New study charts : The fate of chemicals affecting health, environment

Looking forward in science often requires looking back, evaluating trends to extrapolate future outcomes. A classic case is Moore’s Law, which predicts that the density of components on an integrated circuit will double every 24 months. The estimate has helped guide many developments in the computer industry.

In a new study, Rolf Halden, PhD, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, examines the trajectory of chemicals appearing as emergent threats to human or environmental health.

Halden’s meta-analysis of 143,000 peer-reviewed research papers tracks the progress of these chemicals of emerging concern or CECs, revealing patters of emergence from obscurity to peak concern and eventual decline, over a span of 30 years.

The study reveals that around 14 years typically elapse from the onset of initial safety concerns about a given chemical to the height of concern and appropriate action. This extended timeline implies protracted exposure to CECs for a large number of people.

The research results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

“To better protect human health and the environment, it is desirable to decrease both the number of CECs entering commerce and the time required to take action,” says the study’s author.

Halden is the director of Biodesign’s Center for Environmental Security, whose primary focus is “to protect human health and critical ecosystems by detecting, minimizing and ultimately eliminating harmful chemical and biological agents through early detection and engineering interventions.”

In past research, his group has evaluated a broad range of common chemicals and assessed their human and environmental impact, including antimicrobial chemicals in personal care products, plastics (and chemicals involved in their fabrication), tobacco, brominated flame retardants and fluorinated synthetic chemicals on prenatal and postnatal health.

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