Health :: Groups Demand EPA Action on Gender-Bending Chemicals

Laundry workers, commercial fishermen and environmental and public health groups petitioned the EPA urging the agency to provide health and safety protections from the endocrine-disrupting chemicals, nonyplphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).

The groups are calling for further health and safety studies, labeling of products containing the chemicals, and banning their use in industrial and consumer detergents, since safer alternatives are available. The chemicals are used principally in cleaning products and detergents.

The European U nion has essentially banned the use of NPEs, and Canada set such strict standards for discharging NPEs into water as to force a shift to safer alternatives. The groups assembled today are calling on the EPA to follow these other countries’ example.

“When fish change gender and develop sexual deformities because of the chemicals we discharge into our streams, it’s a danger signal we should take very seriously,” said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program.

Even at low levels, NPEs are known to cause male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female sex ratios and harm the ability of fish to reproduce. Cases of such “intersexed” fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast. And although research into the human health effects of NPEs is limited, one study shows that exposure of the human placenta to NPEs byproduct, nonylphenol, may result in early termination of pregnancy and fetal growth defects.

Almost 400 million pounds of NPE products are produced in the U.S each year, yet the government has failed to analyze the potential health effects on the general public or workers who handle these products regularly. Nor has the EPA taken effective action to protect water quality from NPEs; it has ignored endocrine-disruption effects because its outdated 1985 guidelines do not recognize the relevant research.

“Some of the partial breakdown products of NPE are more toxic and persistent than the original substance,” notes Philip Dickey, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Wastewater treatment plants can remove much of the NPE but they discharge these toxic byproducts. If you add up the toxicity of all the little pieces, it can be significant. We need to stop using chemicals with these kinds of properties.”

Studies have demonstrated that tiny amounts of NPEs in water – less than one part per billion – harm rainbow trout, salmon, oysters and winter flounder. “Continuing to allow these chemicals continued into our waters could severely harm the future of the fishing industry,” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

“Fish are not the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, but they do warn us of the toxicity of NPEs, which can be especially threatening to vulnerable populations like developing children,” noted Dr. Michael McCally, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“Tens of thousands of workers may be exposed to these harmful chemicals each day,” said Eric Frumin, Director of the Health and Safety Program at UNITE HERE, the predominant North American u nion representing laundry workers. “Despite the overwhelming proof that NPEs are highly toxic, the industrial laundry industry – aided and abetted by its chemical suppliers – continues to promote the use of these hazardous products. It’s time for the federal government to take action, and for industry leaders like Cintas Corporation to voluntarily eliminate these dangerous emissions.”

“There are viable, readily available alternatives that do not contain endocrine disruptors,” said the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Albert Ettinger. “Corporations like Procter & Gamble and Unilever do not use NPEs, and Wal-Mart has asked its suppliers to use safer alternatives. There is no reason why the federal government should not act – as other nations have – to protect its citizens from these harmful pollutants.”

Petitioners include the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, UNITE HERE, Washington Toxics Coalition, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

Leave a Comment