chemicals

Nothing like the Smell of Safer Chemistry

Reposted from the EPA Connect

By Jim Jones

When buying cleaning products, you probably first look for a product that will get a particular job done, then compare prices. You might even smell the product, or look for a fragrance-free product. While you may choose a scent based on personal preference, if you care about product safety, it‘s worth taking a closer look at the specific chemicals that add scent to cleaning products.

In September 2012, EPA created a Safer Chemical Ingredients List to assist companies interested in making safer products and to increase public access to important chemical information. And announced today,  EPA has added 119 chemicals that add fragrance to the list of over 600 approved chemical ingredients.

The list is also useful to companies seeking EPA’s Design for the Environment Safer Product Label by providing them with a list of chemical ingredients that already meet EPA’s rigorous, scientific standard for protecting human health and the environment. Chemicals on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List can be used in Design for the Environment-labeled products. Design for the Environment is a voluntary program that involves industry, environmental groups, and academia working in partnership to help protect people and the planet by identifying safer chemicals and allowing safer chemical-based products to carry the Design for the Environment label.

Right now, more than 2,500 products carry the Design for the Environment Safer Product Label, including a range of all-purpose cleaners, laundry and dishwasher detergents, window cleaners, car care, and many other products. When you see the Safer Product Label on a product, it means the Design for the Environment scientific review team has screened each ingredient for potential human health and environmental effects and determined that the product contains only the safest chemical ingredients available.

Using Design for the Environment-labeled products is an important thing you can do to help reduce your family’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Look for the label on products when you shop. You can be sure that these products are safer and work as well as they smell.

To view the Safer Chemical Ingredients List, visit

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Staying Active with Asthma

runner

In celebration of Asthma Awareness Month, I thought it would be fun to talk with a student who has asthma herself.  I interviewed Shannyn, an energetic 10 year-old who taught me all about what it is like to have asthma.  Shannyn let me know that she doesn’t let asthma get in the way of her active lifestyle and love of playing outdoors with her sisters and friends. At around age 3, Shannyn experienced her first asthma attack.  She explained to me that an asthma attack is an episode, accompanied by wheezing and coughing, which makes it very difficult to breathe.  Triggers, such as dust, chemicals and seasonal allergies, are things that can provoke the event of an asthma attack.  Lucky enough for this smart girl, she knows to avoid these triggers by staying away from heavy bathroom cleaners and helping her mom to clean the house of dust.  

Asthma doesn’t get in the way of Shannyn’s busy lifestyle.  Her love of running club, tumbling, soccer, kickball and playing in the pool are what keep Shannyn going.  By taking a daily preventative inhaler, she is able to participate in these sports and after school activities.  Shannyn is careful to also carry her rescue inhaler with her when going for runs, in case this physical activity makes her asthma worse.  She let me know that although her asthma can sometimes make it hard to keep up with others when running, that she has a few good friends that will run at a steady pace with her.  I am impressed with all the fun, physical activities this girl does!  When telling me about how she is teaching one of her friends how to do a kart wheel, I asked if she could teach me.  At age 22, I still haven’t picked up how to do a kart-wheel. 

It’s no secret that Shannyn doesn’t let her asthma define how she spends her time and what kinds of activities she does.  By knowing which triggers to avoid, taking the proper medication, and doing routine activities like running club to control her asthma, Shannyn is able to live a very spirited life.  She is looking forward to the summer, where she is planning to spend lots of time swimming in the pool with her two sisters.  She has even started to plan her next birthday party, where she and friends will have a spa day.  Shannyn let me know that asthma doesn’t get in the way of staying active and having fun with friends and family.  She is a role model to people of all ages who have asthma.

Shelby Egan was an extern in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rainy Day Lesson

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Like many New Englanders, we’ve been really busy lately with our garden. The warm growing months are so fleeting here that you have to be ready the minute you can plant veggies and herbs to harvest some good food later in the summer.

It’s been even more hectic this year, because my wife and I acted on our carefully-developed plans of long-overdue landscaping in our yard. But as any homeowner can tell you, there usually is no simple plan. If you do this, then it triggers that. And that. And something else.

As we thought about how we wanted our yard to be, we knew we needed to address some drainage issues: gutters were draining directly onto a walkway, and in the winter that’s a recipe for dangerous slick ice. So we excavated a channel for the gutter to drain under the walkway, leading into a dry well. Now the water will slowly infiltrate into the earth without turning into mud or ice where we need to walk.

We have another area nearby, where a gutter channels rainwater from our garage, and we thought, “this is a great spot for a rain barrel!”

Diverting rain by collecting it in a rain barrel, or channeling into a dry well (or a rain garden) has a lot of advantages besides our immediate need to address extra runoff in our garden. Stormwater runoff can collect a lot of bad stuff, especially in urban areas with lots of pavement and other hard impermeable surfaces. As water runs off roofs, parking lots and roads, it collects all the trace residues of chemicals, nutrients, silt and debris that have accumulated, and swiftly deposits it all in the nearest storm sewer, and from there it often goes directly into nearby streams, ponds or another water body. In other words, pollution.

It’s amazing how quickly our 55 gallon rain barrel fills up, just waiting for a dry spell when we need to water our garden. It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours – not even pouring hard – and the rain barrel is full. That’s just one section of roof and gutter. It makes me realize how much water comes down in a typical rainstorm, and how much of a difference our household decisions can make to help solve a problem.

Find more New England resources on how to “Soak Up the Rain.”

More Green infrastructure solutions to stormwater

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

The mention of the word “formaldehyde” might conjure up memories of a school science class or museum visits and seeing animals preserved in liquid-filled jars. While formaldehyde may no longer be used for these purposes, it is still used in adhesives to make composite wood products, like particle board and other building materials for furniture and other products. Composite wood products are made from pieces, chips, particles of wood that are bonded together with resins that may contain formaldehyde. The chemical can cause adverse health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory symptoms and cancer.

In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. As required by the Act, today we are proposing limits on how much formaldehyde can be released from a variety of composite wood products and to establish requirements to ensure these products comply with the regulations. The proposed rules align where practical with existing requirements for composite wood products in California.

These requirements, when final, will further reduce the public’s exposure to the formaldehyde found in many products in our homes and workplaces. For new and renovated homes formaldehyde may be reduced up to 26%. Also, when final, they will encourage the industry trend toward switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products, further reducing you and your family’s exposure to formaldehyde.

While many manufacturers are already complying with the requirements in place in California, EPA’s actions will ensure the same protections for all Americans, no matter what State you live in. In addition, EPA’s proposal expands upon the California regulation by including laminated products, which is estimated to reduce formaldehyde emissions from these products 45 – 90%. The actions will also ensure that the composite wood products sold in this country meet the same standards for formaldehyde regardless of whether they are made in the United States or abroad.

The proposals released today are an example of what can be accomplished when there is adequate statutory authority for action. This lies in stark contrast to the lack of authority EPA has to regulate other chemicals and highlights the on-going need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, this country’s chemicals management legislation. All Americans have the right to expect that the chemicals used in the products they use every day are safe. The time has come to provide EPA with the tools necessary to protect you and your families from unnecessary risks from all chemicals.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CAMEO: A Starring Role in Chemical Emergencies

By Peter Gattuso

In 1983, an accidental chemical release in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people. There quickly came a heightened awareness of chemicals in our communities for fear of the same accident happening here. At that time, few computer programs were on the market to support chemical emergency professionals. So in 1986, together with my colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we developed free software to help local governments prevent, prepare, and respond to chemical emergencies. The software, Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO), was developed as a hazardous chemicals search tool. It now tracks facilities that store chemicals, provides emergency planning contacts and resources, and contains a chemical reference library.

As fire and police departments, industries, universities, environmental organizations, state, local and federal agencies began to use CAMEO, they gave us feedback on the kinds of features they’d find useful. We developed ALOHA, a planning/predictive tool used to investigate the potential impact of a tank rupture, drum spill, truck rollover, or similar incidents. Its modeling capabilities are also used during post-incident investigations. For example, a chemical release air dispersion model can be created after an incident to help investigators determine whether there were contaminants or dangerous areas during the incident.

CAMEO users kept telling us, “We need maps!” Back in 1988, most mapping programs were on mainframe computers, and none were free. So we developed our own – MARPLOT. You might say it’s a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the common man: a PC-based tool that doesn’t require much training. It’s tightly integrated into the CAMEO suite, so you can see the location of chemical facilities, overlay a chemical plume from ALOHA, and even determine the population within the plume, using the latest Census data. An exciting re-write of MARPLOT is due summer 2013, which will integrate online basemaps (like Google, Bing, MapQuest, OpenStreetMaps). It will operate in any browser, on any platform, and will retain the ability to run without an Internet connection,

It’s been very fulfilling to continue CAMEO’s expansion over the years and to see it being used so often, by so many in the United States and in other countries in chemical emergency planning, preparedness, and response activities.

About the Author: Peter Gattuso has developed multiple information systems since joining EPA in 1975. Currently in the Office of Emergency Management, Peter concentrates on emergency planning and response computer systems and is the lead technical consultant on systems for Risk Management Planning.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making Sure Chemicals Around Us are Safe

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, OCSPP

Chemicals are found in most everything we use and consume— from plastics, to medicine, to cleaning products, and flame retardants in our furniture and clothing. They can be essential for our health, our well being, our prosperity and our safety— it’s no understatement to say that the quality of life we enjoy today would be impossible without chemicals. However, our understanding of chemical safety is constantly evolving and there remain significant gaps in our scientific knowledge regarding many chemicals and their potentially negative impacts on our health, and the environment.

While you may be familiar with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts— you may not be as familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the environmental statute enacted in 1976 to regulate all chemicals manufactured and used in the U.S. When TSCA was enacted, it grandfathered in, without any evaluation, the 62,000 chemicals in commerce that existed in 1976.

Unlike the laws for drugs and pesticides, TSCA does not have a mandatory program where the EPA must conduct a review to determine the safety of existing chemicals. TSCA is the only major environmental law that has not been modernized. The process of requiring testing through rulemaking chemical-by-chemical has proven burdensome and time consuming.

Compared to 30 years ago, we have a better understanding of how we are exposed to chemicals and the distressing health effects some chemicals can have – especially on children. At the same time, significant gaps exist in our scientific knowledge of many chemicals, including those like flame retardants. Increasingly, studies are highlighting the health risks posed by certain chemicals and recent media coverage has heightened public awareness about the safety of flame retardants.

As part of EPA’s efforts to assess chemical risks, we will begin evaluating 20 flame retardants in 2013 in order to improve our understanding of the potential risks of this class of chemicals, taking action if warranted, and identifying safer substitutes when possible. Over the years, EPA has also taken a number of regulatory and voluntary efforts, including negotiating the voluntary phase-outs of several toxic flame retardants. EPA’s review of and action on flame retardants has spanned over two decades and while these are important steps forward, the long history of EPA’s action on flame retardants is tied in no small part to the shortcomings of TSCA and stands as a clear illustration of the need for TSCA reform.

We have the right to expect that the chemicals found in products that we use every day are safe and provide benefits without hidden harm. It is critical that we close the knowledge gaps and provide this assurance under a reformed, 21st century version of TSCA.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 24 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Proper Cleaning Prevents Poisonings

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

Among the fondest memories of my childhood was the time that I spent at my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan. I loved walking through the city with such a rich history and unique architecture. Every time I visit the Island, I take a stroll through the old city and memory lane.

I remember one day, I must have been around 9 or 10. I attempted to help my grandmother in cleaning around the house. I wanted to make her proud of my efforts. So I started mixing some of the cleaning products under the misguided notion that “more is better.”  To this date, I still have a very vivid image of my cleaning experiment. I remember one of the liquid cleaners was a dark amber color that when you diluted it in water it would become white. The other was some sort of clear liquid. However, when I made my cleaning concoction, it turned into a bright red! I quickly flushed the cleaning potion down the toilet. It was a good thing that it didn’t explode, but who knows what chemical reaction occurred! I guess I will never find out, but that leads me to the real subject of this blog entry: how to prevent accidental poisonings and exposures to chemicals. The issue is very timely given that we are celebrating National Poison Prevention Week.

Here are some tips to prevent accidental poisonings:

  • At EPA we stress the fact that “the label is the law.” Read labels carefully and follow instructions when using household cleaning products and pesticides.
  • As I learned from my experience decades ago, mixing products will not make your house cleaner. In fact, mixing cleaning household cleaners and pesticides can be dangerous.
  • Always keep cleaning products away from children’s reach. If you are in the process of cleaning and you get a phone call or someone knocks on the door, don’t keep the cleaning products unattended. That can be an accidental poisoning waiting to happen.
  • Since most poisonings occur in the home, make sure that you household cleaners and pesticides are properly stored. We even have a checklist to help you in a room-by-room inspection to ensure safety.

So, if in spite of your best efforts, someone in your home becomes accidentally exposed to a toxic chemical, please call the National Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222. There are English and Spanish-speaking operators available round the clock anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Facilities Preventing Pollution

By Kara Koehrn

Our economy produces goods that we depend on in our daily lives, like pharmaceuticals, clothing and cars. Sometimes during the production of those goods, toxic chemicals are released into the environment. But what can be done? Are these inevitable or is there something businesses can do to reduce or even eliminate their releases?

As Americans, we are empowered with information to help answer these questions through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). I work for TRI, and my coworkers and I are proud to continue a community-right-to-know tradition at EPA in which TRI provides information to the public about toxic chemical releases to air, water and land right on our website. But now we are going further, highlighting examples of how industry is preventing pollution. Here is just a sample:

  • In 2011, many electric utilities installed scrubbers on their stacks which reduced air releases of hazardous air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid and mercury.
  • In the chemical manufacturing industry, some facilities improved their maintenance and production schedules to reduce toxic chemical releases in 2011. One reported reducing ammonia releases to water (a contributor to eutrophication) after instituting better process control and operator training.
  • A facility in the computer and electronics sector reported that in response to a customer’s demand for lead-free services, it used a lead-free product surface finishing line in 2011, and expects to expand this service to other customers.

Facilities report real-world success stories like these to TRI each year, and we are highlighting them in our annual analysis of TRI data, the TRI National Analysis. We publish this report every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can analyze TRI data. You can use TRI’s new pollution prevention search tool to see which industrial facilities reported the largest reductions and what measures were most effective in achieving these results. Take a look!

I hope you check out the National Analysis and try the new pollution prevention tool to see what toxic chemicals are being released nationwide and what is being done to help clean up your air, water, and land. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She has recently sold her car to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Scientist at Work: Mark Strynar, Ph.D.

Dr. Mark Strynar is a Physical Scientist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. His research interests include developing methods to measure and analyze the movement and fate of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and other xenobiotic compounds (chemicals found in organisms that are not normally expected to be present) in biological and environmental media.

When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his family and volunteering at his local church and various community programs. He is also an avid hunter, woodworker and welder who spends countless hours in his workshop creating furniture, contraptions, sawdust, and metal filings.

How does your science matter?

For the past eight years or so, I’ve focused on perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs are chemical compounds used to make products resistant to stains, water, or heat. Most people would recognize them as the compounds that keep food from sticking to pans or stains from ruining carpet.

Unfortunately, the same properties that make PFCs useful in kitchenware and fabric also make them highly resistant to degradation, which means they stay in our environment for a long time after we are done using them. We have found that PFCs are also widely dispersed in human beings.

My job is trying to figure out the different ways that PFCs get into your body. Each avenue of exposure: water, fish, air, food, house dust, etc., requires a different way (“analytical method”) for us to measure for PFCs and other chemicals of interest.

My research supports human risk assessment studies. It matters because if PFC exposure levels are too high we can help people take action. For example, in Decatur, Alabama, we found that levels of PFCs were too high in water and we were able to put people on alternate sources of drinking water. I can see an immediate impact from the work I’m doing to protect people’s health.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I would say Louis Pasteur Exit EPA Disclaimer, who was one of the first to do a lot of microbial work and discover that the root causes of many diseases are biologically based in microrganisms. I would like to ask him what made him begin to suspect that microbes are the root cause of diseases.

To keep reading Mark’s interview, click here.

To read more Scientist at Work profiles, click here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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P2 Really Does Pay: Pollution Prevention in the Real World

By David Sarokin

In the course of our careers, we all collect stories. Here’s one of my P2 favorites.

Years ago, I asked a number of chemical companies to open their facilities to me so I could learn where P2 was occurring. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of companies who invited me in.

One facility, a urea-formaldehyde resin manufacturer, discovered P2 during a crisis. The company had discharged its wastewater to the local sewage plant. But a permit renewal suddenly restricted discharges to just a few parts per million of formaldehyde. The plant was stuck! There was no room for an on-site treatment facility, and it was too expensive to truck the wastes off-site. The company considered shuttering the aging facility.

The plant manager found a novel solution: a plant walk-through!

“For the first time,” he told me, “I went through our processes, step by step, to see where wastes were coming from.” His workers to did the same, and found dozens of instances of avoidable wastes. A disconnected hose, for example, was left to leak into a floor drain. “Not a lot in terms of lost material,” he noted, “but enough to contaminate a few million gallons of wastewater.”

The largest single source of waste was the backwash used to clean a product filter, a step that produced a wastestream with high concentrations of chemicals. The product caught in the filter was just a bit “lumpy” according to the plant manager. They had been rinsing the filter this way for a generation, without ever considering alternatives.

The workers devised a simple procedure to break up the lumps and reroute the backwash into the process, avoiding the generation of a huge quantity of formaldehyde-contaminated wastewater. The procedure also improved the overall economics of the resin production.

With a few more clever tweaks, the plant achieved its new discharge limits.

There were a few valuable take-aways from this story:

  • Waste that is out of sight, is out of mind
  • Challenge workers to eliminate waste, and they’ll probably find a way.
  • Pollution prevention pays
  • Regulations can be your friend

About the author: David Sarokin is a P2 specialist at EPA and the author of Cutting Chemical Wastes, one of the first major studies to focus on pollution prevention in the chemical industry.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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