5&5: Puberty age drop, green chemistry barriers and other news and science highlights from October 2012

November 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment
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News

Age of puberty has dropped for both boys and girls. American boys are showing signs of starting puberty six months to two years earlier than they did 30 to 40 years ago, finds new research. “Current environmental factors, including exposure to chemicals … may be a factor,” say researchers. New German research has shown that the average age of the onset of puberty in girls in 1860 was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5. Similar sets of figures have been reported for boys, albeit with a delay of around a year.

Toxicology: The learning curve. What if the Paracelsian presumption is wrong? What if, for a large and potent class of compounds, lower doses pose higher risks? A growing number of academic researchers are making just such a claim for endocrine disrupters, a large group of synthetic chemicals able to interact with cellular hormone receptors.

EPA Targets Flame Retardants. A detailed description of US EPA initiatives for addressing the environmental toxicity of flame retardants, what it is about flame retardants that makes them a problem, and the scientific and legal obstacles which need to be overcome to satisfactorily regulate them. See also: Ablaze Over Furniture Fires, a detailed account of one chemist’s fight against toxic flame retardants, going beyond their potential toxicity to questions about whether they even work properly, and a story about how, in spite of almost 4000 papers documenting potential harm from flame retardants, many policymakers are still not aware of adverse health effects.

BPA is a clear reproductive toxin, says France. French health agency ANSES has called on the European Chemcials Agency (ECHA) to classify BPA as a more severe category 1 reprotoxic substance under the EU rules on the classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) of chemicals.

Teaching Green. A group of educators in the U.S. has grown impatient with the slow headway in integrating the concepts of green chemistry and toxicology into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. They are ready to ask academic institutions for pledges to accelerate that progress through an initiative called the Green Chemistry Commitment.

Science

Predicting Later-Life Outcomes of Early-Life Exposures. Prenatal and early-life environmental insults ranging from malnutrition to toxic exposures can tilt the odds toward development of adverse health effects decades later. These effects likely occur, at least in part, through alterations in an individual’s genetic potential to thrive in the environment in which he or she will live—in other words, these early challenges set the bar for what’s “normal,” and the fetus and infant adapt for a less-than-optimal environment in ways that may contribute to adult-onset disease. This review examines the evidence for an association between early-life exposures and later disease, and proposes an agenda for future research and risk assessment.

Exposure During Pregnancy to Glycol Ethers and Chlorinated Solvents and the Risk of Congenital Malformations. This prospective study, using three independent methods of exposure assessment, suggests several specific associations between solvent exposure during early pregnancy and congenital malformations. Results based on urinary biomarkers, although limited by small numbers, identify work situations that require further investigation.

Non-monotonic dose effects of in utero exposure to DEHP on testicular and serum testosterone and anogenital distance in male mouse fetuses. A study showing how, if the standard toxicological approach of dosing down until no effect is observed, had been followed for determining the NOAEL of DEHP, then the NOAEL would have been over-estimated. This is because the full dose-range taken in this study shows a non-monotonic dose-response, with an effect appearing at a lower dose than would be tested in the standard approach.

Barriers to the implementation of green chemistry in the United States. This paper investigates the conditions under which firms are able to develop and implement innovations with sustainable development benefits. Via interviews with green chemistry leaders from industry, academia, nongovernmental institutions (NGOs), and government, six major categories of challenges commonly confronted by innovators are identified: (1) economic and financial, (2) regulatory, (3) technical, (4) organizational, (5) cultural, and (6) definition and metrics.

Study: Flame Retardant ‘Firemaster 550’ Is an Endocrine Disruptor. Contrary to its purported pedigree of safety, the flame-retardant mixture known as “Firemaster 550” (the precise composition of which is a trade secret) is an endocrine disruptor that causes extreme weight gain, early onset of puberty and cardiovascular health effects in lab animals, according to this new study.

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