Scientists are sounding the alarm about short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), as new research in the journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts has pointed to an abundance of these long-lasting, potentially cancer-causing chemicals in a number of household products.
You may have already heard about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals” that are used to manufacture products including nonstick cookware and stain-resistant clothing and have been detected in our air, water, and soil.
SCCPs, like PFAS, are basically “forever chemicals” that do not break down easily in the environment — they have been detected in wildlife as well as human blood and breast milk and are linked to harmful health impacts like cancer (though they have only been shown so far to cause cancer in lab animals and not conclusively in humans).
Most SCCPs were banned in the United States in 2012 and in Canada in 2013, but they are still lurking in our home goods, a group of researchers has found.
Scientists from the University of Toronto found SCCPs in 84 out of 96 household goods tested across the country, including electronics, plastic toys, personal care products, and furniture. The highest concentrations of SCCPs were found in the outer plastic coatings of certain computer and headphone wires.
“We found [SCCPs] in almost everything, which was very surprising to us,” Steven Kutarna, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and the lead author of the paper, told The New Lede.
Shockingly, all of the products tested for the study were purchased at least a year after the ban went into effect in Canada.
Even more alarming was the discovery of high concentrations of SCCPs in children’s toys, all of which were purchased in 2019 — years after the ban went into effect.
Why are SCCPs concerning?
Persistent exposure to chemicals like SCCPs can be particularly dangerous in a child’s developmental, and children may be at greater risk of exposure because their hands and mouths often come into contact with toys.
“Any parent would shudder at the thought of their baby chewing on a toy filled with cancer-causing chemicals,” Hui Peng, an environmenal chemistry professor and a co-author on the paper, said in a statement. “We need to protect our children and the wider public from these harmful substances.”
Not only can SCCPs be found in home products, but they are also prevalent in our air, soil, and water.
These chemicals have been found to cause cancer in laboratory rats and mice. Though no human studies exist, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies them as possible human carcinogens.
According to a recent study appearing in the journal Science of the Total Environment, even lower exposures of SCCPs could result in damage to multiple organs, including the liver, kidney, and thyroid.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sounded the alarm about these chemicals, calling them “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to aquatic organisms at low concentrations” on its website.
What’s being done about SCCPs?
A number of governments have taken steps to reduce the prevalence of SCCPs in our homes and natural environment, but the research team suggests that more needs to be done. More than a million tons of SCCPs are still produced each year.
“This is more of a regulation problem than it is something that individual consumers can deal with,” Kutarna told The New Lede. “This information [about SCCP content] is not disclosed on the product, so that means there’s no way to really know if this chemical is added.”
For its part, the EPA issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in December 2014.
This requires manufacturers and processors of SCCP to notify the agency at least 90 days before starting or resuming new uses of this chemical, giving the EPA time to evaluate intended uses and prohibit or limit that activity if necessary.
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