Thursday, July 26, 2012

Flame retardant risks overblown

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and 25 members of Congress recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging quick action on regulations related to a class of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

Supposedly, consumers are in grave danger from these chemicals, and EPA needs to act quickly. The lawmakers lament in their letter that the EPA “must undertake lengthy rulemaking processes” before regulating these chemicals.

We should be glad that EPA has to take time to consider the science because their actions may do more harm than good if they act too quickly.

In fact, there isn’t a compelling body of evidence that trace-level consumer exposures to these flame retardants have caused any health problems, whereas there is plenty evidence that they reduce dangerous fire risks.

A study by the American Council and Health shows that the hype about flame retardant risks could actually imperil public health. Author William P. Kucewicz explains:
    Life-saving flame-retardant chemicals are under assault. Ignoring the vitally important role these compounds play in preventing or slowing fires, environmental activists advocate banning certain flame retardants on the grounds that biomonitoring studies have found trace amounts of the chemicals in humans, including in breast milk. They hope to get various governmental authorities in the U.S. and overseas to impose strict prohibitions on these flame-retardant chemicals.

    At issue is a class of brominated flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs). Within this group, three commercial mixtures of PBDEs are: penta-, octa-, and decaBDE. Each product is a mixture of diphenyl ethers with varying degrees of bromination. These particular PBDEs have widely and frequently been used as flame retardants in furniture foam (pentaBDE); plastics for TV cabinets, consumer electronics, wire insulation, and backcoatings for draperies and upholstery (decaBDE); and plastics for personal computers and small appliances (octaBDE). The chemicals increase valuable escape time in cases of fire by slowing both ignition and the rate of fire growth. (USEPA 2005a)

    Efforts to ban these chemicals are deadly serious business. In the U.S., someone dies in a fire every two hours and ten minutes, and the vast majority (85 percent) of these non-firefighter, civilian deaths occur in home fires. The fire death rate is 14.8 persons for every one million Americans. (BFRIP 2002) In view of the public debate and regulatory reviews of PBDEs, a look at some flame-retardancy facts is in order.

    Nevertheless, U.S. and European regulators have effectively banned two of the three most prominent PBDE flame retardants. An assortment of states, environmental groups, and foreign governments, moreover, is seeking to ban the third one (i.e., decaBDE) as well, even though there is no credible evidence that the chemical represents a danger to humans or the environment.

    Numerous studies, in fact, have concluded that our exposure to the compound is minimal and does not pose an adverse health risk for people at expected exposures. Current evidence shows that the benefits of PBDE flame retardants, in terms of lives saved and injuries prevented, far outweigh any demonstrated or likely negative health effects from their use.


Cheese 'beats diabetes': Just two slices a day could reduce risk of developing the disease, study claims

The effect observed was a tiny one -- too small to guide anything

If you are trying to slim down, you may have crossed cheese off the menu.  But scientists have discovered it may actually help prevent diabetes – an illness often triggered by being overweight.

They claim that eating just two slices of cheese a day cuts the risk of type 2 diabetes by 12 per cent.  Researchers hypothesised that fermentation of cheese could trigger a reaction that protects against diabetes

The findings go against current health guidelines, which advise cutting back on dairy products and other high-fat foods to help prevent the illness.

British and Dutch researchers looked at the diets of 16,800 healthy adults and 12,400 patients with type 2 diabetes from eight European countries, including the UK.  The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who ate at least 55g of cheese a day – around two slices – were 12 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The risk fell by the same amount for those who ate 55g of yoghurt a day.

For years NHS guidelines have advised against eating too much dairy, cake or red meat as they are high in saturated fat. This is thought to increase cholesterol and raise the risk of diabetes.

But the researchers – including academics from the Medical Research Council, Cambridge – say not all saturated fats are as harmful as others, and some may even be beneficial.  One theory is that the so-called ‘probiotic’ bacteria in cheese and yoghurt lower cholesterol and produce certain vitamins which prevent diabetes.

And cheese, milk and yoghurt are also high in vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, which may help protect against the condition.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin to control its blood sugar levels. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include feeling very thirsty, needing to pass water frequently and constant tiredness.

Although the illness is treatable through methods such as dietary changes, tablets and injections, it can cause serious complications if not properly looked after.

But despite the latest findings, campaigners warned against  gorging on cheese and other dairy products in the hope of warding  off diabetes.  Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, said: ‘It is too simplistic to concentrate on individual foods.  ‘We recommend a healthy balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and low in salt and fat.

‘This study gives us no reason to believe that people should change their dairy intake in an attempt to avoid the condition.’


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