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In 2013, Some Health News to Watch For

In environmental health, we can expect to see continuing news stories that will impact all of our children and families, from toxic flame-retardant chemicals, to food safety threats, to the health impacts from energy production and more. Here are some of 2012's top stories.
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As the year closes, many are looking back at the top stories of 2012. But what are the top stories that will continue to make news in 2013? In environmental health, we can expect to see continuing news stories that will impact all of our children and families, from toxic flame-retardant chemicals, to food safety threats, to the health impacts from energy production and more. Below, some of 2012's top stories to keep an eye on in 2013.

1. Protecting Kids From Lead

In May, pediatricians welcomed the Centers for Disease Control update of its guidance for preventive measures against lead poisoning in children, cutting the level of concern in half -- meaning hundreds of thousands more children would be followed for early preventive measures. Unfortunately, the news came in the face of severe budget cuts for CDC's lead prevention programs, from $29 million to just $2 million annually. The next month, CEH findings of high lead levels that remain in some purses made national news, and prompted action by purse retailers and producers. I believe reports like this will spur continuing calls in 2013 for Congress to restore funding for lead poisoning prevention.

2. Arsenic in Rice

Testing by Consumer Reports exposed problems from arsenic in many rice products, including rice cereals for babies and other products for children. The findings renewed calls for FDA to establish strict limits on arsenic in food. Look for increased pressure on the agency in 2013.

3. Fracking and Health

Fracking for natural gas raised numerous health concerns in 2012, including water pollution threats, air quality concerns, infant health issues, and many other serious health concerns. With the ongoing gas rush and continued failure of regulatory agencies, expect more fracking and health problems to come to light in 2013.

4. Pink Slime

We first looked at the pink slime burger controversy in 2010; this year, a school lunch petition renewed calls to end the use of the nasty burger additive and ultimately forced the maker of the meat slime to close three plants. The news spurred defenders of feces burgers to go on the offensive, so look for ongoing battles over fecal-tainted meat in 2013.

5. BPA Bans

Regulatory actions against the hormone-altering chemical bisphenol A made news in 2012: In July, the FDA announced a ban on the chemical in products for young children; later France became the first country to ban BPA in canned foods and all other food packaging; and Suffolk County, N.Y. became the first in the nation to ban BPA from paper cash register receipts. But few news reports looked into the chemicals that would be used to replace BPA in these products, or whether such chemicals might pose similar or new health concerns. Look for more on this potential "toxic shell game" in 2013.

6. Flame Retardants Under Fire

A series by the Chicago Tribune kicked off a nationwide alert on the dangers of flame-retardant chemicals. These harmful chemicals are used in furniture and other products sold across the country largely due to outdated California fire safety standards, but in June, Governor Brown ordered a revision of the state's standard. In December, CEH found high levels of a cancer-causing flame-retardant chemical in crib mattresses, day care nap mats, and other products for young children, prompting nationwide concern. Look for an end to these and other flame-retardant health threats in 2013.

7. Environmental Justice

In 2012, Environmental Health News reported a groundbreaking series of articles on environmental justice battles across the country. More than 20 years after the first national conference on environmental justice, today African Americans continue to be 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger. As Robert Bullard, a titan of the environmental justice movement, noted in his new essay, "The effect is a society divided, literally and psychologically, by freeways, railroad tracks, landfills and hazardous-waste dumps." Expect more environmental injustice stories and victories in the fight for justice in 2013.

8. Food Safety

Ongoing food safety problems repeatedly made news in 2012, with numerous food recalls, including the multi-state recall of peanut butter and other nut butters, from Trader Joe's and other major outlets. In August, CEH joined the Center for Food Safety in suing the FDA for its failure to implement new food safety authority granted by Congress. Expect further action on our lawsuit in 2013.

9. Apple and EPEAT

In 2012, CEH raised concerns about watering down of the most important environmental standard for electronics, called EPEAT. Days after we alerted the Wall Street Journal that Apple intended to pull out of EPEAT, the company recanted and announced its mistake in dropping out. But EPEAT followed Apple's move by certifying the company's MacBook Pro, despite obvious design problems we identified that should have disqualified the machines from receiving EPEAT approval. Given the widespread criticism of EPEAT for caving in to Apple, expect more pressure on EPEAT to live up to its standard in 2013.

10. Hormone-Altering Chemicals and Low-Dose Effects

In March, a team of researchers released their three-year study showing that the long-believed idea that "the dose makes the poison" may be inadequate, especially when it comes to chemicals that can mimic and alter our bodies' natural hormones. In December, the EPA announced it would begin a new effort on health threats from low-doses of hormone-altering chemicals and the need for new methods of safety assessment. I'll be writing more on low-dose impacts and hormone disrupting chemicals in my next post, so look for more in early 2013.

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