A review article published on January 7, 2019 in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International explores “the dominant patterns of exposure pathways and associated health risks of chemicals used in consumer products.” Dingsheng Li and Sangwon Suh from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California Santa Barbara, U.S., searched the peer-reviewed literature and identified “342 [relevant] articles covering 202 unique chemicals,” from which they “distilled the information on the functional uses, product applications, exposure routes, exposure pathways, toxicity endpoints and their combinations.”
The chemicals and chemical groups most frequently discussed in the literature were bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7), phthalates, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The most frequently reported combinations of functional use and product applications were “plasticizers, polymers/monomers, and flame retardants used in food contact products, personal care products, cosmetics, furniture, flooring, and electronics.” The authors also compared the publication numbers to the timeframe of major societal events and “observed a strong tendency that the number of publications on a chemical surges following major regulatory changes or exposure incidents associated with the chemical.”
The authors concluded that “the list of chemicals targeted by funded research tends to be biased toward the ones with known health risks.” Further, the growth of the peer-reviewed literature on health effects of chemicals in consumer products could “by no means match the speed of increasing volume and diversity of the chemicals produced and used in consumer products.” For example, in a 2018 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “suspect screening analysis of 100 consumer products tentatively identified 1602 chemicals, 1404 of which were not found in [a] public database of known consumer product chemicals.” Li and Suh commented that “[t]his growing gap between increasing reliance on chemicals in consumer products and our knowledge on their human health risks raises a potential public health concern, given the pervasive nature of today’s mass production and consumption practice.”
The research published in peer-reviewed literature also lacks predictive power, since “peer-reviewed journal publications largely failed to serve as an early warning or a preventive mechanism.” The authors summarized that “scientific literature tends to appear only after the outbreak of major exposure incidents, or they tend to be concentrated in the chemicals or chemical groups of which human health risks have been previously reported.”
In light of their review’s findings, the authors called for “creating the framework conditions that encourage more exploratory and speculative risk assessments and their publications in peer-reviewed journal space in the absence of known human health risks.” Such initiatives should be supported by “the developments in predictive toxicity and risk assessment techniques for screening-level assessment, as well as the use of systematic prioritization for high-risk exposure pathways and chemicals in consumer products.”
Chemical Watch (January 25, 2019). “Publishing models fail to give early hazardous chemicals warning, study finds.”
Li, D., and Suh, S. (2019). “Health risks of chemicals in consumer products: A review.” Environment International 12: 580-587.
Phillips, K. A., et al. (2018). “Suspect screening analysis of chemicals in consumer products.” Environmental Science & Technology 52: 3125-3135.
Ring, C., et al. (2019). “Consensus modeling of median chemical intake for the U.S. population based on predictions of exposure pathways.” Environmental Science & Technology 53: 719-732.
Tao, et al. (2018). “OrganoRelease – A framework for modeling the release of organic chemicals from the use and post-use of consumer products.” Environmental Pollution 234: 751-761.