Health & Environment

Health & Environment is CPES’ monthly e-publication, where we explore in detail emerging issues in the environmental health field, including new scientific developments, emerging evidence around how chemicals may affect health, new initiatives in managing chemical risks, and how regulation can better respond to science.

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Highlights from Health & Environment

A tale of two colleges: is it really controversial to advise mothers about potential health effects of chemical exposures? #64, October 2013. This month, ACOG published a Committee Opinion about exposure to toxic environmental agents. It describes “reducing exposure to toxic environmental agents” as a “critical area of intervention”. A similar paper was published on the same theme in the United Kingdom in June this year, when the UK equivalent of ACOG, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), issued a Scientific Impact Paper titled “Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy”. For a short paper intended for internal use by members of RCOG, the publication brought on a storm of criticism and press interest, with almost all major printed media outlets picking up on the story.

Parabens: endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and food? #60, June 2013. Parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics. They have appeared in the news because of concern about their endocrine-disrupting potential, in particular their ability to mimic oestrogen, with a study in 2012 finding parabens in almost 100% of breast samples from breast cancer patients.

However, people may be less aware of the use of parabens in foodstuffs, identifiable on labelling as additives E214-219. The most commonly-used parabens in food are methylparaben (food additive E218) and ethylparaben (E214) with the European Food Safety Authority setting in 2004 an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of a sum total of 0-10mg/kg bodyweight per day for methyl- (E218) and ethylparaben (E214).

False alarms or missed hazards: how should regulators define “endocrine disruptor”? #54, November 2012. It might sound absurd to say that the definition of “endocrine disruptor” should be unscientific, but in fact there are important trade-offs entailed in how we define, for regulatory purposes, a chemical as an endocrine disruptor. These trade-offs should make us very cautious about conflating the purpose of a regulatory definition of EDC with the purpose of a scientifically correct definition of EDC, and may even show us that the process of defining EDC is a democratic matter which cannot be decided by expert committees alone.

Just the ticket? Safety of alternatives to BPA in receipt paper. #51, August 2012. Although there is not much information about the environmental performance of potential substitutes, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) has nonetheless proposed banning the use of BPA in thermal paper. Here we outline some of the problems with securing data on chemicals used in manufactured goods, and why KEMI believes a ban on BPA is warranted even though information on alternatives is lacking.

Is everything we think we know about chemical toxicity wrong?. #49, May 2012. Yes,  if the first comprehensive review of the issue in a decade is correct in concluding that low doses of chemicals can harm health.

Opportunities for cancer prevention: lifestyle choices vs. unavoidable exposures. #48, April 2012. Cancer prevention strategies are based on what is known about attributable causes of cancer. But does focusing on existing knowledge advance or hamper efforts to reduce cancer incidence? We evaluate two opposing perspectives to conclude that demanding highly robust data may in fact limit our ability to prevent cancers beyond the proportion caused by lifestyle choices.

Thresholds of Toxicological Concern: Evaluating an Initiative to Reduce Animal Testing. #45, January 2012. One rationale for reducing the burden of chemical toxicity testing is the application of thresholds of toxicological concern (TTCs), a pragmatic, probabilistic approach to risk assessment of substances for which toxicity data are unavailable. It holds that if a substance is unlikely enough to pose a risk to health, then toxicological testing of the substance is not required.

PFCs: A case study in favour of the precautionary principle. #44, December 2011. PFCs are an example of how production and marketing of a substance can outpace scientific research into its safety and placing regulatory restrictions on its use. In the case of PFCs, this has resulted in 3 generations of people being exposed to an unknown hazard while a complex consensus, based on weak data and economic interests, develops around restricting their use.

Impasse on BPA: different facts – or different values? #43, November 2011. Expert committees with substantial scientific expertise are clearly divided in opinion between those who believe BPA is safe, at least at current exposure levels, and those who believe exposure to BPA should be reduced. They all have access to roughly the same data, which they should be able to analyse objectively, so the question is: how has this happened? Perhaps the place to look for the reason for the impasse is in each side’s conception of what counts as adequate science in evaluating and responding to the possible threat to health posed by BPA.

Assessing Risk Posed by Chemicals in Mixtures #40, July 2011. Chemical risk assessment has to change in order to understand and manage the risk that multiple, everyday exposures may pose to health. As things stand, it is not up to the job, so we examine some proposals for overhauling risk assessment so it can deal with mixtures.

Research practice and chemicals policy: how science makes life difficult for regulators. #37, April 2011: There is a great deal of controversy and argument around whether or not the way chemicals are assessed for safety in the EU is adequately responsive to evidence that they may be causing harm. Leaving to one side lobbying by commercial and public-interest organisations, here we look at whether or not scientific practice produces the data regulators feel they need in order to make decisions about restricting the use of chemicals – and if not, then what can be done about it.

The Obesogen Hypothesis. #36, March 2011: The full set of reasons as to why someone might become obese must be more complex than loss of control over energy balance is, otherwise treatment of obesity through diet and lifestyle changes alone would be successful more often than in just 2-20% of cases. We look at the hypothesis that some chemicals may have a role to play in promoting energy imbalance.

Chemicals as an emerging risk factor in developing type-2 diabetes: a short history. #35, February 2011: New research suggests that obese persons who do not have elevated POPs levels are not at elevated risk of diabetes, suggesting that the POPs rather than the obesity per se is responsible for the association. We examine the evidence and the implications.



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