The researcher is Thea Ekins-Coward, and she lost an arm and suffered other injuries, according to local media reports. When C&EN inquired about her condition on March 20, Queen’s Medical Center, the facility where she is hospitalized, declined to release any information. Ekins-Coward is listed as a postdoctoral researcher in the alternative fuels group at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), which is a research unit within the university. The university has not confirmed that Ekins-Coward was the person injured. The lab in which the explosion happened was operated by HNEI and focuses on renewable energy and degradable bioplastics, said Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, during a March 17 news conference. At the time of the incident, the researcher who was injured was combining hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen gases from high-pressure cylinders into a lower pressure container. The mixture was to be used as a feedstock to grow cells. “Since 2008, when the project began, the process has been used almost daily and without incident,” Taylor said. The injured researcher had received general and lab-specific safety training, Environmental Health & Safety Office director Roy Takekawa said at the news conference. The lab was last inspected in January and passed all requirements, Takekawa said. Although the injured researcher was alone in the lab at the time of the incident, others were nearby. Two public safety officers and a graduate student evacuated her from the facility, chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman said at the news conference. “We are extremely grateful to those first three responders who acted so quickly to get the injured individual to the hospital,” Bley-Vroman said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individual who was injured.” News media photos taken outside the lab show cracked windows, walls, and ceiling tiles, and a bent door. A sign on the door lists the emergency contact as Jian Yu, an HNEI staff researcher who works on microbial bioprocessing, bioreactor engineering, biofuels, and biomaterials. The sign also says that the lab contains bacteria and requires biosafety level 2 practices, which apply to work involving agents that pose moderate hazards to personnel and the environment. HNEI has initiated a comprehensive safety review of all its laboratory operations, Taylor said. The building was found to be structurally sound and reopened on March 18, although the damaged lab remains closed. UPDATE: A newer version of this story confirming the name of the researcher and her lab manager can be UPDATE: A newer version of this story confirming the name of the researcher and her lab manager can be found here
"Using off-the-shelf products labeled free of these chemicals for even three days can lead to a big drop in exposure levels, study shows". "Using cosmetics and personal care products that don’t contain certain hormone-disrupting ingredients for only three days, women can significantly reduce their exposure to these chemicals, according to a study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study by researchers at the University of California Berkeley, California Department of Public Health, and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, measured levels of four commonly used cosmetics ingredients known to be endocrine disrupters —phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone — in 100 Latina teens before and after they began to use off-the shelf products labeled as free of these ingredients. These chemicals are widely used in personal care products and cosmetics, including sunscreens, soaps, hair products, and perfume. All have been shown in laboratory studies to interfere with the endocrine system, which produces hormones that help regulate development, reproduction, and metabolism as well as cardiovascular, immune, and neurological system functions. This is the first such study to show that simply by using products labeled to be free of these chemicals, personal exposure levels can be significantly reduced."
News Article | April 14, 2016
People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The study, one of the first to look at fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals, appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. "People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher," said lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH. "Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults." Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food. Zota and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates--DEHP and DiNP. Zota and her colleagues found that the more fast food participants in the study ate the higher the exposure to phthalates. People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. And those same fast food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing. The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Zota said the grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles. She also notes that other studies have also identified grains as an important source of exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals. In addition, the researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging--Bisphenol A or BPA. Researchers also believe exposure to BPA can lead to health and behavior problems, especially for young children. This study found no association between total fast food intake and BPA. However, Zota and her colleagues found that people who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast food consumption. This study fits into a bigger field of ongoing research showing that phthalates are in a wide variety of personal products, toys, perfume and even food. In 2008 Congress banned the use of phthalates in the production of children's toys because of concerns about the health impact of these chemicals. But Zota notes that DEHP and DiNP are two phthalates still in use despite concerns that they leach out of products and get into the human body. Studies of the health impact of exposure to these chemicals have suggested they can damage the reproductive system and they may lead to infertility. Large studies that might conclusively link phthalates in fast food and health problems could take years to conduct. In the meantime, Zota offers some common sense advice. She notes that frequent consumption of fast food is not recommended because such foods contain higher amounts of fat, salt and calories. "People concerned about this issue can't go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food," Zota suggests. "A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates."
Air pollution in the U.S. may be causing thousands of premature births each year, a new study suggests — costing the nation billions of dollars along the way. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, lends support to a growing body of research pointing to the grim health consequences of air pollution all over the world and its spectacular economic burdens. The new study focuses on a type of pollution known as fine particulate matter — tiny particles, less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, that can be emitted by traffic, factories and other industrial activities. Exposure to particulate matter has been implicated in all kinds of adverse health outcomes, particularly cardiovascular problems, and is believed to be responsible for millions of premature deaths every year. Now, increasing evidence is also linking it to problems related to pregnancy and birth, including preterm birth, said Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University’s School of Medicine. The mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not entirely understood, but it’s believed that exposure to air pollution can cause inflammation of the placenta during pregnancy, which can ultimately lead to an early delivery. Preterm birth — which is usually defined as delivery that occurs more than three weeks ahead of term — is associated with a variety of medical problems including an increased risk of infant mortality, breathing and feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, increased risk of developing other diseases and developmental delays that can lead to cognitive impairment throughout life. What’s less clear are the economic implications of these complications — and that’s an important factor to consider in discussions about air pollution, which often split into two sides: the costs of pollution reduction, which generally fall on the shoulders of the industries responsible for creating it in the first place, versus the social costs of continuing to pollute. “So we decided to quantify the disease burden and costs of preterm birth that could ultimately be traced to fine particulate matter,” Trasande said. Trasande, along with New York University colleagues Patrick Malecha and Teresa Attina, took data on air pollution from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and data on preterm births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They used previous research on the risks of preterm birth associated with exposure to particulate matter to estimate how many premature babies were caused by pollution exposure in 2010. They concluded that just over 3 percent of all the preterm births that year could be attributed to fine particulate matter — nearly 16,000 in all. The researchers then turned their attention to the costs associated with these preterm births. Using a report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, they concluded that the direct medical costs came to about $760 million in 2010. Far weightier, though, were the costs associated with lost economic productivity. One common consequence of preterm birth is the appearance of developmental disabilities. The researchers were interested in estimating the economic losses that result from these disabilities — essentially, the economic productivity that’s lost over the course of an individual’s lifetime as a result of cognitive impairments and the reduced ability to work. Previous studies have drawn connections between preterm birth, decreases in IQ and an individual’s lifetime earnings. Drawing on that research, Trasande and his colleagues estimated that more than $4 billion were lost in 2010 as a result of reduced economic productivity. Altogether, the medical costs and lost economic potential added up to just over $5 billion. While these are national estimates, the researchers did find that the effects were more severe in some parts of the country than others. The greatest percentage of preterm births attributable to pollution exposure was generally found to occur in major urban areas, and was overall highest in the Ohio River Valley, Southern California and the Southeast, as well as New York City, southeastern Pennsylvania and Chicago. “The implications also spread beyond the U.S. to other parts of the globe where air pollution is likely to be more of a substantial problem,” Trasande said. “Insofar as exposures in third world countries where regulations are much more limited, it’s likely that air pollution contributes more substantially to preterm birth.” The results highlight the importance of stricter pollution regulations to both public health and the economy, said Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada. He cited a variety of concrete actions that could be taken to address the problem, such as improving public transportation in cities to cut down on traffic emissions and refraining from building schools or residential developments near major sources of pollution. But he also noted that, when it comes to preterm births, there are a variety of other environmental influences besides fine particulate matter likely having an effect, including lead and mercury exposure. “It no longer makes sense to pit one risk factor like air pollution against another,” he said. “Instead we should be recognizing that preterm birth is the consequence of cumulative exposure to a series of risk factors.” Still, there’s value in conducting targeted studies like Trasande’s, he said. “They estimate that air pollution accounts for about three percent of all preterm births, which is quite sizable,” he said, adding that these types of focused studies can help draw attention to specific policy changes that need to be made — which, when all combined, can have substantial impacts on public health.
Postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward, 29, lost an arm and suffered other injuries in a lab explosion at the University of Hawaii (UH), Mānoa on March 16. Queen’s Medical Center, where Ekins-Coward was initially hospitalized, declined to release any information about her condition as of C&EN press time. Ekins-Coward was working for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), which is a research unit within UH. HNEI researcher Jian Yu operates the lab in which the explosion happened. Yu’s research program includes developing microbial processes for producing biofuels and bioplastics from renewable feedstocks. At the time of the incident, Ekins-Coward was combining hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen gases from high-pressure cylinders into a lower pressure container, said Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, during a March 17 news conference. The mixture was to be used to feed bacteria. “Since 2008, when the project began, the process has been used almost daily and without incident,” Taylor said. News media photos taken outside the lab show cracked windows, walls, and ceiling tiles, and a bent door. Ekins-Coward had received general and lab-specific safety training, Environmental Health & Safety Office Director Roy Takekawa said at the news conference. The lab was last inspected in January and passed all requirements, Takekawa said. The Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division is investigating the incident. “UH will also be bringing outside experts for its own investigation,” university spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl told C&EN. “Leadership has made a commitment to make sure everything is done thoroughly and correctly.” HNEI has initiated a comprehensive safety review of all its laboratory operations, Taylor said. The building was found to be structurally sound and reopened on March 18, although the damaged lab remains closed.