Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

November 20, 2013

Is There a Connection Between Endometriosis and Environmental Pollutants?

Endometriosis is a painful and puzzling condition in which the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside the uterus, often on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. In addition to causing pain, endometriosis can result in heavy bleeding and infertility. One in 10 women of reproductive age is thought to be affected.

One of the most frustrating aspects of endometriosis is that the cause is unknown. A couple of new studies have focused on environmental triggers, with mixed results. Both studies appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The first study used data from the large Nurses’ Health Study II, involving more than 84,000 female nurses. The researchers identified those who lived near roadways, exposing them to more particulate matter in the air as adults. (Particulate matter is a type of pollution that can come from vehicle exhaust and other sources, such as coal-burning power plants.) The authors report that they did not find any significant association between exposure and the incidence rate of endometriosis, but also note this is the first human study to assess the relationship between particulate matter exposure and endometriosis.

Future research is likely needed to confirm the result, and other factors may need to be considered, such as the amount of exposure to particulate matter where women grew up or where they work. 

The second study did find a link between another type of pollution and endometriosis. Researchers used data from the Women’s Risk of Endometriosis study conducted in Washington state, analyzing blood samples of women with and without endometriosis to gauge their levels of organochlorine pesticides (OCPs). The researchers found associations between levels of two pesticides — β-hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) and mirex — and a greater chance of having endometriosis.

Organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, were commonly used in agriculture and for mosquito control during the 20th century. While their use has been greatly restricted in the United States, these pesticides accumulate in bodies and are still often detected in blood studies. The researchers note that most U.S. exposures are now from consumption of fatty foods, fish, and dairy products where the toxins have built up. Global use of OCPs is also a concern, as the contamination may spread.

These pesticides are known to be potential endocrine disruptors, but the exact nature of any link with endometriosis is unclear. The researchers involved in the study also found that the link was stronger when they looked just at ovarian endometriosis, although they don’t speculate on why that may be, except that ovarian cases may differ in some way from other cases of endometriosis.

All of this points to the need for more research.

For more information, visit the Endometriosis Association, which offers free informational packets and other resources. You can also read excerpts from “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and learn more about both endometriosis and pesticides via the National Library of Medicine.


October 24, 2013

Medical Groups Call on Health Care Providers to Advocate for Reduced Exposure to Environmental Pollutants

Two major medical societies and an important research group have released a joint statement calling on health care providers to advocate for reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants that can can cause reproductive health problems, harm to pregnancies, and long-term health complications.

The organizations involved — American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, American Society for Reproductive Medicine Practice Committee, and UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment – state that although hundreds of new chemicals are introduced in the United States each year, safety data and regulation are lacking:

Because of deficiencies in the current regulatory structure, unlike pharmaceuticals, most environmental chemicals have entered the marketplace without comprehensive and standardized information regarding their reproductive or other long-term toxic effects.

Among the recommendations for health care providers (the target audience for the statement): learn about patients’ exposures before pregnancy and during prenatal visits; encourage pregnant and breastfeeding women to carefully wash produce and avoid fish with high levels of mercury; include information about environmental hazards in childbirth classes; and promote healthy food systems and policy changes that reduce exposure.

It’s great to see the medical establishment recognizing the need for better study and regulation of toxic chemicals — and acknowledging both the impact on reproductive health and the disparities in exposure to pollution and toxins. This new committee opinion, intended as an informative guide for professionals, may bring much-needed attention to these issues among obstetricians, gynecologists, and other reproductive medicine practitioners.

The committee opinion acknowledges that certain recommended actions — like eating fresh, unprocessed foods, selecting organic produce, and avoiding canned food that might expose consumers to bisphenol A — are not realistic strategies for many low-income women and vulnerable populations. The authors rightly note:

In the United States, minority populations are more likely to live in the counties with the highest levels of outdoor air pollution and to be exposed to a variety of indoor pollutants, including lead, allergens, and pesticides than white populations. In turn, the effects of exposure to environmental chemicals can be exacerbated by injustice, poverty, neighborhood quality, housing quality, psychosocial stress, and nutritional status.

The organizations add that “individuals alone can do little about exposure to toxic environmental agents, such as from air and water pollution, and exposure perpetuated by poverty,” and they therefore urge healthcare professionals to help advance policies that reduce exposure to toxins.

Relatedly, Breast Cancer Action is currently seeking signatures on a petition to Congress to increase chemical safety testing. And ACOG has released a brief guide to toxic chemicals and their effects for more information. Also, check out “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and related content on environmental and occupational health.


October 10, 2013

All Pinked Out in October? There’s a Cure for That! Join the Think Before You Pink Campaign

by Annie Sartor
Policy and Campaigns Coordinator, Breast Cancer Action

Why is the breast cancer epidemic still raging after 30 years of “awareness” and pink ribbon products?

Each year, corporations pack the shelves with pink ribbon products, surrounding us with “breast cancer awareness” messages. These products help to raise billions of dollars in the name of breast cancer, and yet more than 40,000 women in the United States still die of the disease every year.

And many corporations sell pink ribbon products in the name of breast cancer that actually contain chemicals linked to an increased risk of the disease. At Breast Cancer Action, we call this blatant hypocrisy “pinkwashing.”

For 12 years, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign has held corporations accountable for their toxic pink ribbon products. This year, it’s time to say we’ve had enough. Instead of targeting pinkwashers one at a time, it’s time to go straight to the source — the chemicals in these products that are making us sick in the first place.

Do you have any idea how many toxic chemicals are in the average pink ribbon product? Nope? Neither do we. Nor does anyone!

Toxic Time is UpAll anyone knows for certain is that only a small handful — about 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States — have been tested for human safety. And that’s a serious problem for all of us.

These chemicals are found in everyday consumer products such as plastics, paint, clothing, and cleaning supplies, including an unknown number of pink ribbon products being sold in the name of breast cancer.

Evidence of the links between environmental toxins and cancer continues to mount. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and] … the American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”

And just this week, yet another study came out showing an even stronger link between BPA and breast cancer than we’d previously thought.

Why is pinkwashing so prevalent, and even possible in the first place? Our current chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is extremely outdated and woefully inadequate to protect public health from hazardous chemicals in our daily lives.

Thanks to a large coalition of health activists, environmentalists, scientists, and thousands of others, pressure has continued to mount for reform of this outdated and toothless law. If strong TSCA reform legislation moves forward this fall, we will have a real opportunity to enact a bill that could make history and be the biggest win for cancer prevention we’ve ever seen.

We refuse to waste another October watching corporations make money off pink ribbon products that contain toxins linked to breast cancer.

Please join us in taking a stand to protect all of us from toxic chemicals that are making us sick, because the manufacturers of pink ribbon products certainly won’t. Sign our petition to end pinkwashing once and for all via strong chemical regulations. It’s time to turn our outrage over pinkwashing into action and ban the toxins that make us sick in the first place.


May 17, 2013

Angelina Jolie, Breast Cancer, and You: How to Make the Right Decisions for YOUR Health

Angelina Jolie on the cover of Time magazineAngelina Jolie certainly has good intentions in sharing her experience with breast cancer genetic testing and her decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy, and her announcement marks another welcomed example of well-known women coming forward about personal health issues.

But it is now up to women’s health advocates to ensure that the media coverage and public debate that follows does not offer false information or false hope — which I fear it will, if women are not fully informed about all the issues involved before imagining that Jolie’s decisions would be the right ones for them.

Already, women in the United States undergo a higher rate of mastectomies than women in other countries. “Breast cancer experts believe that many women undergoing mastectomies don’t need them and are getting them out of fear, not because of the real risks,” Diana Zuckerman, president of both the National Research Center for Women and Families and the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, wrote this week.

First, women need to remember that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations occur in less than 1 percent of the population. To decide whether testing for breast cancer genetic mutations makes sense for them, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable health care provider. According to the National Cancer Institute:

The likelihood that a breast and/or ovarian cancer is associated with a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is highest in families with a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, one or more family members with two primary cancers (original tumors that develop at different sites in the body), or an Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jewish background. However, not every woman in such families carries a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not every cancer in such families is linked to a harmful mutation in one of these genes. Furthermore, not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer.

The steep price tag of testing, around $3,300, is of concern, though some women considered appropriate candidates for testing may be covered, all or in part, through their insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, genetic counseling and BRCA testing, if appropriate, are considered preventive services and are covered without cost-sharing.

If a woman does seek testing, she needs to consider the pros and cons of all possible approaches to positive test results. While a bilateral mastectomy reduces the risk of getting the disease by 90 percent, about 10 out of 100 women who have their breasts removed will still get breast cancer in the underlying tissue. And there are numerous potential problems with such surgery that need to be fully discussed, such as infection and mobility impairment.

For those who choose this radical surgery, there is also the decision about whether to pursue breast reconstruction and, if so, what kind. Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, there are major unresolved safety issues, especially for silicone breast implants.

Some women choose to forgo reconstruction entirely, though most media fail to mention this. The truth is, some women have no problems with their “breastless” bodies, nor do their sexual/intimate partners. Some women also find that modern prostheses are comfortable and offer a satisfying appearance.

Moreover, not all choices — even what might be ideal in a given circumstance — will be possible given financial constraints and lack of adequate medical coverage or support. As Cheryl Lemus, managing editor of Nursing Clio, a blog on gender and medicine, writes:

In order for all women to have the right to red carpet healthcare [...] then all women don’t just need money and insurance, but also the other resources Jolie highlighted in her op-ed, which include the supportive partner/spouse, family, an understanding employer, reliable transportation and childcare, and “time” in general.

Sadly, we know this is often not the case.

We also need to be honest about what we know and don’t know about breast cancer and risk. According to the NCI, women who have inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are approximately five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not carry the mutation.

The way the numbers break down, about 12 percent of the general population — or about 120 women out of 1,000 — will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives, compared with about 60 percent — 600 out of 1,000 — who have inherited a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

Yet there are other factors, such as environmental exposure, that influence breast cancer risk. Some women living in communities with high levels of toxic exposure may have elevated breast cancer risk for a non-heritable reason.

The NCI also notes that the risk factor for those carrying the mutated gene is based on research on large families in which many individuals have been affected by cancer. We still have many questions to answer about genetic and environmental influence:

Because family members share a proportion of their genes and, often, their environment, it is possible that the large number of cancer cases seen in these families may be due in part to other genetic or environmental factors. Therefore, risk estimates that are based on families with many affected members may not accurately reflect the levels of risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers in the general population. In addition, no data are available from long-term studies of the general population comparing cancer risk in women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations with women who do not have such mutations. Therefore, the percentages given above are estimates that may change as more data become available.

This heightened interest in breast cancer genetic testing caused an uptick in the stock of Myriad Genetics, which has a monopoly on BRCA1 and 2 testing. OBOS is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Myriad Genetic’s patenting of human genes, along with the ACLUBreast Cancer Action, a number of scientific organizations and researchers, and Lisbeth Ceriani, a single mother whose circumstances led her to seek breast cancer genetic testing and who felt stymied by Myriad’s monopoly.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last month and is expected to issue a ruling this summer. Its decision will have a major impact on whether or not scientists will be able to improve upon the current test as well as the future price tag for such testing. In the meantime, let’s hope that thousands of women don’t make hasty decisions about testing and treatment without careful consideration of all the issues involved.

As Zuckerman writes:

As an actress whose appeal has focused on her beauty, surgically removing both her breasts when she didn’t have cancer was a very gutsy thing to do. But if we care about women’s health, we need to stop thinking of mastectomy as the “brave” choice and understand that the risks and benefits of mastectomy are different for every woman with cancer or the risk of cancer. In breast cancer, any reasonable treatment choice is the brave choice.


October 5, 2012

Upcoming Webinars on the Intersection of Reproductive Justice with Environmental Justice, First Amendment

The National Women’s Law Center and Law Students for Reproductive Justice are co-hosting two upcoming webinars of interest. The October webinar is on the intersection of reproductive justice and environmental justice, while the November webinar addresses the intersection of reproductive justice and First Amendment rights.

You’ll need to register in advance for each session, though both are free. You do not have to be a law student, lawyer, or member of either organization to participate, although if you are affiliated with a law school your participation may benefit an LSRJ chapter. More info is available here. Details below:

If You Care About Environmental Justice, You Should Care About Reproductive Justice
Date: Wednesday, October 10, 6-7 p.m. Eastern
Speakers: Kelli Garcia (Senior Counsel, NWLC) and Kimberly Inez McGuire (Senior Policy Analyst, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health)
Registration link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/955538943

If You Care About the First Amendment, You Should Care About Reproductive Justice
Date: Wednesday, November 7, 6-7  p.m. Eastern
Speakers: Kelli Garcia (Senior Counsel, NWLC) and TBD
Registration link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/946617903

A previous webinar covered the intersection of criminal justice and reproductive justice, and is available for viewing. It will look like you’re registering for an upcoming webinar, but once you input your email, etc., you’ll be taken to a link to view the recorded webinar.

There is also a fact sheet on the issue, and a link to the “Mothers Behind Bars” report.


May 14, 2012

Learn More About Inequities in Breast Cancer: Race and Place Matter

Breast Cancer Action is offering a free, one-hour webinar examining the racial and socio-economic factors that influence the health of individuals and communities.

Titled “Inequities in Breast Cancer: Race and Place Matter,” the webinar will take place Tuesday, May 15, at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EST (register here) and again on Wednesday, May 16, at 11 a.m. PDT/2 p.m. EST (register here).

“Inequities in breast cancer risk and outcomes vary among different racial and ethnic communities and are well documented,” writes Sahru Keiser, BCA program associate of education and mobilization. “In our efforts to address and end this disease, health activists, practitioners, and legislators must focus on the social and economic context in which the disease arises.”

Keiser is presenting the webinar with Irene Yen, associate professor of medicine and associate director of the Experiential Learning, Health & Society Pathway at University of California, San Francisco. Among the questions they’ll address:

Why are white women more likely to develop breast cancer, yet African American, Latina and Samoan women are more likely to die from the disease? Why do women of color tend to develop more aggressive breast cancers at earlier ages than white women? Why are we seeing the sharpest rise in breast cancer rates in Japanese women in Los Angeles?

Topics covered will include:

• How where we live, work and play defines our access to good health

• Breast cancer inequities in under-served communities

• How breast cancer research acknowledges race

• Inequities in breast cancer clinical trials

• How you can work for health equity

Learn more at Breast Cancer Action about environmental links to breast cancer and the importance of social justice. And visit BCA’s Think Before You Pink project, which raises awareness about conflicts of interest in pink-ribbon marketing — like KFC’s Buckets for the Cure campaign that promoted fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods.

One of the current campaigns takes on Eli Lilly, the only company in the world making and distributing rBGH, an artificial growth hormone found in many dairy products that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer. BCA is working to remove rBGH from the food supply completely. Free Think Before You Pink toolkits featuring resources and information are available here.


April 23, 2012

What Do We Know About Low Doses of Chemicals and Our Health?

Researchers from a number of universities and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recently published an article in the journal Endocrine Reviews that explores how much exposure to certain chemicals is needed to cause harm, and suggests that “fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.”

The researchers, led by Laura Vandenberg, looked at endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) – chemicals like BPA and DES that interfere with the body’s hormone systems. In their review, they explore complex issues around dose – the effects of low doses, how “low dose” is defined, and what happens when effects of a chemical aren’t directly correlated to the dose.

As the authors explain:

For decades, studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have challenged traditional concepts in toxicology, in particular the dogma of “the dose makes the poison,” because EDCs can have effects at low doses that are not predicted by effects at higher doses.

As a result, what we know about exposure to a chemical from following people after a one-time large exposure might not predict what happens when people are exposed to very small amounts of a chemical over a longer time.

The implications are that some of our assumptions about harms from low doses, the reliability of current testing methods, and safe thresholds might be incorrect, because harmful effects of chemicals might vary in unexpected ways at different doses, in different people, or at different stages of development. The authors point out several things researchers should do to improve our understanding of these issues, like carefully considering dose ranges and timing to study.

For the general public, the regulatory implications of the review may be most important. As the authors explain:

For decades, regulatory agencies have tested, or approved testing, of chemicals by examining high doses and then extrapolating down [from where observable effects are thought to start] to determine safe levels for humans and/or wildlife. As discussed earlier, these extrapolations use safety factors that acknowledge differences between humans and animals, exposures of vulnerable populations, interspecies variability, and other uncertainty factors. These safety factors are informed guesses, not quantitatively based calculations. Using this traditional way of setting safe doses, the levels declared safe are never in fact tested. Doses in the range of human exposures are therefore also unlikely to be tested.This has generated the current state of science,where many chemicals of concern have never been examined at environmentally relevant low doses.

In other words, for many chemicals,  regulations are based on best guesses about safety, rather than specific safety data. Additionally, the authors suggest that guessing about low doses based on higher doses really doesn’t work for endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and new approaches to assessing their safety should be developed. The authors also call for greater testing at low doses when new chemicals are developed and approved:

We further recommend greatly expanded and generalized safety testing and surveillance to detect potential adverse effects of this broad class of chemicals. Before new chemicals are developed, a wider range of doses, extending into the low-dose range, should be fully tested.

A related editorial from the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences also calls for “appropriate actions to protect human and wildlife populations from these harmful chemicals and facilitate better regulatory decision making.”

In an opinion piece, lead author Vandenberg writes more about their research and implications of EDCs for women:

We found overwhelming evidence that these hormone-altering chemicals have effects at low levels, and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels. For example, a large amount of dioxin would kill you, but a very small dose, similar to what people are exposed to from eating contaminated foods, increases women’s risk of reproductive abnormalities.

The full review is freely available online. There is also coverage over at Moms Rising, and a summary of the research at Environmental Health News.


March 16, 2012

Environmental Health an Overlooked Part of the Affordable Care Act

Recent coverage of healthcare reform has focused on contraceptive coverage, but another aspect of the Affordable Care Act also deserves our attention as a potential benefit for women everywhere – attention to environmental issues that may contribute to illness.

The healthcare reform legislation included a requirement that a council on prevention be created, and that the council develop a national prevention and health promotion strategy.

The resulting strategy was released last summer, and includes a section on healthy and safe community environments, which recommends attention be paid to pollutants in our air, land, and water, and points out disparities in pollution exposure. Lead exposure, environmental triggers of asthma, safe neighborhoods for walking, and job-related hazards are all noted as environmental hazards that can make people less healthy.

From the report:

Safe air, land, and water are fundamental to a healthy community environment. Implementing and enforcing environmental standards and regulations, monitoring pollution levels and human exposures, and considering the risks of pollution in decision making can all improve health and the quality of the environment. For example, air quality standards, improved fuel efficiency and use of cleaner fuels, and transportation choices that reduce dependency on automobiles all improve air quality and health…Monitoring and research to understand the extent of people’s exposure to environmental hazards, the extent of disparities in exposures and risks from environmental hazards and the impact of these exposures on health, and identifying how to reduce exposures, especially among vulnerable populations, will inform future efforts.

Mary Ann Swissler wrote about the prevention strategy recently for the Fort Worth Weekly, including more detailed discussion and her suggestions for making environmental prevention work.

For further reading, see our Environmental and Occupational Health pages.


March 15, 2012

Environmental Action Conference: 25 Years of Finding Solutions, Mobilizing Activists

Toxics Action Center 25 Years of Victories Timeline

By Eliza Duggan, OBOS Intern

After listening to environmental experts discuss the effects of toxins, it’s easy to become wary of eating non-organic food, drinking town water, or even breathing the air. But workshop organizers at the Toxics Action Center‘s 25th Annual Environmental Action Conference exuded an enthusiasm for steps we can take that left me more aware and hopeful than stressed.

The March 3 event at Northeastern University’s student center was bustling with environmental supporters. Most of the attendees were already involved in local organizing efforts throughout New England, but there was also an encouraging number of people of all ages who came to learn more about improving their community’s health.

Cynthia Jennings of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice welcomed attendees with a punchy speech that encouraged everyone to remember that, “All of these organizations started with one person working for the environment.”

The conference was organized into alternating workshops and speakers on topics ranging from zero-waste initiatives to lobbying decision makers. I attended two workshops that addressed local environmental toxins, the first of which had an ambitious title: “Toxics In Our Towns: Passing Effective Local Policy to Reduce and Eliminate Pesticides.” The panel included Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics, whose passion for organic horticulture drives him to educate citizens and municipalities on chemical-free lawn and turf care, and members of Green Cape, an organization that develops non-toxic strategies in Cape Cod.

There are many reasons to support chemical-free horticulture, but among the most compelling arguments I found were the prenatal and postnatal effects of pesticide and herbicide exposure on fetal development and a child’s long-term health. One study that measured the effect of IQ in relation to pesticide exposure found that children who had heavy pesticide contact had poorer scores than those who had less.

The second workshop was called “Toxic Chemicals A to Z: Protecting Your Body, Your Community and Beyond.” Although many common household and personal care items — including plastic food containers, household cleaners, and cosmetics — contain synthetic chemicals and potential carcinogens that can endanger our general and reproductive health, the panel focused more on solutions than on problems.

Individually, we can try to purchase safer products (the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a good site for learning more about what’s in the products you use), but large-scale structural changes are also necessary. Efforts in Massachusetts include the Safer Alternatives bill, which would create a program to develop alternatives to hazardous chemicals.

Two activists answered questions about engaging in environmental projects. Jan Schlictmann, an attorney who has fought for victims of water contamination, discussed the passion that drives him and others working in this field. A dynamic speaker, Schlictmann emphasized the importance of sharing experiences, acquiring facts (the best response weapon), and empowering ourselves and others.

Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, spoke next. Her environmental activism was sparked in the late 1970s after discovering her son’s elementary school in Niagara Falls, N.Y., was built on top of a toxic chemical dump. She encouraged conference attendees to be “creative, out-of-the-box thinkers” — a critical skill in environmental justice efforts.

The conference was not only a call to continue to actively participate in environmental efforts, but also a celebration of the good works that have been done, with much hope for the future. You can view Toxics Action Center’s timeline of environmental victories and communities in action at toxicsaction25.org.

Plus: Need more inspiration to get involved? Read an excerpt from the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” about women who have exposed environmental health hazards and worked to eliminate them.

Eliza Duggan, a Maine native, is a junior at Boston College with a passion for women’s issues. She has been an intern with Our Bodies Ourselves since May of 2011.


September 26, 2011

La Ley para Cosméticos Seguros Atiende un Vacío en las Regulaciones de Seguridad

Escrito por Rachel; traducido del orginial en inglés Sept. 1, 2011.

OBOS has received funding to make blog entries available in Spanish. We hope to expand outreach efforts in the coming year.

Muchas personas que usan cosméticos en los Estados Unidos no se dan cuenta que no se requieren pruebas o aprobación de la FDA para la comercialización de cosméticos.  A su vez, la Agencia Federal no tiene autoridad para requerir que el fabricante retire del mercado productos que no son seguros.  Como los cosméticos no son regulados de la misma manera que los medicamentos, es más difícil para el consumidor hacer una decisión informada, y la FDA tiene menos poder para regular la industria de los cosméticos y para responder a los problemas.

La Ley para Cosméticos Seguros del 2011 (Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011), propuesta por Janic Schakowsky (IL-D) tiene el propósito de ayudar a llenar algunos de estos vacíos en la regulación de los cosméticos.

Esta ley daría poder al gobierno para retirar del mercado los cosméticos no seguros, para requerir mejor información sobre sus ingredientes, establecer estándares de seguridad adicionales y requerir que el fabricante provea información sobre la seguridad del producto.  La ley impone la obligación de informar sobre los efectos adversos para la salud, permite la prohibición de ingredientes que tienen efectos que pueden causar cáncer o problemas con la salud reproductiva, estimula alternativas a las pruebas en animales, aborda la seguridad de los trabajadores, junto a otras medidas.


July 11, 2011

Exploring Pinkwashing: Questioning the Wisdom of Buying for a Cure

A new article in the journal Environmental Justice provides a compelling overview of a topic we have covered several times here – pinkwashing, or the pink-drenched efforts of corporations to be seen as doing something about breast cancer at the same time as their products or practices are possibly contributing to the disease.

In Pastel Injustice: The Corporate Use of Pinkwashing for Profit, authors Amy Lubitow and Mia Davis provide an introduction to the concept of pinkwashing, talk about environmental factors in breast cancer, and explain the problem of having corporations generate public goodwill from pink-themed breast cancer campaigns. They argue:

Funds raised from breast cancer walks and runs undoubtedly serve to further treatment and early detection of breast cancer (which saves more women’s lives). However, corporate entities marketing to cancer patients and their families develop brand loyalty, generate free advertising on the part of women who participate, and discourage questions about the role of chemicals used in consumer products in cancer incidence.

The authors go on to call pinkwashing a form of social injustice, and decry the focus solely on cancer treatment rather than on prevention. In critiquing the “buy something pink” model of responding to breast cancer, they outline how this approach excludes both many types of women at risk for cancer and prevention efforts that don’t focus on finding “a cure.”

Questions about disease causation, feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness do not meld with the dominant imagery of women who have conquered—or must be made to feel that they can conquer—the disease. Notably, this mainstream image is effectively a white, middle class model which excludes women of color, who are not only less likely to survive the disease than white women, but who may not connect with the hegemonic model of survivorhood that centers on fundraising walks (some of which require $1,800 as a baseline for participation), and which are heavily populated by white women.

Thus, women’s time, energy, and passion are diverted from efforts to prevent the disease and reduce its occurrence, and instead are focused on raising money (often by spending money on pre-assigned pink ribbon products, and cloaking themselves entirely in pink clothes with corporate logos). Everyone is told to keep their eyes on the prize: the elusive cure. This lost time and money, and more importantly, the physical pain and emotional hardship that families and communities endure with every breast cancer diagnosis is not accounted for or honored when we seek only ‘‘the cure.’’

This article is bound to be somewhat controversial, provoking questions of whether small amounts of certain chemicals are likely to cause any harm, whether additional safety studies or regulations are needed, and how much influence environmental exposures have compared to other risk factors. Whether campaigns to buy pink products or focus primarily on treatment are the appropriate way to focus our energies on breast cancer, though, is certainly something worth thinking about and discussing. The article is available online for free.


May 2, 2011

“Skin Deep” Database Provides Details on Safety of Skin Care and Cosmetic Products

The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, a free online database maintained by the Environmental Working Group, provides information on the safety and potential harms of ingredients in make-up, sunscreen, facial cleansers and moisturizers, contact lens solutions, shampoo, nail polish and remover, baby wipes, soaps, and creams, toothpaste, fragrances, and other cosmetic and skin care products.

You can browse by cosmetic category or search for the name of your favorite product to find out about possible hazards in terms of cancer risk, reproductive toxicities, and allergies. Information is also provided on companies’ animal testing policies. The directions and ingredients listed on each product label is listed, and links are provided to other similar product types and products from the same manufacturer. You can also read others comments and leave your own on specific product pages.

Because in some cases there may not be much testing data on particular ingredients, the amount of available data is labeled, such as none, limited, fair, or robust. Information is provided on whether the data come from a single or multiple animal studies (which may be of limited value for humans), or if there is strong evidence of potential harm in humans.

Sources of data used for the assessments and the methods for computing scores are provided at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/site/about.php. Thus, you can see how the assessments and ratings are derived in a pretty transparent way. For the fellow librarian readers, yes, I sent them a suggestion about the Hazardous Substance Data Bank!

I love the idea of a database like this, because it’s often difficult to know how “safe” any particular product is. I personally don’t have the appropriate background in toxicology to assess how accurately the potential risks of common ingredients are described, so I’d love to hear from readers with that expertise. I’ll also leave it to commenters to talk about why it was necessary for the “men’s” products to be in their own segregated section of the site. ;)


August 12, 2010

Chemistry for Change: Call on Congress to Support the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has long studied the various potential health effects of low-level exposure to chemicals called endocrine disruptors that interfere with development and function. These substances, both natural and man-made, include pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plastics such as bisphenol A (BPA).

Very little action has been taken on the basis of these studies, but new legislation working its way through Congress aims to change that.

The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act of 2009 was introduced last December in the Senate (S-2828 [pdf]) by  Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and in the House of Representives (HR-4190 [pdf]) by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

TEDX , the Endrocine Disruption Exchange, provides a thorough overview:

Simply put, the main purpose of the program proposed in the bill is to develop reliable and reproducible methods to identify chemicals that can disrupt the human endocrine system. These protocols will:

  • address the full range of possible health outcomes (including reproductive, behavioral, intellectual, metabolic, and endocrine disorders);
  • be sensitive enough to detect effects at exposure levels relevant to human exposure (and not rely on the assumption that a lower dose produces less effect);
  • consider the effects of exposure to multiple chemicals

The program will rely on a panel of scientific experts, free of conflict of interest, to design research efforts that will be conducted at the NIEHS and on academic campuses across the country. The panel will then evaluate the findings and determine their level of concern (taking into account routes and sources of exposure).

Kerry recently sent a letter to other members of the Senate looking for co-sponsors of the bill. TEDX is urging everyone to call their senators and encourage their sponsorships. And while the House bill has several co-sponsors, more is always better. See “How You Can Help.”

To get a feel for the full political context, read Elizabeth Grossman’s call for “Fixing Our Broken Chemicals Policy,” inspired by the introduction of the bill.


May 18, 2010

President’s Cancer Panel Reports on Environmental Causes of Cancer

The President’s Cancer Panel, created in 1971 to monitor the National Cancer Program, provides reports to each sitting President on the nation’s cancer programs and priorities. Previous reports have covered topics such as health disparities, translational research, cancer survivorship, barriers to care, and cancer among Native American populations.

The Panel’s recently released report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” [PDF] focuses on potential risks posed by contaminants in the environment from industrial, manufacturing, agricultural, medical, military, natural, and other sources, and provides recommendations for reducing environmental cancer risks. For example, the report discusses the radiation exposure from medical CT scans, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, and pesticide exposures.

The Panel’s report calls for further research into environmental causes of and contributors to cancer, stronger regulation and enforcement related to hazardous substances, better disclosure to the public of potential hazards created, inclusion of environmental and public health advocates in developing research and policy agendas and information dissemination, minimization of radiation exposure from medical sources, attention to the unequal burden of exposure, and increased use of safer alternatives.

It also calls for a move away from “current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure” to a more “precautionary, prevention-oriented approach.” (For more information on what such an approach would look like, see The Precautionary Principle on the OBOS website.)

The free report also includes a number of recommendations for individuals to reduce their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

A representative of the American Cancer Society has criticized the report, arguing that “the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer…its conclusion that ‘the true burden of environmentally (i.e. pollution) induced cancer has been grossly underestimated’ does not represent scientific consensus. Rather, it reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years.”

The chairman of the panel has reportedly responded, “This is an evenhanded approach, and an evenhanded report. We didn’t make statements that should not be made.” A representative of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, in a commentary for The Salt Lake Tribune, further criticized the ACS’s response, commenting that the ACS’s focus on “lifestyle factors” such as diet and exercise reflects a “blame the victim” philosophy that trivializes environmental risks. He also questions the ACS’s relationship with corporate donors who could possibly be affected by increased regulation and enforcement.

Orac at Respectful Insolence (ScienceBlogs) has detailed commentary on the report, including discussion of the ACS’s reaction – the full post is well worth a read.


April 12, 2010

Focusing on Gender and Reproductive Justice in Climate Change Work

The Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), an NGO focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Asia, has released a new climate justice-themed issue of its ARROWs for Change publication.

In In Search of Climate Justice: Refuting Dubious Linkages, Affirming Rights [PDF], the organization criticizes the linking of population control efforts to climate change work, citing disparities between rates of population growth and levels consumption, and the ways in which attempts to simply reduce birth rates ignore other demographic factors (such as per capita consumption) that contribute to climate change concerns.

Most important, perhaps, are concerns that population control strategies “have inevitably led to abuses, coercion and the violation of women’s fundamental rights,” and the argument that “women’s rights to control their own fertility should not be sacrificed to protect the environment.” The authors note women’s vulnerability to adverse effects of climate change, and argue that women’s bodies should be looked at with concern for the effects of climate change on women, not looked at as the vehicle for climate change solutions.

Several pieces in the publication further explore this topic, and resources for further reading are also listed.