Saturday, September 1, 2012

Toxic Chemicals in School Supplies, Microwave Popcorn

Children's back-to-school backpacks and other supplies may contain higher levels of potentially toxic chemicals than the government allows in most toys, a new study shows.

The study found that about 75 percent of children's school supplies contain high levels of potentially toxic phthalates. New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for new laws to regulate the chemical while discussing the report, which was released by the advocacy group Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) on Sunday.

The CHEJ says phthalates are a class of chemical used to soften vinyl plastic that are hazardous at even low levels of exposure. Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, early puberty, infertility, asthma, ADHD, and obesity.

Previous research suggests phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may alter hormone regulation and other mechanisms in the body. A recent study tied phthalates to an increased risk of diabetes for some women.

Besides plastics, the chemical is also found in personal care and beauty products, adhesives, electronics, toys, packaging and even some medication coatings.

In light of the findings, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said he would push for the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill co-sponsored by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. The act would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate chemicals used in consumer products.

"The disease from exposure to diacetyl -- bronchiolitis obliterans -- is debilitating and potentially fatal. It irreversibly destroys the small airways in the lung."
An ingredient used in artificial butter flavoring for popcorn may worsen the effects of an abnormal brain protein that's been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

A new study in Chemical Research in Toxicology examined diacetyl (DA), an ingredient used to produce the buttery flavor and smell in microwave popcorn, margarine, candy, baked goods, and even pet food. It is also created naturally in fermented drinks like beer, and gives some chardonnay wines its buttery taste, according to the study.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis conducted an analysis of DA, a chemical which previously has been linked to respiratory problems in employees at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories.

They found that DA has a structure that's similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins. Too much amyloid that clumps together to form plaques are a tell-tale marker of Alzheimer's disease in the brain. The researchers wanted to see whether DA would clump those proteins in a similar fashion to form plaques.

They found DA did lead to an increase in levels of beta-amyloid clumping, leading to toxic effects on nerve cells the scientists grew in a laboratory. The experiments also showed that DA easily penetrated the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells that is supposed to keep harmful substances from entering the brain but allows other helpful materials to cross. The chemical was also found to mitigate the effects of glyoxalase I, a protein that protects nerve cells.

The study however did not show a cause and effect relationship between the chemical and Alzheimer's, and the results haven't been replicated in people, only in test tubes.

"In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA, this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA," the researchers, led by Dr. Robert Vince, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Drug Design, said in a written statement.

More information:
» Groundbreaking $100 Million Study Targets Amyloid Protein

Wikipedia: "In 2006, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers petitioned the U.S. OSHA to promulgate an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the deleterious health effects of inhaling diacetyl vapors. The petition was followed by a letter of support signed by more than 30 prominent scientists.

In a press release dated December 17, 2007, ConAgra Foods, maker of Orville Redenbacher's and Act II microwave popcorn brands, announced it had removed added diacetyl from all of its butter-flavored microwave popcorn varieties. The new products began hitting store shelves as early as October 2007.

2009: "We don't really know what industry is using as a substitute in these 'diacetyl-free' items. But if 2,3-pentanedione was being used, it's being done without toxicity data. Until more is known, these (diacetyl substitutes) should not be assumed to be safe," said NIOSH, which is the worker health and safety research arm of the Centers for Disease Control."

On 21 January 2009, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for regulating exposure to diacetyl. The notice requests respondents to provide input regarding adverse health effects, methods to evaluate and monitor exposure, the training of workers. That notice also solicited input regarding exposure and health effects of acetoin, acetaldehyde, acetic acid and furfural.

Two bills in the California Legislature seek to ban the use of diacetyl.

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