fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Monday, January 19, 2009

Miss Information and a smoking gun in the shape of a Tickle Me Elmo

You've already seen this, right? I may be guilty of a bit of unintentional misinformation, but never sophistry, Miss Information. (And, Ms. Vallese, I'd really, really think twice about giving a video interview sitting in front of seven-foot-tall cannabis plant. Just for future reference. And that bit about "mommy blogs," girl, today's mothers have creativity, attitude, education, friends everywhere and high speed Internet access. Again, for future reference, you just do not want to go there.). And, I, personally, am not part of any concerted effort. I am independent to a fault.

Nope, I haven't beat this dead horse quite enough. Today, of lead and phthalates.

I like numbers. I've learned (really learned, like there was a test and a grade and everything) how to view numbers and statistics critically. Plus, our family recreation is not camping nor board games nor model train building. Rather, it's developing quantifiable arguments to support your case (it's an occupational hazard being married to the Professor). Really, Jack now comes to the table armed with a cost/benefit analysis of the iPod Touch vs. Nano. No "Dear Santa" letters anymore.

So, I want numbers on lead poisoning and phthalate toxicity in children in America. And I'm left wondering if lead and phthalates from toys and clothes is presently about as much of a threat to America as were Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Just wondering. I want to take the emotion out of it.

I did some basic googling. U.S. Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services, and so on, because those guys have the money to get the good numbers on things like this. The following dart throwing would never meet the standards of quantification required by the Professor. But it paints a rough picture. So take this with a grain of phthlalate and read on.

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed into law to regulate the amount of lead and phthalates in children's products through exhaustive testing, certification and tracking. Let's talk about lead first, because there is a lot we know about the effects of lead on humans. Much less is known about phthalates. I'll get to that in a bit.

About 50 million children in the United States are ages 12 and under. Approximately 890,000 have elevated levels of lead in their blood. That is about 1.8% of all children in the United States. That is down from over 80% in the 1960s/1970s before the lead in paint laws were passed and lead was removed from gasoline.

If the source of 80% of elevated lead in the bloodstream is from the dust of older buildings, that leaves approximately 178,000 children in the United States who are exposed to lead in other ways. That's approximately 0.4% of the population of children. With the exception of the youth in Minnesota, who swallowed a shoe charm, there are no current death statistics for children in the United States for lead poisoning that I could find. The few adult deaths in the United States attributed to lead poisoning in the past ten years came as a result of drinking moonshine. I could also not find the numbers on neurological, reproductive and kidney damage, although it is likely there are health and economic impacts there, which I do not want to cast aside without mention. At any rate, in what manner could these 178,000 children been exposed to lead? Here are some common proven modern sources of lead in the environment:
  • Lead from water pipes and the soldering between sections of pipe will leach into drinking water, especially where the water has a high acidity.
  • Lead can be found in rivers and lakes, some of it is naturally occurring, however, most of it is the result of human activity of the past 100 years or so.
  • Lead is found in the air and on surfaces in areas where lead is processed, for example, near lead mines, foundries and smelting plants.
  • While leaded gasoline has been phased out, lead remains a component in airplane fuel.
  • Improperly disposed batteries will corrode and leak lead into the environment.
  • Burning of coal, oil and household waste will release lead into the atmosphere.
  • And, if you are like me and skip straight to bullet points, I will mention again that household dust is the greatest source of lead, especially in buildings built before 1972. That could be your house. That could be your school. That could be your daycare center.
Lead is one of the most prevalent naturally occurring elements. However, the amount of lead in the environment today, a thousand-fold increase over 100 years ago, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is because of human activity. It is interesting and frightening, that the lead from gasolines and paints and all manner of industry from 30 years ago (and the hundred years of industrialization before that) is hanging on very tightly still to the top layer of soil. Lead didn't just go away when we outlawed it. It's right there, just where we left it. Because of the chemical nature of lead, the way it easily combines with other elements, lead sticks around right there near the top.

I would like to point out, that while lead has been found in the paint of toys and some children's jewelry to an alarming amount, there is no research to support that toys and clothes are a source of lead exposure to children. I'm not saying that toys and clothes are not a "vector" for lead. Toys and clothes very well could be. Just no one has solid, quantifiable evidence.

So, is the CPSIA the best way to protect 178,000 children from lead toxicity?

The United State toy market is approximately $22 bn in 2007 or 30% of the world toy market.

For 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau has children's clothing retail being about a $7bn business. (This was a 2002 survey, which I'd argue is "pre-handmade phenomenon", which is primarily Internet-driven. So I don't think you guys are in there. I'll throw a dart and say that's another half-a-million).

Consumer spending on toys, believe it or not, remains pretty consistent, even in troubled economies. I just heard that on Marketplace recently.

Altogether, if these numbers are any good anymore, children's clothing and toys is a market segment of around $30 bn.

Let's say about half of that revenue "goes away" as a result of inability to comply with CPSIA. In the U.S. economy of $13 trillion, not even a blip on the radar (and, for the sake of argument, to keep it simple, I am not including any trickle down effects, like the economic hardships caused by this and the reduced spending power. In my argument, all those unemployed people will immediately find comparably paying new work and maintain their same spending habits. Makes sense in this economy. Sure, right.). However, per affected child, that is about $8.4K annually for, let's say 1o years until the market recoups. That is a cost per child to lower lead levels of $84,000 caused by lead contained in toys and clothes. Just from toys and clothes.

This loss to the economy is all money well spent, if, in fact, this eliminated lead from a child's environment. If. Remember, dad still comes home from the smelting plant in his work clothes and the kids still play down at the river bank and Junior still helps in the family garden and the children still live in houses built before 1972 and our little ones still go to school in buildings built before 1972 and these rascals still come in contact with all manner of household items that have undergone no testing whatsoever and some oil and coal-burning power plants are still not up to environmental snuff and I'll bet your landfill has quite a number of improperly disposed batteries and, darn it, if Farmer Brown still isn't burning all his trash. Just saying.

I'll make a prediction: If we can just get these celebrities to remove the $130 lead-encrusted pacifiers from the mouths of their oddly-monikered progeny, that after a year of certified testing and compliance with CPSIA, I predict that the percentage of kids with elevated amounts of lead in their blood will remain about the same. Here: I'm putting a dollar in an envelop and you can collect it in August 2010 if I am incorrect. I hope I lose this bet.

Since we are on topic, let's talk about this new vocabulary word, phthalate. Scrabble score of 17. Phthalates are miraculous chemical compounds that "plasticize," make plastics and many other things flexible. Phthalates are a category of acids that are used in just about everything plastic, as well as all manner of cosmetics, lotions, perfumes, food packaging, furniture, paint (paint, there's paint again), floor coverings, nail polish (ever treat your princess to a mini-mani/pedi?), socks, hosiery, carpets, even some foods ... (see where this is going?). If it bends and shines, there is a very good chance there are phthalates in there. There is also a very good chance that phthalates are in you. That's right: vous. The CDC did a toxicity level report across the U.S. population for phthalates. Conclusion? People have a lot of these chemicals floating around in their bodies. A lot. Depending on the particular phthalate, some 97% of the U.S. population has this stuff in their bodies. Creepy, huh? (My guess is that Elastigirl has a lot of phthalates in her bloodstream. Be flexible, laugh a little).

The American Academy of Pediatrics goes so far as to say, "Human exposure is universal" (I'd encourage you to read the entire AAP report on phthalates. I've cut and pasted the conclusions below). Unfortunately, few studies have been made on the effects of phthalate toxicity in children and/or adults. I found one study, ten years old, which links phthalate toxicity and abnormalities of the male reproductive system in male fetuses as extrapolated from animal data on a Web site called "Our Stolen Future" (think there might be a bias there? Just a little bit?). The research appeared in Toxicology and Industrial Health, which is peer reviewed, however, it doesn't look like a top medical journal (I'm looking through the abstracts for a bunch of the articles and the researchers are working at second-tier schools, the EPA, many corporate researchers, an Egyptian univeristy...not a Harvard or John Hopkins or Stanford researcher in the bunch. In other words, there's research and then there's Research. The way I see it, in ten years, somebody else, surely, would have done some supporting research somewhere, because this is the kind of research on which tenure is built. Even the Holy Grail, an article in Science. Maybe even, dare we say lest we jinx, Stockholm? Think of it: Plastics being bad for children? A serious carcinogen? Causing male infertility (sexy stuff like that ends up on 60 Minutes)? Floating around in 97% of the population? Really, that kind of hypothesis should have medical school department chairs whipping a whole herds of PhD candidates into a data gathering frenzy. If you are a medical school department chair, consider this your memo.). I'd like to see a top journal show me some phthalate research. Please post a link or a reference to a link. I'll stand happily corrected. We may have to wait another ten years (or more or less) for the initial research subjects to tell us how well they're doing in the fertility department, if they have managed better than the lab animals to which they were compared. Frankly, these particular research institutes do not do very many twenty-year-plus studies. Just not in the budget, like at Harvard or John Hopkins.

Here are the conclusions of the AAP here (bold added by me):

Phthalates are important components of PVC and other consumer products and are widely distributed environmental contaminants. DEHP and DINP are phthalates of particular concern because of their known toxicities and the potential for significant exposure in sensitive populations.
  • Human exposure to phthalates is universal. Levels of exposure in the general population are estimated to be on the order of tens of µg per kg per day. Food is considered to be the major source of exposure to DEHP and DINP, excluding occupational exposure, nondietary ingestions, and for DEHP only, medical exposures.
  • Human data on exposure to phthalates are very limited. In particular, data on the magnitude and distribution of exposures in sensitive subpopulations, such as women of childbearing age, neonates, infants, and toddlers in the general population and medically exposed fetuses, premature infants, neonates, young children, and adolescents, are lacking. New biomarker data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cast doubt on the accuracy of previous estimates of human exposure, which have been used for risk assessment to date.
  • DEHP and DINP are animal carcinogens, but most recent information suggests that the mechanisms of carcinogenesis may not be relevant to human systems. DEHP is a reproductive toxicant, and DEHP and DINP are developmental toxicants in animals. The most sensitive system is the immature male reproductive tract. The mechanisms of reproductive toxicity are distinct from the mechanism of carcinogenesis.
  • No studies have been performed to evaluate human toxicity from exposure to these compounds.
  • As with many environmental toxicants, children may be at higher risk of adverse effects of phthalates because of anticipated higher exposures during a time of developmental and physiologic immaturity. In response to this theoretical concern, measures to decrease possible exposure through nondietary ingestion are underway. In the United States and Canada, all phthalates have been removed from infant bottle nipples, teethers, and toys intended for mouthing. Manufacturers have voluntarily begun to substitute the less toxic DINP for DEHP in other toys.
  • Pediatric medical exposures to DEHP are of concern. DEHP has been documented to be toxic to the male reproductive tract in laboratory animals at doses near those resulting from intensive medical procedures in humans.2 Although some of the species and route differences suggest a lower risk to human infants of testicular damage from DEHP exposure, some medical exposures involve concomitant exposure to MEHP, the toxic metabolite. Sertoli cells continue to increase in number through puberty; therefore, medical exposures beyond the newborn period may also be of concern.71 There are no studies that have evaluated the effect of medical exposures to DEHP and MEHP on testicular function in humans.67
  • In light of recent toxicology and exposure evidence and the concern of the CERHR expert panel for the medically exposed infant, medical institutions, including neonatal and pediatric intensive care units and dialysis units, may find it necessary to look at the risk-benefit relationship between DEHP-containing medical devices and their alternatives. Interventions designed to minimize DEHP exposure in the medical setting could be designed. DEHP has important characteristics that improve the function of medical devices. Any substitutes must be shown to be toxicologically safer and functionally equivalent. Publication of a comprehensive comparison of developmental and reproductive toxicities between DEHP and proposed alternatives would be useful. In addition, studies designed to evaluate total DEHP and MEHP exposure from multiple concurrent medical procedures could be very valuable in resolving this controversy.
  • Improved data on pediatric exposures to phthalate esters, including transplacental, breast milk, medical, and nondietary ingestion, would significantly facilitate accurate risk assessments.
  • Improved understanding of the toxicokinetics of phthalates, including creation, distribution, and excretion of the toxic metabolites in subhuman primates or exposed humans, would enable more accurate evaluation of acceptable exposure levels. Determination of the toxicokinetics of phthalates in sensitive subpopulations, including pregnant and lactating women, premature infants, full-term infants, and small children, is also needed.
On the other hand: Research-shmesearch. Common sense tells me it's not good to have a bunch of man-made chemicals floating around in our bodies. So, sure, I'd like to make them disappear. But if human exposure to these chemicals is universal, if phthalates are in food, lotions and socks, for Pete's sake, how, I mean, how, really, how do we keep them out of the bodies of children? I'm open for suggestions. How? Will CPSIA do the trick? Ya think?

I like what the AAP wrote here:

"The 1990s began a period of increased attention to the special vulnerabilities of children to environmental hazards. The conflicting conclusions on the safety of phthalates under current exposure conditions provide important illustrations of the subtlety and complexity of the science and policy components required to protect children from environmental hazards. Pediatricians are well positioned to provide leadership in advocating for child-protective standards and policy on phthalates and all areas of children’s environmental health. Conclusions about health risks specific to DEHP and DINP can be generalized to many environmental toxicants and aide the development of research priorities and policy decisions that will promote and protect children’s environmental health."

"...and aide the development of research priorities and policy decisions that will promote and protect children's environmental health..." Got that? That means to me, let's look at the problem before we come to a solution. And not a shot-from-the-hip solution as CPSIA seems to be.

Boy, do I dislike agreeing with industry. I'd prefer to be able to side with those hip PIRG people. Really. If I had to choose with whom I'd want to have lunch? The Toy Industry Association or PIRG? Those good-hearted PIRG people, of course, not those yahoos that market Bratz or the Singing Barney Plush. Not those guys at all. Do I want environmental toxins removed? That would be awesome. Do I think CPSIA will do it? I'm having a lot of doubts.

About 300 children die annually from HIV/AIDS. 5,000 die from automobile accidents. 1000 die of homicide and "legal intervention", meaning neglect and abuse. 500 die of pneumonia. And so forth and so on. Those are deaths, recorded verified deaths, we can tackle head on. We know the solutions to those. And we needn't take down an entire industry to do so.

1 comment:

Miss K.P.-Ness said...

Uh, Dude-ette, what's with the HUGE pot plant? I mean, Why? Huh?


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