New Study Finds Chemical Used in Scented Products Hazardous to Great Lakes and Human Health

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National women's health non-profit, Women's Voices for the Earth, commissioned a new study of the hazards posed by the chemical, Galaxolide, a synthetic musk commonly found in scented household cleaning products, that has also been found in the Great Lakes. The analysis identifies Galaxolide as a threat to the environment and human health.

“It is extremely toxic to aquatic animals," said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women's Voices for the Earth. "Which makes it all the more unnerving when we know that this chemical is ending up in our Great Lakes.”

National women’s health organization, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), and Michigan Clean Water Action, released a detailed review of the hazards posed by the chemical, Galaxolide, a synthetic musk commonly found in scented household cleaning products, that has also been found in the Great Lakes. The analysis identifies Galaxolide as a threat to the environment and human health.

To determine its hazard level, WVE commissioned a GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals assessment of Galaxolide. GreenScreen® is an internationally recognized tool for comparing and assessing the hazards of chemicals in order to identify those of high concern and evaluate safer alternatives.

Galaxolide was assigned a score of Benchmark 1 — a grade appointed to chemicals of highest concern whose use should be avoided. Specifically, Galaxolide received Benchmark 1 status due to its highly persistent, bioaccumulative and aquatic toxicity properties. [1]

“This means that Galaxolide doesn’t break down easily in the environment, it lingers and builds up in the bodies of animals and people,” said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “It is extremely toxic to aquatic animals. Which makes it all the more unnerving when we know that this chemical is ending up in our Great Lakes.”

One study found Galaxolide in 81% of water samples from Great Lakes tributaries that run through urban areas, while another on Lake Michigan detected Galaxolide in 92% of water samples, even detecting airborne concentrations of the chemical in the air above the lake. [2][3] A study on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario found that accumulating levels of Galaxolide in the lake sediment are doubling every eight to sixteen years. [4]

“Supporting a diverse and delicate ecosystem for over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including nearly 180 species of fish, the Great Lakes is one of the most significant ecosystems on Earth,” said Nic Clark, State Director of Michigan Clean Water Action. “This basin makes up over twenty percent of the world’s surface freshwater – nearly 40 million people rely on the lakes for drinking water. We cannot ignore the risk the pollutant, Galaxolide, is having on this invaluable resource.”

“Along with environmental concern, Galaxolide raises red flags for human health risks,” said Scranton of WVE. “It may interfere with hormones and other chemical signals in the body which can result in developmental, reproductive, metabolic, brain, and behavior problems.”

Emerging science also indicates that Galaxolide may break down the body’s natural defenses against other toxic chemical exposure.[5] This new science is concerning as several studies have shown that Galaxolide exposure is ubiquitous in humans. One study found Galaxolide in the blood plasma of 91% of the study participants. Those participants that used scented lotions and perfumes had significantly higher levels of Galaxolide than those that did not.[6] Another study focused on new mothers detected Galaxolide present in 97% of breast milk samples.[7]

“These are alarming numbers and only confirm how persistent and widespread this chemical is in our everyday environment,” said Scranton.

“Even low dose exposures to hormone disrupting chemicals can be harmful to human health,” said Kathleen Schuler, co-director of the Healthy Legacy Coalition and Healthy Kids & Families Program Director at Conservation Minnesota. “Household products we use every day shouldn’t contain chemicals that disrupt hormones or lead to lasting environmental harm, and we strongly encourage any company using this chemical to voluntarily phase out Galaxolide.”

“Galaxolide pollution is not going to go away, instead it will only get worse over time if companies continue to use it," said WVE's Executive Director, Erin Switalski. "There is a clear opportunity for manufacturers using this fragrance chemical to stem the tide of chemical pollution in the Great Lakes by eliminating synthetic musks like Galaxolide from their products.”

[1] Green Screen for Safer Chemicals (26 April 2016). "GreenScreen Assessment of Galaxolide" http://www.womensvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/1222-05-5-HHCB-aka-Galaxolide-GS-546-v-1-2-Certified-April-2015-3.pdf. GreenScreen Assessment of Galaxolide. Retrieved 26 April 2016.

[2] Baldwin AK, Corsi SR, DeCicco LA, Lenaker PL, Lutz MA, Sullivan DJ and Richards KD. (2016) Organic contaminants in Great Lakes tributaries: Prevalence and potential aquatic toxicity. Science of the Total Environment. 554-555, 42-52. 2016.

[3] Peck AM and Hornbuckle KC. (2004) Synthetic Musk Fragrances in Lake Michigan. Environmental Science and Technology. Vol. 38, No.2, pp. 367-372. 2004.

[4] Peck AM, Linebaugh EK, Hornbuckle KC. (2006) Synthetic musk fragrances in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario sediment cores. Environmental Science and Technology. Vol.40, No. 18, pp:5629-35. September 15 2006.

[5] Luckenbach, T. et.al. (2005) Nitromusk and polycyclic musk compounds as long-term inhibitors of cellular xenobiotic defense systems mediated by multidrug transporters. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 113. Number 1. January 2005.

[6] Hutter H. et.al. (2009) Synthetic musks in blood of healthy young adults: Relationship to cosmetics use. Science of the Total Environment. Vol. 47, pp: 4821-4825. 2009.

[7] Reiner JL, Wong CM, Arcaro KF and Kannan K. (2007) Synthetic Musk Fragrances in Human Milk from the United States. Environmental Science and Technology. Vol. 41, No. 11, pp: 3815-3820. 2007.

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Elizabeth Conway
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