March 24, 2016 3:17 PM
During the past several years, there’s been much hype in the news alleging that flame retardant chemicals used on upholstered furniture pose unacceptable health risks. With these alarmist claims abounding, some green minded individuals complain that they unknowingly purchased couches that contain these chemicals because furniture manufacturers apply them to meet government flammability standards. To address this concern, activist groups advocate banning a wide number of chemical flame retardants. While I don’t buy their claims about these chemicals being dangerous and certainly oppose bans, no one should be essentially forced into buying products that contain them.
Accordingly, in my recently released paper on the topic, I make a bold call for the elimination of government flammability standards for furniture and other consumer products. This may sound extreme to some, but it’s actually a far more balanced and reasonable approach than is banning valuable flame retardant technologies. Shifting to voluntary flammability standards would actually be safer and meet consumer demands far better. In a nut shell, a private system would improve the situation in three key ways. It would:
- Reduce the destructive impact of politics on flammability standard setting;
- Better serve multiple consumer demands; and
- Allow the fire safety experts to more quickly adjust standards to meet changing conditions and improving science.
February 23, 2016 6:50 AM
Despite the fact that tobacco products kill nearly half a million Americans each year, it is vaping products—which help people quit smoking—that have become a top target for health advocates. In addition to the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rules that would create a de facto ban on the products, health advocates are trying to pass laws in the states that would increase restrictions and taxes on electronic cigarettes. Their intentions may be good, but the consequences of their proposals in states like Utah could be a disaster for public health.
Currently, Utah lawmakers are considering several proposals that would raise taxes on electronic cigarettes by more than 85 percent and ban anyone under 21 from purchasing them. Health advocates argue such changes are needed to prevent Utah’s children from becoming addicted to the nicotine in electronic cigarettes, which have become more popular than traditional cigarettes among teens.
October 26, 2015 3:35 PM
You may have seen the hilarious headlines about putting Monsanto in your vagina (if not, you’re welcome/I’m sorry). This hyperbole comes on the heels of a new study showing that the majority of cotton products tested by Argentinian researchers were found to contain glyphosate—the herbicide made by Monsanto and commercially known as Roundup. Even if you’re comfortable with farmers spraying crops with chemicals that keep away insects or competing plants, like weeds, the idea of putting that into your hooha is probably less comfortable of a thought.
The good news is that, as with most headlines, these findings have been taken out of context and probably aren’t anything to freak out about. The team of researchers from the National University of La Plata purchased personal care and feminine hygiene products from drugstores and supermarkets in Argentina. Eighty-five percent of the products they tested, including tampons, sanitary pads, sterile gauze, and cotton swabs contained glyphosate—which the World Health Organization classifies as a probable carcinogen. But, as with most things, it’s the dose that makes the poison.
According to Doctor Damián Marino, the lead on this study, the amount of glyphosate found in the cotton products is relatively small (some might say bordering on infinitesimal). “In terms of concentrations, what we saw is that in raw cotton AMPA dominates (39 parts per billion, or PPB, and 13 PPB of glyphosate), while the gauze is absent of AMPA, but contained glyphosate at 17 PPB,” said Marino.
April 1, 2015 1:59 PM
At recent hearings on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), senators, environmental activists, and local government officials claimed that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) law is not sufficient protect public health. As I have argued before, that’s certainly not the case.
There may be an economic reason to reform this law—to preempt a growing patchwork of nonsensical state-level consumer product regulations—but there’s no legitimate “safety” reason for reform.
Still, activists and some members of Congress at the hearing complained that TSCA’s risk standard has prevented the EPA from banning “a known human carcinogen,” i.e., asbestos. Cosponsor of S. 697 Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) exclaimed at the hearing, “I think we all agree: TSCA is fatally flawed. It has failed to ban even asbestos.”
Activists and members of Congress point out that EPA failed to address asbestos in part because TSCA requires EPA to pick the “least burdensome” regulation to achieve its goals.
But how can that be a bad thing? Shouldn’t we want to achieve our goals at the lowest costs? It doesn’t say EPA should pick a regulation that is less safe; rather, it says that EPA should simply pick a less expensive means to meet the safety goal.
That requirement is part of TSCA’s robust risk standard that holds regulators accountable and prevents them from passing rules that do more harm than good. Under TSCA, EPA may regulate when the agency finds that a chemical may pose an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” This standard requires weighing the risks of the chemical against the risks of the regulatory action.
People who use the asbestos case to push TSCA reform are either grossly misinformed about the case or they are simply being disingenuous. It is true that the rule was thrown out by a federal court in part because EPA did not bother to find the “least burdensome” approach to meet its goals. In addition, the court pointed out that the rule might have produced more deaths than theoretical lives saved. Accordingly, this is not a TSCA failure, it’s a life-saving success!
March 19, 2015 1:57 PM
James Mills of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development lamented in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1993: “‘If you torture your data long enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear’ has become a popular observation in our office. In plain English, this means that study data, if manipulated in enough different ways can prove whatever the investigator wants to prove.”
Government regulators will resort to such data torture to justify an activist regulatory agendas if they can’t do it with good data and sound science. One approach includes selective use of data—excluding years or datasets that might change the conclusions of a risk assessment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) report on the chemical class known as phthalates offers one new example of excluding inconvenient data.
In short, the CHAP report is being used to justify a proposed rule that would essentially ban the use of certain chemicals for toys that children might mouth or chew. These chemicals make plastics soft and pliable, suited for such things as a plastic version of a “rubber duckie.” For background on this issue, see my other blog posts here and here.
In addition, in the absence of any compelling body of data that any individual phthalate is the cause of human health effects, the panel relied on the possibility that the cumulative effects of phthalates as a class pose risks. Accordingly, they needed data on human exposure from all sources.
The panel developed a “cumulative risk assessment” that they maintained justified regulations. But pharmacologist Christopher J. Borgert, Ph.D., observes in a review of the CHAP report that the panel’s cumulative risk assessment: “failed to recognize obvious inconsistencies with human experience and clinical evidence”; “overstates the accuracy of its cumulative risk methods and conclusions”; and “appears to have grossly overestimated chemical potencies.” In other words, the panel failed to properly apply the available data and research.
To make matters worse, they used old and irrelevant data for their human exposure assessments even though more accurate and recent data was available. Former and current CPSC commissioners have noted that had the panel used the most recent data, their risk assessment would have produced the opposite result. This issue raises the prospect that the panel members were intentionally “selective” in their use of data because they desired to generate a particular conclusion, as appears to be the case with their selection of studies that they also reviewed.
March 18, 2015 2:00 PM
Many “stakeholders” have complained about the process through which the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) developed its proposed rule related to a class of chemicals called phthalates—and rightly so. In particular, the agency’s failure to allow public comment and open peer review of its Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel report (CHAP report) underscore the fact that bureaucrats want to avoid scrutiny that might hold them accountable for rash and unscientific decisions.
Designed to make plastics soft and pliable, these chemicals have many valuable uses for making a wide range of products from blood bags, to rain boots and swimming pool liners as well as children’s toys, which are the subject of this regulation. Safely used for decades, activists and regulators are poised to essentially throw away these valuable technologies based largely on junk science.
While this rule only affects toys that children might place in their mouths or chew, it sets a terrible precedent. I already detailed how this rule might harm consumers in a blog post last week. Now let’s look at the so-called “science” behind it.
The justification for the proposed regulations are found within the CHAP report, which is a review and risk assessment that the agency released in July 2014. A key problem stems from the fact that the CHAP report relies on a selective review of limited studies that offer scant evidence that individual phthalates or cumulative exposure pose any significant risk to humans at current exposure levels.
Most of the CHAP-report-identified “evidence” that these chemicals pose health risks comes from lab tests that over-dose rodents to trigger health effects. Such tests are not particularly relevant to humans that better metabolize the substance and who are exposed to traces that are multitudes lower.
The human research highlighted in the CHAP report is not particularly compelling either. Many of these human studies are noted to be “small,” which limits their value for drawing any conclusions. And many of them report associations between potential health effects in babies whose mothers’ phthalate exposure levels were measured in single “spot” urine samples during pregnancy. Given that humans metabolize phthalates relatively quickly, one time spot measurements may be misleading about actual exposures, raising important questions about the utility of such studies.
March 13, 2015 8:58 AM
On Monday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will close the comment period for a proposed rule related to chemicals used to make soft and pliable plastics. While they claim to do this in the name of children’s health, it’s not clear that the rule will do more good than harm.
The process and the “scientific” review that brings us to this proposed rule has been controversial, to say the least. I detail some of those issues in comments that I will submit on Monday and will post some of that here on Monday as well.
Unfortunately, not enough attention has focused on the fact that the agency-commissioned study—referred to as the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) report—failed to fully consider the potential implications of substitute products that will replace those they ban.
Before initiating a rulemaking that may remove chemical technologies from the marketplace that have been safely used for decades, CPSC should consider whether replacement products pose greater risks. The CHAP allegedly addresses replacement products by reviewing data on the potential environmental health effects of other chemical substitutes. But the CHAP did not address whether or not the substitutes that might actually win a place in the market would affect product performance in ways that help or harm public health and safety.
The rule should ensure net safety, considering all factors. It is incumbent that regulators don’t inadvertently increase risks with short-sighted decisions. Based on the CHAP, we lack reasonable assurance that regulatory action will increase net safety and, in fact, such actions might accidentally introduce new hazards and even greater public health and safety risks.
February 5, 2015 10:41 AM
A recent article in Wine Industry Insight titled “Micro-Agglomerates: 350 Million Illegal Corks Per Year?” reports: “Agglomerated cork manufacturers and importers are facing scrutiny from two major federal agencies over health concerns about the plastic used to bind bits of cork glued together. The concern is that chemicals in the binding plastic can leach into wine.”
But a closer look at the issue indicates that these agencies are not focused on the corks, there’s nothing illegal about them, and safety concerns are unwarranted.
The two agencies allegedly interested in the issue are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The chemical in question, toluene diisocyanate or TDI, Wine Industry Insight notes, is “listed as a potential carcinogen” with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).
This sounds scary, but there are many reasons why no one should be alarmed about the closures or the chemical involved. But before going into that, we should be clear as to what the agencies are doing in regard to the corks.
According to an EPA press release, the agency has proposed a rule that would require manufactures to notify the agency if a consumer product they are making will contain more than 0.1 percent of TDI by weight. The EPA does not mention scrutiny of corks that may contain TDI. It’s very possible that these corks don’t contain that much TDI and would not even be subject to this proposed rule.
Nor is the FDA really scrutinizing the issue. Instead, the agency received letter from an outside party asking questions about related FDA law. Wine Industry Insight has posted a link to a letter from the FDA responding to that party, but the name of the party asking questions is either blanked out or never included. But Wine Industry Insight points out that it was an association that represents competitors of agglomerated cork producers—a synthetic cork association—who filed the petition. It notes:
“Competition is fierce for the low-end market which is why a synthetic cork association blew the TDI whistle on agglomerates in a letter to the FDA.”
Obviously, competitors have an interest in making this an issue, but FDA isn’t taking the bait. FDA has authority to regulate “food additives” that might pose a threat to public health and that includes chemicals that might migrate from packaging into food. In its cryptic, bureaucratically written letter, FDA is basically indicating that they have data showing there is no detectable migration of TDI into the wine for the closures currently on the market. Otherwise, they’d be regulating now, but they’re not.
So much for “federal scrutiny.” There really isn’t much because there’s no good reason for it.
October 9, 2014 5:18 PM
The number of studies that have appeared in the news during recent years on the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is staggering. Few substances undergo such scrutiny. So why BPA? Mattie Duppler of American’s for Tax Reform’s Cost of Government project answers that question in an article for The Hill’s Congress Blog: Congress has poured millions of dollars ($170 million since 2000) into BPA research for what amounts to little more than a witch hunt.
Follow the money and you may find a strong statistical association between government funding and the increased number of research studies that link BPA to various health ailments.
Money goes out to researchers motivated to produce studies that report positive associations that easily get published and that gain more funding. And the more money politicians spend for research studies, the more likely some portion of studies will come up with positive associations between BPA and various health aliments, which is likely to happen by mere accident. In addition, many positive findings appear to be attributable to activist agendas among some researchers who make creative interpretations of largely meaningless data. And the studies that come up negative usually don’t get published or end up in the news either because negative findings as simply not interesting.
Thus far, the allegedly most damning studies on BPA are extremely weak. Most don’t really find what the researchers claim they do, and they are often poorly designed. Consider the latest BPA study in the news. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics), it claims that BPA is associated with wheezing and reduced lung function in children.
October 6, 2014 10:14 AM
The New York Times reported Friday on the David-and-Goliath battle of businessman Shihan Qu, the last of the rare earth magnet renegades. Mr. Qu’s company, Zen Magnets, is the last U.S. company selling the popular sets of unusually strong magnets that first became popular when marketed under the name Buckyballs® (named after inventor and designer R. Buckminster Fuller). These sets allow scientifically-curious customers to creatively experiment with different geometric forms. When Craig Zucker and Jake Bronstein started selling Buckyballs® through their company Maxfield & Oberton in 2009, they were immediately successful.
Magnets this strong do have safety concerns, however, and some children have swallowed them and been injured as a result. This is why the companies selling them covered them in warning labels and didn’t supply the product to stores whose inventory is primarily targeted to children, like Toys R Us. Since the magnets require a fair amount of manual strength and dexterity to use, they were never marketed to children, gaining their following largely from popular science and geek-themed outlets.