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Chemicals found in everyday products pose health threats, study finds

By Marilyn Malara
Commonly used chemicals found in a variety of products ranging from cell phones to pizza boxes have been found to pose health threats, a new study finds. File Photo by THPStock/Shutterstock.
Commonly used chemicals found in a variety of products ranging from cell phones to pizza boxes have been found to pose health threats, a new study finds. File Photo by THPStock/Shutterstock.

WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- Hundreds of scientists around the world are campaigning to urge manufacturers to halt the use of common chemicals present in thousands of products from electronics to pizza boxes.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are the substances used to keep pizza boxes sturdy even when saturated with oil. The name may ring a bell as DuPont banned one long-chain type of the chemical years ago for being linked to cancer.

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The subsequent replacements to that chemical, however, also have toxic qualities according to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives by Linda S. Birnbaum from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program and Philippe Grandjean, from the Harvard School of Public Health.

PFASs make products resistant to high temperatures, apparently adding to their shelf life and durability. They are used in water and oil repellents as well as consumer products like makeup, furniture and food packaging. The chemicals have been detected in the blood streams of a large portion of the population due to its extensive utilization and reportedly linger for long periods of time, although in low doses.

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Birnbaum and Grandjean's study confirmed that all chains of PFASs used in these products are harmful--not just the previously banned long-chain types.

"Research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs," the authors wrote. "The question is, should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment? And, in the absence of indisputably safe alternatives, are consumers willing to give up certain product functionalities, such as stain resistance, to protect themselves against potential health risks?"

"These conundrums cannot be resolved by science alone but need to be considered in an open discussion informed by the scientific evidence," the authors added.

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Not everyone agrees. Companies that manufacture using PFASs insist that the established alternatives are safe. DuPont's head of risk management for its chemical manufacturing division, Thomas H. Samples, vehemently contests the scientists' concerns:

"We don't dismiss the right of folks to debate this," Samples told the New York Times. "But we just believe based on the 10-year history of extensive studies done on the alternatives, that the regulatory agencies have done their job of determining that these things are safe for their intended uses."

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Boston University school of public health professor Thomas F. Webster also told the daily, "It's likely [PFASs are] going to have some health effects, it just may take us a while to figure out what it is. It might take five or 10 years to really do the research."

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