pesticides. These have been shown to impede brain development, making changes to the way a woman’s thyroid functions during pregnancy.

In the 1970s and ’80s, before the chemical was banned in homes, doctors started noticing an increase in tinier and shorter premature babies being born, even in homes with low levels of the chemicals. After the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of chlorpyrifos in homes, in 2000, birth weights went back up.

Exposure to chlorpyrifos can have lasting effects on child development. One 2015 study in kids between the ages of 11 and 14 found prenatal exposure to the chemical was linked to more arm tremors, which are also common in adults who’ve been exposed to lead. The chemicals are still used in agriculture.

Flexible plastics can also contribute to cancer

Finally, Trasande is concerned about phthalates, chemicals that help make plastics more flexible and durable. They appear in raincoats, flooring, hair spray, nail polish, plastic food packaging, and toys.

According to the US government, “one phthalate, Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), is an endocrine disruptor and can cause cancer.” Additionally, the government says some phthalates can mess with normal reproduction and child-development processes.

In some studies, women tended to have more of the chemicals in their bodies than men because of beauty products they use. But anyone who eats packaged food or breathes in household dust probably has phthalates in their system.

More research on what these chemicals are doing to us is needed, but we do already have some evidence that they’re leading to premature births, which can set kids up for a whole host of health problems later in life, including vision and hearing issues, chronic diseases like diabetes, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities.

The plasticizing chemicals may also be linked to decreases in male testosterone levels. Scientists need to know more about the plastics before they’ll say that conclusively, though.

Read more: Dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ have been found in US drinking water at alarmingly high rates — here’s what to know about PFAS

Recently, manufacturers, retailers, and state lawmakers have started to pay more serious attention to the dangers of hormone disruptors, and they’re making some changes.

Since 2013, California no longer requires furniture to contain flame retardants (a previous requirement for 38 years).

What you can do to reduce your exposure

  • Eat less canned food and more fresh produce. Trasande is a fan of organic farming because it generally excludes synthetic pesticides, but studies suggest that eating whatever fresh produce you can afford is the best strategy for your health.
  • Say no to paper receipts. This can help receipt-handling cashiers, who often have elevated levels of BPA in their urine.
  • Don’t microwave plastic containers or put them in a dishwasher as the heat promotes chemical leaching. Throw kitchen plastics away when they become etched or scratched.
  • Avoid the recycling Nos. 3, 6, and 7, which are common plastics found in shampoo bottles, Styrofoam trays for ground beef, and coffee-cup lids, among other things.
  • Incorporate iodine-rich foods into your diet, including seafood, dairy, and cranberries. Iodine is a necessary ingredient for thyroid-hormone production, which helps bones and brains develop well.
  • Look for cosmetics that are “phthalate-free” and made without parabens, triclosan, or benzophenones.
  • Opt for naturally flame-resistant fibers, like wool, instead of chemically treated carpets, furniture, and clothes.
  • Circulate fresh air through your home.

Small steps like these can make a big difference. The European Union has banned 1,328 chemicals from cosmetic use, and under the new bans French scientists have noticed a decline in chemical concentrations in people’s blood, urine, and hair. In the US, the FDA forbids just 11 chemicals, and concentrations of the toxic chemicals in American bodies are elevated when compared to Europeans.

The US has taken steps to improve public health before. The phase-out of leaded gasoline and paint in the 1970s led to a measurable brainpower boost in kids: as blood lead levels dropped, IQs went up anywhere from 2.2 to 4.7%. The economic benefits of that ban tally up to $2.45 trillion every year, and Trasande compares the IQ hike’s impact on productivity and the economy to a generous stimulus package:

As Trasande writes, “Each of us 300 million Americans gets the equivalent of as much as a $1,000 tax refund each year because we did the right thing and got lead out of gasoline in the 1970s.”

Many of the chemicals on Trasande’s danger list today stay in the body for hours or days, not months or years, which means it’s never too late to reduce your exposure.

Source: Business Insider

Stop Adding Cancer-causing Chemicals to Our Bacon, Experts Tell UK Meat Industry

Jamie Doward wrote . . . . . . . . .

The reputation of the meat industry will sink to that of big tobacco unless it removes cancer-causing chemicals from processed products such as bacon and ham, a coalition of experts and politicians warn today.

Led by Professor Chris Elliott, the food scientist who ran the UK government’s investigation into the horse-meat scandal, and Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, the coalition claims there is a “consensus of scientific opinion” that the nitrites used to cure meats produce carcinogens called nitrosamines when ingested.

It says there is evidence that consumption of processed meats containing these chemicals results in 6,600 bowel cancer cases every year in the UK – four times the fatalities on British roads – and is campaigning for the issue to be taken as seriously as sugar levels in food.

“Government action to remove nitrites from processed meats should not be far away,” Malhotra said. “Nor can a day of reckoning for those who dispute the incontrovertible facts. The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco.”

Other coalition members include Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson; former shadow environment secretaries Mary Creagh and Kerry McCarthy; the Tory chair of parliament’s cross-party group on food and health, David Amess; the Liberal Democrat vice-chair of Westminster’s cross-party children’s group, Joan Walmsley; nutritionist Dr Chris Gill; the Cancer Fund for Children, and John Procter MEP, who sits on the European parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee.

In a statement issued today, the coalition warns “that not enough is being done to raise awareness of nitrites in our processed meat and their health risks, in stark contrast to warnings regularly issued regarding sugar and fattening foods”.

In 2015 the World Health Organisation published evidence that linked processed meats to 34,000 cases of colorectal cancer worldwide each year – and identified nitrites and nitrosamines as the likely cause.

Two studies published this year have also raised concerns. Glasgow University researchers collated data from 262,195 British women that suggested reducing processed meat consumption could cut a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. And a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US study suggested a direct link between nitrites and the onset of mental health problems. Its 10-year analysis of more than 1,000 people found patients taken to hospital with manic episodes were three times more likely to have recently eaten nitrite-cured meat.

The coalition says the meat industry claims nitrites are essential to combat botulism and infection. But Malhotra said Parma ham producers have not used nitrites for 25 years.

Nitrites give cured products such as bacon and ham their attractive pink colour. Some companies are substituting these with natural alternatives. A year ago, Northern Irish company Finnebrogue launched the “first truly nitrite-free bacon”, with fruit and spice extracts. It is stocked by many major supermarkets. Ocado also sells nitrite-free streaky bacon fromNorthamptonshire-based Houghton Hams and a nitrite-free prosciutto from Unearthed.

Source: The Guardian