Toxic secrets in our food? EDF joins in lawsuit aimed at protecting food safety

By Jack Pratt

Today, Environmental Defense Fund joined other groups in challenging a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that allows chemical and food manufacturers to decide for themselves – in secret – what chemicals and food additives can be added to foods. The practice puts our health at risk and does not fulfill Congress’ requirement that FDA determine that chemical additives are safe before they can be used in food.

Americans would be shocked to learn that food companies routinely add novel chemicals to our food without first getting FDA approval. In doing so, the companies are exploiting a loophole exempting ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) from formal FDA review and approval.

Originally intended for ingredients like vinegar and olive oil, industry now abuses the GRAS loophole by bypassing FDA review and making safety determinations in secret. The alarming result: even FDA does not know what is in our food. In fact, FDA has no way to know what chemicals are actually being used in which food or in what quantities—even in baby food.

Last year, the FDA issued a final rule formalizing this outrageous practice. We described this decision as a lost opportunity for safer food additives when the decision was made. Today, EDF and our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Working Group, represented by CFS and the environmental law firm Earthjustice, joined in filing suit against the FDA for unconstitutionally and illegally delegating that authority to self-interested food and chemical manufacturers.

It is disappointing that the groups were forced to take legal action. In addition to being a bad policy that doesn’t comply with law, or protect public health, the FDA is oddly out of touch with public sentiment. Just last week an industry funded survey showed overwhelming consumer concern about chemicals in food, including cancer causing chemicals, while showing diminished confidence in the food supply. This continues a trend that has been building for years. Food companies would be wise to take notice: adding secret chemicals without FDA scientific review to our food is no way to improve confidence in their products.

But with thousands of secret chemicals in our food, we can’t wait for industry or FDA to wise up. Today’s lawsuit seeks to force FDA to do what should be common sense—determine that food additives are safe before they can be added to our food.

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FDA is reevaluating its tolerances for lead in food, and food manufacturers should be prepared

By Tom Neltner

By Tom Neltner, J.D., EDF Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Until recently, we have known very little about lead exposure from food. Shockingly, a recent report from the EPA found that two-thirds of one-year olds get most of their lead exposure from food. This and other developments in recent years have prompted FDA to reevaluate its procedures regarding lead levels in food. Leading companies should take notice.

We have written about the health risk of lead exposure from major sources such as paint and water and the well-known fact that there is no safe level of lead in the blood of children. We also wrote about what agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are doing to reduce or eliminate persistent sources of lead exposure as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In its recently released FAQs for lead in food, FDA describes what it has done, its current standards and its planned next steps. The agency makes no reference to EPA’s assessment and attributes all of the lead in food to contaminated soil. Because it assumes that the environment is the only source, contamination is unavoidable and lead cannot be removed from the food supply.

To limit lead in food to the greatest extent possible, FDA set the following tolerances:

  • Bottled water: 5 parts per billion (ppb);
  • Juices from berries and other small fruits, including grapes, and passion fruits: 50 ppb;
  • Other fruit juices and nectars, including apple: 30 ppb;
  • Candy likely to be consumed by small children: 100 ppb; and
  • Dried fruits, including raisins: 100 ppb.

Only the bottled water tolerance is established in regulations. For the rest, FDA provides only guidance.

How did FDA set the tolerances?

The 5 ppb limit in bottled water was established by FDA in 1995 based on the inability to reliably measure below that level and that only 2 of 48 (4%) samples collected by FDA exceeded those levels. For comparison, in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended lead levels in drinking water at schools be less than 1 ppb.

The fruit juice limits are based on international food standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), an organization representing 188 countries and the European Union. Those standards were designed to ensure that only about 5% of the juice samples would exceed them. While Codex recognizes the risks posed by lead, its standard was not based on those risks.

For all other foods, FDA relies on a maximum daily intake level of 6 micrograms of lead per day (µg/day) for young children that it established in 1993 based on CDC’s Level of Concern of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).

One million children exceed FDA’s current maximum daily intake level

In the FAQs, FDA affirmed that “there is no known identified safe blood lead level” and acknowledges that scientific information has become available in the last decade that indicates neurotoxic effects at low levels of exposure to lead. It notes that the evidence has prompted EPA to lower its air quality standard, CDC to strengthen its standards, and the Joint WHO and FAO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) to withdraw its limit for lead because it concluded there was no safe level in food. With this backdrop, FDA is reevaluating “its methods for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers.”

At EDF, we are pleased to see FDA has undertaken this long overdue reevaluation. EPA’s draft report estimates that more than 5% of children between 2 and 7 years consume more than the 6 µg of lead/day FDA says is tolerable. This estimate excludes drinking water. With 20 million children in those age groups, that means 1 million children exceed the maximum daily intake level. And, by all accounts, this 1993 level does not reflect the mounting scientific evidence that has led other science-based organizations to reduce their standards. We are also encouraged to see that FDA is willing to be more protective of children’s health by conducting its own assessment rather than just following the Codex standards for fruit juices.

Food manufacturers and retailers can better earn consumer trust and avoid more costly reactions to regulations by updating their preventive controls and supply chain management programs now to reduce lead levels in food.

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What we know so far about Rick Perry’s power grid “study”

By Jim Marston

Among Rick Perry’s first acts as Secretary of Energy was calling for a 60-day “study” of whether any policies or regulations have led to the premature retirement of coal or nuclear plants. I – and many others in the clean energy industry – are concerned this so-called study will amount to little more than a pro-coal fluff piece.

To people familiar with energy policy and the coal industry’s rhetoric, Perry’s request is a transparent promotion of coal and a backdoor attack on clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency. Besides, 60 days is barely enough time to fill job vacancies in a new administration, much less conduct a thorough analysis of America’s complex energy policies.

But until the report is released, we can only look at what Perry and other Trump appointees have said and done about energy, generally, and coal, specifically, to predict what arguments Perry’s office will make.

Over the next few weeks, EDF will examine several of the administration’s pro-coal arguments and explain why:


What we know so far about Rick Perry’s power grid “study”
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  • Perry’s coal propaganda has nothing to do with reliability and everything to do with giving the pollution industry what it wants. The “grid reliability” angle is a ruse, and one Perry used a decade ago when he tried to fast track new coal plants in Texas. This issue has been studied relentlessly by grid operators and government agencies around the country, and the grid is handling coal’s decline just fine. The Trump administration is using the reliability argument as cover to distract the American people from their close ties with the coal industry. Just look at Perry’s staff at DOE – it’s a who’s who of the fossil fuel industry lobby. His Chief of Staff, who will manage the study, worked for the Edison Electric Institute – where he led its anti-solar campaign.
  • Perry’s (and Trump’s and Pruitt’s) flip-flop on states’ rights is hypocritical. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently took time off from decimating our clean air and water protections to second Perry’s argument that some state policies that encourage fuels other than coal could be a national security risk and should be reversed. I must admit, suggesting that coal makes America safer is a clever tactic. But it’s not true, and I suspect this tack is little more than a way for Perry and Pruitt to counter all their vile attacks against the federal government when they were governor of Texas and attorney general of Oklahoma. Apparently, states’ rights are so 2016.
  • Coal is terrible for the economy, human health, and the environment. Propping up the ailing coal industry will hurt the economy and American jobs, serving as another broken promise from Trump. Market trends undeniably show that cleaner, smarter energy – like solar and wind – is creating more jobs than fossil fuel electricity. Furthermore, we know doubling down on dirty coal means more asthma attacks, more health problems for elderly Americans, and a more polluted future.

The Trump administration may look chaotic, but its actions suggest it is meticulously and unapologetically laying the groundwork for four years of pro-coal policy. This so-called study is just another step of the plan. See also Trump’s latest 2018 budget proposal – leaked last week – which aims to cut funding for DOE’s renewable and energy efficiency program by 70 percent.

So stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

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What’s next for NextGrid – Illinois’ ‘Utility of the Future’ process

By EDF Blogs

By Christie Hicks, Manager, Clean Energy Regulatory Implementation

Many experts anticipate the electric utility industry evolving more in the next 10 years than it has in the past 100.

So noted the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), when it recently initiated the “NextGrid” Utility of the Future Study. NextGrid is a statewide, collaborative effort to rethink the roles of the utility, the customer, and energy solution providers in a 21st-century electric grid.

The ICC invited stakeholders to participate in NextGrid, welcoming suggestions for how the process should work. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), partnering with the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), recommended NextGrid ensure that upcoming technological advances enable a more dynamic grid – one that is cleaner, affordable, reliable, equitable, and more responsive to customer needs. But how do we get there?

Smart evolution

Over the last several years, Illinois has taken steps that put it on the forefront of the smart grid revolution. In 2011, Illinois’ Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act propelled the state’s two largest electric utilities, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren, to undertake billions of dollars in smart-grid investments, like AMI (advanced metering infrastructure). As a result, smart meters will be deployed throughout most of the state by 2019, and customers are anxious to start enjoying the benefits, like easier access to energy-use data and enhanced efficiency.


What’s next for NextGrid – Illinois’ ‘Utility of the Future’ process
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Further underlining its role as a clean-energy innovator, Illinois passed the bipartisan Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) in December of last year. Utilizing the new smart grid infrastructure in the state, FEJA encourages the adoption of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar; expands the state’s existing energy efficiency standard; and includes a focus on economically-disadvantaged groups (like through the new solar job training program). The historic legislation provides exciting opportunities for Illinoisans to enjoy the economic, health, and societal benefits of clean energy advances.

The NextGrid journey

FEJA takes effect on June 1, and the ICC is responsible for implementing many of the new law’s requirements. To kick-start the law into action, ICC will use NextGrid as an 18-month customer-focused and collaborative study led by an outside, expert facilitator. Here’s what NextGrid will do:

  • Identify and explore future technological advancements and utility and regulatory models;
  • Inform policymakers on potential issues and challenges of the quickly-evolving energy landscape; and
  • Provide recommendations to the ICC and Illinois legislators on actions that ensure customers and communities benefit.

Charting a path

Numerous innovations in energy-related technology are on the horizon, and many new, innovative products and services are already available. Meanwhile, customer expectations for utilities are evolving: Customers want more information about, and greater control over, their energy sources and use.

Fortunately, a changing energy system presents many opportunities for building a smarter, more connected electric grid. For example, system reliability – which was a key selling point of advanced metering investments – can be improved using a number of tools, from solar panels to microgrids to battery storage. Rooftop and community solar are largely nonexistent in Illinois right now, but the Future Energy Jobs Act will facilitate significant growth in the next decade (it’s already starting to take off in Chicago).

The ICC should prioritize system reliability, as well as equitable access to these new opportunities.

First, we recommend an educational process to develop a “problem statement” that provides guidance and establishes a sound analytical foundation. EDF and CUB warned against putting the cart before the horse – i.e. before the Commission can make policy decisions or identify potential areas of consensus or disagreement, everyone should have a strong knowledge base for the emerging technologies, system trends, opportunities, and challenges. This phase of NextGrid should be facilitated by a neutral third-party, such as a university, who will invite local and national experts to provide input on identified trends and possible future scenarios.

While some customers put reliability at the top of their list, others say affordability is most important, and still others focus on reduced air and water pollution.

Once the problem statement has been created, working groups can be established to identify, evaluate, score, and test possible future scenarios. Scenarios could include significant adoption of rooftop solar, innovative energy efficiency measures, or increased electric vehicle adoption, and the impact of each will be measured against the possibility of maintaining the status quo.

Led by a process management facilitator with expertise in energy system regulatory processes, this phase would consider what customers expect and desire out of the energy system. This will be different for different people: While some customers put reliability at the top of their list, others say affordability is most important, and still others focus on reduced air and water pollution. Environmental sustainability, energy affordability, system reliability, customer satisfaction, and equity should all be considered. Then, the parties should consider how to use new technologies, services, third parties, market designs, and other solutions identified in the first phase to achieve their goals.

The formal process should kick off this summer. EDF and CUB are excited to engage in NextGrid and will work to ensure that it paves the way for a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable energy future for Illinois.

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Healthier, safer summers – brought to you by EPA

By Mandy Warner

This weekend is Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer. That means kids across the country – and adults too – are counting down the days until summer vacation.

Whether your plans include going to a beach, visiting a national park, or just letting your kids play outside in the sprinklers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important role in making your summer healthier and safer – in ways you might not realize.

Here are four examples of how EPA improves summers for all Americans:

  1. Reducing deadly smog

Smog comes from pollution emitted from cars, power plants, and other sources. It can lead to asthma attacks, heart attacks and even deaths.

The summer smog season has already started in most parts of the country. A number of “code orange” days – the terms for days when the air may be too dangerous for some people, like children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions, to be outdoors – have already been issued.

Los Angeles in 1948 USC Libraries Special Collections – Los Angeles Examiner

Smog has improved significantly in recent decades, thanks to EPA and state leadership, but air quality in the U.S. continues to be a serious problem that can jeopardize public health and limit many individuals’ freedom to spend time outdoors. The American Lung Association estimates that more than a third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog.

EPA has worked for decades to reduce smog, most recently when the agency issued new standards for smog in 2015. Once they’re in effect, those standards will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children every year. That doesn’t include the benefits for California, which EPA calculated separately – the smog standards will prevent another 160,000 asthma attacks among children in that state alone.

Los Angeles nowAlamy

Unfortunately, smog standards are under attack in Congress. Several bills to delay and fundamentally alter how these and other air pollution standards are set are now moving through the Senate. Additionally, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 cuts funding for the air monitoring that warns families about “Code Red” and “Code Orange” days – the days when air quality reaches unhealthy levels – by almost one third. 

  1. Safer, cleaner beaches

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunity to spend time on the beach.

Last year, U.S. beach attendance was almost 360 million (more than the entire U.S. population!).

Unfortunately, beaches can be shut down by pollution – including raw sewage, which can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make people sick.

An analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council a few years ago looked at water samples from 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches – and found that 10 percent of them were above EPA’s benchmark for swimmer safety. The analysis also notes that an estimated 3.5 million people are sickened every year from contact with raw sewage.

EPA – in partnership with states, local governments, and others – works to protect our nation’s beaches. The agency enforces laws and administers programs that regulate sources of water pollution at beaches, conducts leading scientific research on pathogens and sets national standards and criteria, funds grants to states and local governments to help protect our beaches, provides information to the public about water quality, and more. This work helps ensure that America’s beaches stay safe, clean, and open for visitors.

Here are a few examples of beach monitoring and cleanup grants distributed by EPA:

  • Lakeview Beach Green Infrastructure Project in the Great Lakes. The City of Lorain, Ohio got a $250,000 grant to construct a “green” stormwater treatment system at the city’s Lakeview Park, located on Lake Erie. The new system will reduce the E. coli bacteria in stormwater from being directly discharged into Lake Erie at Lakeview Beach, and will reduce the frequency of bacteria-related beach closures.

President Trump’s proposed budget for EPA would eliminate the beach monitoring grants program, among many other things that could impact the health of our nation’s beaches.

  1. Cleaning up the air in our national parks

Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and a hazy dayNational Park Service

National parks are a popular destination for summer vacationers across the country.

According to the National Park Service, there were over 307 million visits to our national parks last year and those visitors spent $16.9 billion in surrounding communities. This spending supported 295,000 jobs and contributed $32 billion to economic output nationally.

EPA and other agencies monitor visibility at 155 national parks and wilderness areas across the country. Unfortunately, many national parks suffer from haze – a form of pollution – that can tarnish scenic vistas and create health problems for visitors.

EPA’s program to reduce haze and other pollution harming our parks has led to measurable improvements in visibility. However, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, three out of four of our most iconic national parks struggle with unhealthy air, and visitors miss about 50 miles of scenery because of haze.

EPA’s work to reduce the pollution affecting our parks is under threat by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued EPA over a plan to reduce haze when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.

  1. Reducing the pollution contributing to climate change

Climate change affects virtually every facet of our lives and can exacerbate all of the problems listed above – more smoggy days, rising sea levels and more pathogens potentially spreading at beaches, and worse haze in our parks.

Extreme summer heat can also cause illness and death, and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of those potentially deadly heat waves.

EPA has provided essential leadership to address climate change – including setting standards that would reduce pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, oil and gas operations, and more. Actions underway by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and severe budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed EPA budget could significantly harm the progress we’ve made and delay urgently needed protections for public health and our climate.

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have indicated they will seek to unravel numerous climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Their proposed budget for EPA and other agencies undermines climate research and policies, including by zeroing out the U.S. Climate Action Plan.

Protecting the things that we love about summer

EPA’s work protects our air, our water, our beautiful beaches and parks – and most important, the health and safety of our families. As you enjoy your summer, please remember how important it is to protect the qualities that make summer great.

We need a strong EPA – now and all year long. More than just our summers are at stake.

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Toxic Exposures: 10 Americans expose the toxic chemicals in our environment

By Lindsay McCormick

Every day we are exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals we can’t see —chemicals used in everything from the clothes we wear to the lotions we use and even the couch we sit on. Synthetic chemicals are used to make 96% of products in the United States. Yet scientific research continues to link chemicals in common use to health effects like cancer, infertility, and asthma.

EDF selected 10 individuals across the country to wear a novel wristband technology designed to detect chemicals in their environment for one week – including Gordon, Karen, and Averi.

 

Gordon is a lieutenant for the Memphis Fire Department. Gordon’s wristband detected 16 chemicals, including gamma-chlordane, a pesticide that has been banned in the U.S. since the 1980s, and 3,4-dichlorophenyl isocyanate, a “chemical intermediate,” which is reportedly used exclusively for chemical manufacturing processes. While there were no fires to fight the week he wore the wristband, Gordon wondered if he came into contact with these chemicals from a site visit to a location that formerly housed chemical stockpiles, his local auto repair shop, the nearby highway – or even his fire suit.

 

Karen is an 8th grade science teacher who engages her students in citizen science projects like measuring air pollutants using portable air monitors. The chemical-detecting wristband was another great teaching tool for Karen’s students. Among other chemicals, Karen’s wristband detected the flame retardant BDE 47, which was phased out of U.S. production in the mid-2000s due to health impacts on the developing brain and persistence in the environment. Karen hopes that personal exposure monitors like the wristband will become more available to the general public in the future, noting that her students would love to wear the wristbands themselves: “The students are very curious. They love this project!”

 

Averi is a student at The College of Wooster, currently doing her senior research project on sustainable interior design. Averi’s wristband detected several chemicals that can be found in personal care products – such as lotions, shampoos and conditioners – including the fragrance enhancer diethyl phthalate, the preservative benzyl benzoate and the synthetic fragrance galaxolide. After wearing the wristband, Averi reflected, “It struck me that I may be interacting with the most toxic chemicals when I am showering… in the place where I am trying to get clean.”

The wristbands and other emerging chemical monitoring technologies promise to transform our understanding of environmental exposures to chemicals – by making the invisible, visible – and in so doing, open up new opportunities for reducing exposures.

Learn more about the project and what our participants had to say about the experience here.

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