Chemicals of Emerging Concern

Chemicals of Emerging Concern

Man-made chemicals have become a part of everyday life. There are about 90,000 chemicals in commerce, and about 2,000 new chemicals are introduced every year. Very few of these chemical have had adequate toxicological studies to evaluate their health effects on humans and wildlife.

Because of improved methods for detecting chemicals in environmental and biological media, scientists can now identify previously unknown and unregulated "chemicals of emerging concern," or CEC. Recent studies have shown that some of these chemicals can act as endocrine disruptorsand may interfere with the reproductive and developmental processes of humans and wildlife species.

Many CEC are chemicals that persist in the environment, are present in humans or other living organisms, and may have the potential to cause adverse health effects. Most of these CEC, have been identified through biomonitoring studies, which pointed to their increasing presence in humans and wildlife.

Some examples of CEC include brominated and organophosphate flame retardants, bisphenol-A and its substitutes, phthalates, arsenic, perchlorate, nonylphenols, synthetic musks and other personal care product ingredients, and industrial chemical additives, stabilizers and adjuvants.

ECL's work with chemicals of emerging concern

ECL has become a leader in identifying chemicals of emerging concern. ECL scientists were the first to report the record levels of a class of flame retardants, i.e., polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) in the blood of Californians. This led to the first legislative ban in the US and to the protection of California's children, adults, wildlife, and environment from PBDEs. With the phase out of PBDEs, however, other flame retardants were introduced into products, some of which are known carcinogens.

ECL continues to study flame retardants in products, house dust, humans, pets and wildlife.

In order to provide information to DTSC's Safer Consumer Products Program, ECL is developing methods to identify chemicals that could present risks to Californians. For example, ECL is working on new methods to efficiently detect and measure CEC, including newer flame retardants, polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals, synthetic musks and other fragrance compounds in environmental (ground water, dust) and biological (human and wildlife tissues) samples. ECL also is exploring the identification of new, previously unknown chemicals in products, dust and biological samples. This new capability will help:

  • Expand our Early Warning System for exposures to yet unregulated toxic chemicals
  • Greatly augment DTSC's ability to investigate environmental exposure pathways
  • Help with Alternative Assessments and avoid regrettable substitutions