Beauty Products are Full of Risky Chemicals

Six years ago, I felt a lump in my breast and felt utterly betrayed by my body. Three exams, two ultrasounds, and one biopsy later, doctors discovered multiple benign breast tumors that will require a lifetime of monitoring. Lumps like mine seem to show up in people whose breast tissue is sensitive to the hormone estrogen.

I was 21 and still in college, but the seeming invincibility of youth quickly fell away; I felt anxious and vulnerable like never before. But I was inspired to learn more about my body and the chemicals I was in contact with every day, in everything from hair relaxers to styling creams.

About 10 percent of women will experience the same diagnosis, fibroadenoma, in their lifetime. While fibroadenoma hasn’t been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, all I could think about was how I’d spend years living with the consequences of something I couldn’t see or feel: hormones.

Hormones affect all of us, as they carry messages between different parts of the body. We’re talking estrogens, androgens, progesterones, testosterone, and everything in between. Together, they make up the endocrine system, which impacts our reproductive health, metabolism, and a range of biological processes.

Over the years, I tried to limit my exposure to synthetic hormones, including hormonal birth control. But our society doesn’t make it easy, even when it comes to potentially harmful chemicals. For years, scientists have been studying potential links between human cancers and the growth hormones that farmers feed to livestock, to take just one example. An even more pervasive threat lurks in everything from cleaning products to cookware to fragrances: endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which I’d never even heard of until I studied environmental policy in graduate school.

“It’s pretty safe to say that everyone likely has some level of EDCs in their system,” says Heather Patisaul, associate dean for research at North Carolina State University. “There are hundreds if not thousands of EDCs in the marketplace, so it’s just a question of what your personal exposure profile looks like.”

EDCs are a class of chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function. They include “forever chemicals,” also known as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances), which are found in adhesives, nonstick cookware, food packaging, and even waterproof mascara. The CDC writes that PFAS are found everywhere from the soil to our bloodstream, and that in studies that fed large amounts of them to animals, they affected reproduction, immunity, and the thyroid and liver. (The CDC also notes, “Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain.”)

Other EDCs like bisphenol A (BPA) and alkylphenols target estrogen receptors. And phthalates — a chemical used to make plastic soft and flexible — can be found in a slew of cosmetics, and targets both estrogen and testosterone receptors. Even low-level exposure to EDCs can result in minute changes to the body’s natural hormonal activity.

And although illnesses can come about from a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, environmental health researchers continue to link EDC exposure as a possible risk factor in the development of immunity related diseases, neurological diseases, reproductive disorders, and breast and uterine cancer.

Our society makes potentially harmful chemicals hard to avoid

I wanted to learn how to lower my risks from personal care items with help from science, so I joined a consumer study led by the Silent Spring Institute, a research and advocacy organization that studies toxins in the environment. For three months, I meticulously tracked my personal care, right down to the brands I used and how often I used them.

It isn’t just that beauty products are full of hard-to-pronounce and potentially harmful chemicals. The study, a partnership with the Resilient Sisterhood Project and published as the POWER study, also validated previous findings that Black women like me purchase more hair products than other groups, and that these products are more likely to contain endocrine disruptors. The results rocked me to my core.

“There’s a disparity in exposure to chemicals that act like hormones,” says Robin Dodson, a chemical exposure researcher at the Silent Spring Institute. “When you look at general health trends, Black women have higher rates of hormone-mediated diseases like uterine fibroids, aggressive forms of breast cancer, fertility issues, and are more likely to have pre-term births.” As a Black woman with my own health condition related to hormones, I was starting to see connections between health issues in my community and the products we rely on.

How I purged worrisome chemicals from my beauty care

Cosmetics are a billion-dollar industry in the US, but remain woefully underregulated. Consumer protections against harmful chemicals hinge on product labels, but labels are hard to understand and aren’t always fully transparent. We’re all living with the consequences, and Black women in particular are paying a high price. Here’s how I’ve changed my beauty care with help from science and research, and how others can too.

Use a trusted source to compare products

For me, one of the most valuable parts of joining the POWER study was having a forum to navigate hair care questions with other Black women. When researchers asked participants how we discover new product recommendations, we pointed to social media, friends, and family. How many people cross-reference those word-of-mouth recommendations with a scientific database? That’s now a core step in my discovery process.

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Some companies are better at avoiding chemicals of concern than others. When I’m in doubt, I look to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which gives a complete profile of chemical ingredients of concern in skin and hair products.

Reviewing the Toxic-Free Beauty pocket guide, tailored for products commonly used by Black women, helped me get familiar with the chemical names I might see on product labels. Keeping tabs on the FDA’s product safety alert page informs me of product recalls and FDA consumer warnings. Apps like Think Dirty will do the research for you; simply use your phone to scan a product’s barcode, and it displays a clear overview of health impacts associated with its ingredients.

Of course, these apps are only as good as the product label itself. Since new products enter the market constantly, Detox Me, developed by the Silent Spring Institute, shares practical tips for more conscious purchasing. Tools like these draw on years of scientific evidence to help you decode product labels and steer clear of potentially harmful chemicals.

Avoid unspecified fragrances

“Secret, unlabeled fragrance chemicals are hiding in personal care products, without the public’s knowledge or consent,” says Janet Nudelman, policy and program director at the advocacy group Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “These chemicals are often linked to both environmental and public health harms, but people don’t know because companies don’t have to disclose them.”

While the FDA requires cosmetics to list other kinds of ingredients, many fragrance chemicals are protected as trade secrets and may appear as simply “perfume” or “aroma” on product labels. Fragrances are often mixed with aldehydes, which may increase cancer risks in some people, and benzophenone derivatives, which may be endocrine disruptors, according to the advocacy coalition Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

When the campaign tested 17 of the most popular perfumes in 2010, in partnership with the Environmental Working Group, it found 14 undisclosed ingredients in the average product, among them chemicals associated with hormone disruption.

Even “unscented” products may contain fragrance ingredients to mask unpleasant smells without giving the product a notable odor.

States like California are starting to close this “fragrance loophole” with stricter product labeling laws. In the meantime, you can do your own research to avoid products with vague fragrance labeling and other undisclosed ingredients.

Understand your body and what it needs

After 10 years of relaxing my hair, I wanted to assert my newfound independence and went natural, but was soon overwhelmed by the array of creams, gels, lotions, and oils intended to smooth my curls. Trying a new hair product from the “ethnic” aisle of my local drug store became my weekend ritual. Black consumers spend nine times more on hair care than their white counterparts, and I was beginning to understand why.

Looking back, I tried too many products, including low-quality ones that actually damaged my hair, and potentially exposed myself to more harmful chemicals in the process.Instead, I wish I took the time upfront to understand what my hair needed.

Learn about your hair porosity, density, and texture (yes, even straight hair has a texture), and tailor solutions to your needs. As a type-four, low-porosity queen myself, what my hair really needed — more than it needed three different kinds of styling creams — was moisture. That’s right, plain water! Understanding your hair’s natural attributes will save you time and money on wasted products.

When researchers from the Battelle Memorial Institute tested the hair products that Black women use most frequently, a long list of chemicals turned up: cyclosiloxane, fragrances, diethyl phthalate (DEP), and parabens, all of which are known to affect the endocrine system. Chemical straighteners, also known as “relaxers,” sometimes contain carcinogens like formaldehyde and might even lead to an increased risk of breast cancer in Black women (there’s still no scientific consensus on this one). Relaxer usage among Black consumers has declined in recent years, but some women are returning to them out of convenience.

Don’t be afraid to DIY

The science of hair care may be simpler than you think. Shampoos contain surfactants that help wash away dirt, oil, and products that build up in our hair. They also balance pH and close the hair cuticle, the protective outer layer of your hair. Most hair creams and butters help to lock in moisture between washes and prevent split ends. Commercial conditioners work to seal moisture into the hair cuticle, but may rely on chemical preservatives.

If you’re only able to swap out one or two products in your rotation, consider the ones that are in contact with your body for long periods of time. “From an exposure point of view, you’ll want to reduce usage of commercial products that you leave on your hair for a longer period of time, like scalp treatments, leave-in conditioners, hair dyes, and chemical straighteners,” says Dodson.

Early on, I internalized the myth that my hair was too difficult for me to care for without the use of chemical straighteners. But I’ve realized that most of what my own hair needs — moisture retention — can be achieved with ingredients from my own kitchen.

I spent months recreating the best parts of my favorite storebought products: banana and avocado are now core ingredients in my DIY conditioner. You could consider using honey, which has emollient (hair smoothing) and humectant (water bonding) properties. Coconut oil is another great alternative, and its lauric acid delivers moisture deep into the hair shaft. Any of these natural conditioners can be used on their own or together in a hair mask, or a deep conditioning treatment for the hair.

The US needs stronger regulation of cosmetics and personal care products

In the early 1900s, cosmetics and drugs were dangerously unregulated: Lead and arsenic found their way into skin creams, and mercury brightened makeup products. As more women suffered scarring, poisonings, and in some cases death, scientists sounded the alarm about harsh chemicals in consumer goods. In 1937, elixir sulfanilamide — an untested, but heavily marketed antibiotic — killed more than 100 Americans.

But medicines are regulated more closely than cosmetics, and the FDA does not order companies to recall cosmetic products that may be unsafe. “Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual [cosmetic] products or ingredients,” the FDA explains on its website. “The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA.”Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 21-56-49 JV - PrimeStocks

While some chemicals have been outlawed (DDT, DES, lead acetate hair dyes, and BPA in baby products), the FDA has failed to prohibit many endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are still widely used in personal care products.

Politics and big business play a role in keeping regulations to a minimum, according to the experts I talked to. “The $100 billion-dollar US cosmetics industry is very invested in maintaining the status quo, and is powerfully incentivized to fight regulation,” Nudelman says. Major industry trade groups, like the Personal Care Products Council, representing 600 beauty companies, heavily promote self-regulation, through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review program (CIR).

“Industry self-regulation lacks the safeguards provided by FDA reviews. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review is financed by cosmetics manufacturers and housed inside the industry’s trade association. Many CIR findings are inconsistent with the findings by other regulatory authorities or experts,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, testified to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Opponents of stricter cosmetics regulation continue to muddy the link between hormone-driven disease rates and risky environmental chemicals. While some research gaps remain, an ever-growing body of evidence shows that the chemicals we absorb from our environments matter, and may be compounding existing racial disparities in health outcomes.

When Vox contacted the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors for comment, a spokesperson said that “a change in the FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics would require Congress to change the law.”

Congress has had some historical interest in better regulating cosmetics — Sens. Thomas Eagleton and Ted Kennedy tried to get traction on bills in the ’70s and ’90s, respectively, and current Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been an advocate, as well.

More recently, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a package of four Safer Beauty bills this summer. One bill would ban 11 chemicals of concern currently outlawed for use in the EU, California, and Maryland. While Schakowsky has been trying to pass versions of the package since 2009, Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners believes they now have a fighting chance.

“We believe this bill package to be different from past legislative attempts,” she says. “It addresses four discrete issues that are already at the forefront of people’s minds: banning toxic chemicals, increased labeling transparency, protections for women of color, and closing the fragrance loophole.”

Occasionally, I’ll see “Just for Me” — a hair relaxer containing hormonally active ingredients and marketed specifically for children — at my local drugstore. It’s the same relaxer I used up until college and my eventual diagnosis with fibroadenoma. I’m hopeful that one day, consumers won’t have to wonder whether toxins are hiding in the products that are supposed to make us feel beautiful. But until then, research can help us look out for our own health.

Paige Curtis is a Boston-based writer covering the intersection of climate, arts, and culture in such publications as Yes! Magazine and Boston Art Review. Formally trained in environmental management from the Yale School of Environment, she’s most excited by community-based solutions to the climate crisis.

Source: Beauty products are full of risky chemicals. I tried to get rid of them. – Vox

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The Hidden Dangers of Protein Powders

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Adding protein powder to a glass of milk or a smoothie may seem like a simple way to boost your health. After, all, protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle, bone strength, and numerous body functions. And many older adults don’t consume enough protein because of a reduced appetite.

But be careful: a scoop of chocolate or vanilla protein powder can harbor health risks. “I don’t recommend using protein powders except in a few instances, and only with supervision,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

What is protein powder?

Protein powders are powdered forms of protein that come from plants (soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, or hemp), eggs, or milk (casein or whey protein). The powders may include other ingredients such as added sugars, artificial flavoring, thickeners, vitamins, and minerals. The amount of protein per scoop can vary from 10 to 30 grams. Supplements used for building muscle contain relatively more protein, and supplements used for weight loss contain relatively less.

What are the risks?

There are numerous risks to consider when using a protein powder. Among them:

  • A protein powder is a dietary supplement. The FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products. So, there’s no way to know if a protein powder contains what manufacturers claim.
  • We don’t know the long-term effects. “There are limited data on the possible side effects of high protein intake from supplements,” McManus says.
  • It may cause digestive distress. “People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose [milk sugar] can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder,” McManus points out.
  • It may be high in added sugars and calories. Some protein powders have little added sugar, and others have a lot (as much as 23 grams per scoop). Some protein powders wind up turning a glass of milk into a drink with more than 1,200 calories. The risk: weight gain and an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.

A new risk revealed

Earlier this year, a nonprofit group called the Clean Label Project released a report about toxins in protein powders. Researchers screened 134 products for 130 types of toxins and found that many protein powders contained heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), bisphenol-A (BPA, which is used to make plastic), pesticides, or other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. Some toxins were present in significant quantities. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA.

How could protein powder contain so many contaminants? The Clean Label Project points to manufacturing processes or the existence of toxins in soil (absorbed by plants that are made into protein powders).

Not all of the protein powders that were tested contained elevated levels of toxins. You can see the results at the Clean Label Project’s website (www.cleanlabelproject.org).

Daily protein goals

Aim for the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein intake: 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams for men. For example:

  • an egg for breakfast (6 grams)
  • 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt at lunch (18 grams)
  • a handful of nuts for a snack (4–7 grams)
  • a cup of milk (8 grams) and 2 ounces of cooked chicken for dinner (14 grams).

What you should do

McManus says that in certain cases, chemical-free protein powders may be helpful—but only with medical supervision. Such cases could include

  • difficulty eating or an impaired appetite (as a result of cancer treatment or frailty from older age)
  • a surgical incision or a pressure wound that is not healing well (your body needs protein to repair cells and make new ones)
  • a serious condition requiring additional calories and protein in order for you to get better (such as burns).

Otherwise, get protein from whole foods: nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese), legumes (beans, lentils), fish, poultry, eggs, and lean meat. “You’ll find,” McManus says, “that there are many ways to get protein without turning to a powder.”

Source: The hidden dangers of protein powders – Harvard Health

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Critics:

Bodybuilding supplements are dietary supplements commonly used by those involved in bodybuilding, weightlifting, mixed martial arts, and athletics for the purpose of facilitating an increase in lean body mass. The intent is to increase muscle, increase body weight, improve athletic performance, and for some sports, to simultaneously decrease percent body fat so as to create better muscle definition.

Among the most widely used are high protein drinks, pre-workout blends, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), glutamine, arginine, essential fatty acids, creatine, HMB, whey protein, ZMA and weight loss products. Supplements are sold either as single ingredient preparations or in the form of “stacks” – proprietary blends of various supplements marketed as offering synergistic advantages.

While many bodybuilding supplements are also consumed by the general public the frequency of use will differ when used specifically by bodybuilders. One meta-analysis concluded that – for athletes participating in resistance exercise training and consuming protein supplements for an average of 13 weeks – total protein intake up to 1.6 g/kg of body weight per day would result in an increase in strength and fat-free mass, but that higher intakes would not further contribute.

In addition to being potentially harmful, some have argued that there is little evidence to indicate any benefit to using bodybuilding protein or amino acid supplements. A 2005 overview concluded that “[i]n view of the lack of compelling evidence to the contrary, no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults undertaking resistance or endurance exercise”.

In dispute of this, a 2017 meta-analysis concluded that for athletes participating in resistance exercise training and consuming protein supplements for an average of 13 weeks, total protein intake up to 1.6 g per kg body weight per day would result in an increase in strength and fat-free mass, i.e. muscle, but that higher intakes would not further contribute. The muscle mass increase was statistically significant but modest – averaging 0.3 for all trials and 1.0 to 2.0 kg, for protein intake ≥ 1.6 g/kg/day.

See also

3 Simple Habits That Can Protect Your Brain From Cognitive Decline

You might think that the impact of aging on the brain is something you can’t do much about. After all, isn’t it an inevitability? To an extent, as we may not be able to rewind the clock and change our levels of higher education or intelligence (both factors that delay the onset of symptoms of aging).

But adopting specific lifestyle behaviors–whether you’re in your thirties or late forties–can have a tangible effect on how well you age. Even in your fifties and beyond, activities like learning a new language or musical instrument, taking part in aerobic exercise, and developing meaningful social relationships can do wonders for your brain. There’s no question that when we compromise on looking after ourselves, our aging minds pick up the tab.

The Aging Process and Cognitive Decline

Over time, there is a build-up of toxins such as tau proteins and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that correlate to the aging process and associated cognitive decline. Although this is a natural part of growing older, many factors can exacerbate it. Stress, neurotoxins such as alcohol and lack of (quality and quantity) sleep can speed up the process.

Neuroplasticity–the function that allows the brain to change and develop in our lifetime–has three mechanisms: synaptic connection, myelination, and neurogenesis. The key to resilient aging is improving neurogenesis, the birth of new neurons. Neurogenesis happens far more in babies and children than adults.

A 2018 study by researchers at Columbia University shows that in adults, this type of neuroplastic activity occurs in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that lays down memories. This makes sense as we respond to and store new experiences every day, and cement them during sleep. The more we can experience new things, activities, people, places, and emotions, the more likely we are to encourage neurogenesis.

With all this in mind, we can come up with a three-point plan to encourage “resilient aging” by activating neurogenesis in the brain:

1. Get your heart rate up

Aerobic exercise such as running or brisk walking has a potentially massive impact on neurogenesis. A 2016 rat study found that endurance exercise was most effective in increasing neurogenesis. It wins out over HIIT sessions and resistance training, although doing a variety of exercise also has its benefits.

Aim to do aerobic exercise for 150 minutes per week, and choose the gym, the park, or natural landscape over busy roads to avoid compromising brain-derived neurotrophic factor production (BDNF), a growth factor that encourages neurogenesis that aerobic exercise can boost. However, exercising in polluted areas decreases production.

If exercising alone isn’t your thing, consider taking up a team sport or one with a social element like table tennis. Exposure to social interaction can also increase the neurogenesis, and in many instances, doing so lets you practice your hand-eye coordination, which research has suggested leads to structural changes in the brain that may relate to a range of cognitive benefit. This combination of coordination and socializing has been shown to increase brain thickness in the parts of the cortex related to social/emotional welfare, which is crucial as we age.

2. Change your eating patterns

Evidence shows that calorie restriction, intermittent fasting, and time-restricted eating encourage neurogenesis in humans. In rodent studies, intermittent fasting has been found to improve cognitive function and brain structure, and reduce symptoms of metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Reducing refined sugar will help reduce oxidative damage to brain cells, too, and we know that increased oxidative damage has been linked with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Twenty-four hour water-only fasts have also been proven to increase longevity and encourage neurogenesis.

Try any of the following, after checking with your doctor:

  • 24-hour water-only fast once a month
  •  Reducing your calorie intake by 50%-60% on two non-consecutive days of the week for two to three months or on an ongoing basis
  • Reducing calories by 20% every day for two weeks. You can do this three to four times a year
  • Eating only between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. as a general rule

3. Prioritize sleep

Sleep helps promote the brain’s neural “cleaning” glymphatic system, which flushes out the build-up of age-related toxins in the brain (the tau proteins and beta amyloid plaques mentioned above). When people are sleep-deprived, we see evidence of memory deficits, and if you miss a whole night of sleep, research proves that it impacts IQ. Aim for seven to nine hours, and nap if it suits you. Our need to sleep decreases as we age.

Of course, there are individual exceptions, but having consistent sleep times and making sure you’re getting sufficient quality and length of sleep supports brain resilience over time. So how do you know if you’re getting enough? If you naturally wake up at the same time on weekends that you have to during the week, you probably are.

If you need to lie-in or take long naps, you’re probably not. Try practicing mindfulness or yoga nidra before bed at night, a guided breath-based meditation that has been shown in studies to improve sleep quality. There are plenty of recordings online if you want to experience it.

Pick any of the above that work for you and build it up until it becomes a habit, then move onto the next one and so on. You might find that by the end of the year, you’ll feel even healthier, more energized, and motivated than you do now, even as you turn another year older.

By: Fast Company / Tara Swart

Dr. Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, author, and medical doctor. Follow her on Twitter at @TaraSwart.

Source: Open-Your-Mind-Change

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Critics:

Cognitive deficit is an inclusive term to describe any characteristic that acts as a barrier to the cognition process.

The term may describe

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a neurocognitive disorder which involves cognitive impairments beyond those expected based on an individual’s age and education but which are not significant enough to interfere with instrumental activities of daily living. MCI may occur as a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. It includes both memory and non-memory impairments.Mild cognitive impairment has been relisted as mild neurocognitive disorder in DSM-5, and in ICD-11.

The cause of the disorder remains unclear, as well as its prevention and treatment. MCI can present with a variety of symptoms, but is divided generally into two types.

Amnestic MCI (aMCI) is mild cognitive impairment with memory loss as the predominant symptom; aMCI is frequently seen as a prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that these individuals tend to progress to probable Alzheimer’s disease at a rate of approximately 10% to 15% per year.[needs update]It is possible that being diagnosed with cognitive decline may serve as an indicator of aMCI.

Nonamnestic MCI (naMCI) is mild cognitive impairment in which impairments in domains other than memory (for example, language, visuospatial, executive) are more prominent. It may be further divided as nonamnestic single- or multiple-domain MCI, and these individuals are believed to be more likely to convert to other dementias (for example, dementia with Lewy bodies).

See also

Millions of Electric Cars are Coming What Happens To All The Dead Batteries

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The battery pack of a Tesla Model S is a feat of intricate engineering. Thousands of cylindrical cells with components sourced from around the world transform lithium and electrons into enough energy to propel the car hundreds of kilometers, again and again, without tailpipe emissions. But when the battery comes to the end of its life, its green benefits fade.

If it ends up in a landfill, its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals. And recycling the battery can be a hazardous business, warns materials scientist Dana Thompson of the University of Leicester. Cut too deep into a Tesla cell, or in the wrong place, and it can short-circuit, combust, and release toxic fume.

That’s just one of the many problems confronting researchers, including Thompson, who are trying to tackle an emerging problem: how to recycle the millions of electric vehicle (EV) batteries that manufacturers expect to produce over the next few decades. Current EV batteries “are really not designed to be recycled,” says Thompson, a research fellow at the Faraday Institution, a research center focused on battery issues in the United Kingdom.

That wasn’t much of a problem when EVs were rare. But now the technology is taking off. Several carmakers have said they plan to phase out combustion engines within a few decades, and industry analysts predict at least 145 million EVs will be on the road by 2030, up from just 11 million last year. “People are starting to realize this is an issue,” Thompson says.

Governments are inching toward requiring some level of recycling. In 2018, China imposed new rules aimed at promoting the reuse of EV battery components. The European Union is expected to finalize its first requirements this year. In the United States, the federal government has yet to advance recycling mandates, but several states, including California—the nation’s largest car market—are exploring setting their own rules.

Complying won’t be easy. Batteries differ widely in chemistry and construction, which makes it difficult to create efficient recycling systems. And the cells are often held together with tough glues that make them difficult to take apart. That has contributed to an economic obstacle: It’s often cheaper for batterymakers to buy freshly mined metals than to use recycled materials.

Better recycling methods would not only prevent pollution, researchers note, but also help governments boost their economic and national security by increasing supplies of key battery metals that are controlled by one or a few nations. “On the one side, [disposing of EV batteries] is a waste management problem. And on the other side, it’s an opportunity for producing a sustainable secondary stream of critical materials,” says Gavin Harper, a University of Birmingham researcher who studies EV policy issues.

To jump-start recycling, governments and industry are putting money into an array of research initiatives. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has pumped some $15 million into a ReCell Center to coordinate studies by scientists in academia, industry, and at government laboratories. The United Kingdom has backed the ReLiB project, a multi-institution effort. As the EV industry ramps up, the need for progress is becoming urgent, says Linda Gaines, who works on battery recycling at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. “The sooner we can get everything moving,” she says, “the better.

Now, recyclers primarily target metals in the cathode, such as cobalt and nickel, that fetch high prices. (Lithium and graphite are too cheap for recycling to be economical.) But because of the small quantities, the metals are like needles in a haystack: hard to find and recover.

To extract those needles, recyclers rely on two techniques, known as pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. The more common is pyrometallurgy, in which recyclers first mechanically shred the cell and then burn it, leaving a charred mass of plastic, metals, and glues. At that point, they can use several methods to extract the metals, including further burning. “Pyromet is essentially treating the battery as if it were an ore” straight from a mine, Gaines says. Hydrometallurgy, in contrast, involves dunking battery materials in pools of acid, producing a metal-laden soup. Sometimes the two methods are combined.

Each has advantages and downsides. Pyrometallurgy, for example, doesn’t require the recycler to know the battery’s design or composition, or even whether it is completely discharged, in order to move ahead safely. But it is energy intensive. Hydrometallurgy can extract materials not easily obtained through burning, but it can involve chemicals that pose health risks.

And recovering the desired elements from the chemical soup can be difficult, although researchers are experimenting with compounds that promise to dissolve certain battery metals but leave others in a solid form, making them easier to recover. For example, Thompson has identified one candidate, a mixture of acids and bases called a deep eutectic solvent, that dissolves everything but nickel.

Both processes produce extensive waste and emit greenhouse gases, studies have found. And the business model can be shaky: Most operations depend on selling recovered cobalt to stay in business, but batterymakers are trying to shift away from that relatively expensive metal. If that happens, recyclers could be left trying to sell piles of “dirt,” says materials scientist Rebecca Ciez of Purdue University.

The ideal is direct recycling, which would keep the cathode mixture intact. That’s attractive to batterymakers because recycled cathodes wouldn’t require heavy processing, Gaines notes (although manufacturers might still have to revitalize cathodes by adding small amounts of lithium). “So if you’re thinking circular economy, [direct recycling] is a smaller circle than pyromet or hydromet.”

In direct recycling, workers would first vacuum away the electrolyte and shred battery cells. Then, they would remove binders with heat or solvents, and use a flotation technique to separate anode and cathode materials. At this point, the cathode material resembles baby powder.

So far, direct recycling experiments have only focused on single cells and yielded just tens of grams of cathode powders. But researchers at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory have built economic models showing the technique could, if scaled up under the right conditions, be viable in the future.

To realize direct recycling, however, batterymakers, recyclers, and researchers need to sort out a host of issues. One is making sure manufacturers label their batteries, so recyclers know what kind of cell they are dealing with—and whether the cathode metals have any value. Given the rapidly changing battery market, Gaines notes, cathodes manufactured today might not be able to find a future buyer. Recyclers would be “recovering a dinosaur. No one will want the product.”

Another challenge is efficiently cracking open EV batteries. Nissan’s rectangular Leaf battery module can take 2 hours to dismantle. Tesla’s cells are unique not only for their cylindrical shape, but also for the almost indestructible polyurethane cement that holds them together.

Engineers might be able to build robots that could speed battery disassembly, but sticky issues remain even after you get inside the cell, researchers note. That’s because more glues are used to hold the anodes, cathodes, and other components in place. One solvent that recyclers use to dissolve cathode binders is so toxic that the European Union has introduced restrictions on its use, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined last year that it poses an “unreasonable risk” to workers.“In terms of economics, you’ve got to disassemble … [and] if you want to disassemble, then you’ve got to get rid of glues,” says Andrew Abbott, a chemist at the University of Leicester and Thompson’s adviser.

To ease the process, Thompson and other researchers are urging EV- and batterymakers to start designing their products with recycling in mind. The ideal battery, Abbott says, would be like a Christmas cracker, a U.K. holiday gift that pops open when the recipient pulls at each end, revealing candy or a message. As an example, he points to the Blade Battery, a lithium ferrophosphate battery released last year by BYD, a Chinese EV-maker. Its pack does away with the module component, instead storing flat cells directly inside. The cells can be removed easily by hand, without fighting with wires and glues.

The Blade Battery emerged after China in 2018 began to make EV manufacturers responsible for ensuring batteries are recycled. The country now recycles more lithium-ion batteries than the rest of the world combined, using mostly pyro- and hydrometallurgical methods.

Nations moving to adopt similar policies face some thorny questions. One, Thompson says, is who should bear primary responsibility for making recycling happen. “Is it my responsibility because I bought [an EV] or is it the manufacturer’s responsibility because they made it and they’re selling it?” In the European Union, one answer could come later this year, when officials release the continent’s first rule. And next year a panel of experts created by the state of California is expected to weigh in with recommendations that could have a big influence over any U.S. policy.

Recycling researchers, meanwhile, say effective battery recycling will require more than just technological advances. The high cost of transporting combustible items long distances or across borders can discourage recycling. As a result, placing recycling centers in the right places could have a “massive impact,” Harper says. “But there’s going to be a real challenge in systems integration and bringing all these different bits of research together.”

There’s little time to waste, Abbott says. “What you don’t want is 10 years’ worth of production of a cell that is absolutely impossible to pull apart,” he says. “It’s not happening yet—but people are shouting and worried it will happen.

By Ian Morse

Source: Millions of electric cars are coming. What happens to all the dead batteries? | Science | AAAS

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References

Best, Paul (19 November 2020). “GM doubles down on commitment to electric vehicles, increases spending to $27B”. FOXBusiness. Retrieved 20 November 2020.

Health Authorities Know What’s Potentially Causing Vaping-Related Deaths

Topline: The CDC announced on Thursday that vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in skincare products that is dangerous when heated or inhaled, is a “very strong culprit” in the spate of vaping-related lung injuries and deaths have for months perplexed and alarmed federal health officials.

  • The CDC determination comes from a study that examined 29 samples from patients with vaping-related lung illnesses. All 29 of them contained traces of vitamin E acetate.
  • No other potential toxins were detected.
  • Vitamin E acetate is a chemical commonly found in skincare products, and it isn’t dangerous when applied to the skin or swallowed. But when heated and inhaled through vaping devices, the chemical can cause harm to a patient’s lungs.
  • Vitamin E acetate has been recently used in black market products containing THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, as a thickening agent.
  • But officials do not yet know exactly where the vitamin E acetate is coming from.
  • THC was found in 23 of 28 patients, including three who said they had not used THC products, while nicotine was detected in 16 of 26 patients.
  • Officials cautioned that there could more than one toxin causing the illnesses, and more evidence is needed to establish a causal link between vitamin E acetate and the injuries.

Crucial quote: “These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury within the lungs,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the CDC, in a press call Thursday. “And the samples reflect patients from across the country.”

Key background: As of Tuesday 2,051 cases of vaping-related illnesses have been reported along with 39 deaths, according to the CDC. The cause of the lung injuries and deaths have prompted health officials to warn against vaping altogether and for state and federal lawmakers to mull or impose vaping sale bans.

Further reading: Read the CDC’s report on the study here.

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I’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering breaking news at Forbes. Previously, I’ve reported for USA Today, Business Insider, The San Francisco Business Times and San Jose Inside. I studied journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was an editor at The Daily Orange, the university’s independent student newspaper. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email rsandler@forbes.com.

Source: Health Authorities Know What’s Potentially Causing Vaping-Related Deaths

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