EPA Releases Final Assessment of Tetrachloroethylene

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently released its final health assessment for tetrachloroethylene – also known as perchloroethylene, or perc – a chemical solvent frequently used in the dry cleaning of fabrics. Tetrachloroethylene is also sometimes used to clean metal machinery and to manufacture certain chemicals and consumer products.  The final assessment made by the EPA characterizes tetrachloroethylene as “a likely human carcinogen.”

Previous research on the chemical solvent has also found similar findings involving the risk it poses to human health. For instance, studies done on animals and human twins by Dr. Samuel Goldman and researchers at the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California have found that exposure to tetrachloroethylene increases the risk of acquiring Parkinson’s Disease ninefold.  In addition, it has been found that short term and long term inhalation exposure to the chemical can pose health risks associated with the kidney, liver, immune system and nervous system. Studies have also shown adverse reproductive effects such as spontaneous abortions from occupational exposure to the chemical. However, the EPA does not believe that wearing clothes that have been dry cleaned pose any serious risk of illness associated with the chemical solvent. 

Nevertheless, the EPA plans to eradicate the use of tetrachloroethylene by dry cleaners in residential buildings starting December 21, 2020.  Tetrachloroethylene can be emitted into the environment through different means throughout the dry cleaning process including cleaning and waste disposal.  The EPA has also already issued clean air standards on dry cleaners that use tetrachloroethylene.  In addition, prior to 1984, tetrachloroethylene was found in samples of groundwater with a median concentration of 0.75 ppb and a maxium level of 69 ppb which has prompted the EPA to set limits on the amount of tetrachloroethylene allowed in drinking water.

EPA’s new assessment is the first to include tetrachloroethylene’s carcinogenic affect on humans.  With this additional information, more thought will be put into revising regulations on the amount of tetrachloroethylene being emitted into the air and drinking water.  In addition, there are a hundred Superfund sites contaminated by tetrachloroethylene that need to be cleaned.  The new assessment will help government officials evaluate the level of cleanup needed at the Superfund sites.

Photo credit: deq.idaho.gov/waste-mgmt-remediation/brownfields/success-stories/mr-a%27s-dry-cleaners-twin-falls.aspx

Petrochemical Plant In China Shut Down Due To Protests

Government officials in northeastern China have ordered a petrochemical plant in northeastern China to be closed after 12,000 people protested on Sunday by “strolling” through the city.

Located in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China, the Fujia plant manufactures paraxylene (PX), a toxic chemical used to produce polyester. It received much attention after heavy storms pounded away at the plant and storm waters destroyed and passed through dikes designed to protect the plant. The plant is located about 150 feet away from the dikes. Dalian residents were ordered to evacuate because of the possibility that PX was released from the plant.

In the following days after the storm, residents returned home. Plant authorities have claimed that the dikes have been repaired and no chemical leaks have been detected. However, this did not reassure Dalian residents and the public who are convinced that some amount of PX has leaked from the plant due to the storms.

Compared to other locations in China, authorities in Dalian responded much more quickly to the protests. Usually, the government stays away from making decisions amid protests because of the fear that the public would get their way every time they protest. However, protests are becoming increasingly violent, as shown in a protest that happened in Qianxi County on Saturday where residents injured more than 10 police officers and security officials and destroyed 15 cars in a demonstration against inspectors. These inspectors were accused of being overly oppressive and abusive despite being under trained for their jobs.

The protest also shows the ever increasing use of social media and the Internet to spread news quickly. A poster was posted and shared on the Internet, telling people to take a “stroll” at 10am on Sunday at People’s Square, near the Dalian government building. The poster stated, “We know that the typhoon caused some leak of poisonous chemicals from the PX project and we are all worrying about it, because it is a threat to our life. We hope that such a ‘stroll’ may push the government to do something as soon as possible to dispel our worries.”

The microblogging site Weibo and the instant messenger service QQ were also used to convince thousands of people to demonstrate and join the protest. Users posted photos on Weibo as the protest occurred, including one photo of a person wearing a gas mask and a shirt saying “Brother wants to live a few more years.”

However, government officials were just as quick to censor anything that encouraged the protests in Dalian. Web searches for “PX” and “Dalian” were blocked and redirects to a page saying “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results are not displayed.”

Officials not only shut down the Fujia plant but also promised to relocate the plant outside of the city. However, residents demand a definite timetable for the relocation of the plant.

In addition to the panic caused by the Fujia plant, other environmental problems have worried Dalian residents in the recent past. On July 16, a pipe connecting an oil tanker to a onshore storage facility at the PetroChina port exploded and caught on fire. Officials reported that 11,000 barrels of oil was released. However, with an investigation launched by Greenpeace, the actual amount of oil could be much greater. The tank, which was found empty, could have contained between 315,000 to 365,000 barrels of oil, including any oil that was burned off. Also, eyewitness accounts claim 11,000 barrels of oil is definitely downplaying the actual amount of oil spilled into the ocean. A business owner in Dalian said, “It couldn’t possibly have been 1,500 tons (11,000 barrels). The thick oil layer stretched as far as the eye could see. It was so thick that the most effective way of collecting it was to scoop it up in your bare arms and push it into the barrel.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/dyslexik/2414905307

Bill Could Let Researchers Ban Chemicals

A new bill, set to be introduced later this month, could give federal researchers the clout to ban unsafe chemicals from commercial use, changing the face of chemical regulation in the United States.

Aptly named the Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011, this bill could potentially make blacklisting chemicals a simpler and shorter process than it currently is. Good news for those concerned with the dangers of loosely regulated chemicals.

The brainchild of Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Jim Moran (D-Virginia), the bill would allow the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and a board of experts chosen by the director, to ban up to ten chemicals from commerce each year. The stoppage would go into effect two years after the chemical has been deemed illegal.

While the NIEHS, a part of the National Institutes of Health, regularly researches endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and funds similar research at other facilities, its authority is purely consultative. The organization can advise regulatory agencies, but lacks any real regulatory ability.

The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest organization of endocrinologists, applauded the move towards more legislation, noting the importance of increased chemical regulation in the developed world.

“We are almost like a third world country when it comes to regulating chemicals,” said Endocrine Society member Frederick vom Saal. “It’s very difficult for people interested in the public’s health to understand how does this become a political, partisan, issue when people on both sides have family that are showing diseases related to these chemicals. What is going on here?”

A statement released by the group in 2009 argued for more research into endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and their effects on human health, as well as a “precautionary principle” to reduce the use of chemicals whose potential backlash has not been properly studied.

The organization’s evidence further suggested that unlike regular toxins, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a higher danger at lower levels, levels so low that the Environmental Protection Agency’s screening tests cannot detect them.

As a result, some researchers claim, the developed world is facing rising rates of disorders like Autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, obesity, cancer, and infertility, due largely in part to chemicals that mimic and interfere with the functions of human hormones.

“These disorders began to increase noticeably at the population level in the early 1970s,” reads the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act, a similar bill drafted by Kerry and Moran in 2009, “when the first generation exposed in the womb to post-World War II synthetic chemicals reached maturity. Prior to 1950, these disorders were rare, which rules out the influence of inherited disorders.”

Yet, though hailed in the realm of researchers, the bill faces a rough road ahead, likely to face strong opposition from chemical manufacturers and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The 2009 bill never made it out of committee, blocked by lobbyists from the American Chemistry Council, an organization representing the largest chemical manufacturers, and CropLife America, a trade association of companies making pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture.

According to disclosure forms from the Center for Responsive Politics, both groups spent $10.25 million and $2.88 million, respectively, lobbying against the legislation.

The American Chemistry Council declined to comment, but released a written statement defending the use of BPA, a controversial chemical found in plastics and the lining of canned foods.

“BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals used today and has a safety track record of 50 years,” it said.

Yet, scientific experts scoff at the statement, saying it represents the rift between science and industry.

“BPA is a good example of a situation where there’s this huge disconnect between literally hundreds and hundreds of studies done both by people in the government and in the academic side,” said vom Saal, “and then a small number of studies done by corporations where 100% of the corporate studies say this chemical is safe.”

CNN has received an “advanced copy” of the bill, which can be found here.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Hedon_Clough_and_the_BP_Chemicals_site_at_Saltend_-_geograph.org.uk_-_145508.jpg

BPA Exposure Tied to Poor Sperm Health

Oct. 28, 2010 (GreenAnswers Staff) – Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical which is commonly found in plastics and other consumer goods, has a damaging effect on the sexual health of men, according to a study recently conducted. The study, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health looked at factory workers in China who were exposed to high levels of BPA.

The study, which looked at 218 Chinese factory workers over a five year period, concluded that those workers with high BPA levels in their urine tended to have a drop in sperm concentration, overall sperm count, sperm vitality and sperm motility.

The potential health risks associated with BPA exposure have been receiving a lot of focus lately, with some studies indicating that exposure to the chemical at high doses can have widespread sexual and hormonal consequences.

The study’s lead author, Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research, said “Compared with men without detectable urine BPA, those with detectable urine BPA had more than three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality, more than four times the risk of a lower sperm count, and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility.”

In response to the study, Steven Hentges, the executive director of Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group with the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, stated that the study is “likely to have limited relevance to consumers.” Hentges explained, “This study is a little bit lean on details, but what’s clear is that it wasn’t designed to examine the potential effects of BPA on consumers.” “It focused on workers. And from what they report we can be sure that some workers were exposed to extraordinarily high amounts of BPA. Thousands of times higher than the average American.”