Are Any Plastics Safe? Industry Tries to Hide Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Containers: Interview with Mariah Blake
‘A new exposé by Mother Jones magazine may shock anyone who drinks out of plastic bottles, gives their children plastic sippy cups, eats out of plastic containers, or stores food with plastic wrap. For years, public campaigns have been waged against plastic containing bisphenol-A (BPA), a controversial plastic additive, due to concerns about adverse human health effects caused by the exposure to synthetic estrogen. But a new investigation by Mother Jones reporter Mariah Blake has revealed that chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as dangerous to your health, if not more. Plastic products being advertised as BPA-free — and sold by companies such as Evenflo, Nalgene and Tupperware — are still releasing synthetic estrogen. The Mother Jones piece also reveals how the plastics industry has used a “Big Tobacco-style campaign” to bury the disturbing scientific evidence about the products you use every day. Blake joins us to discuss her findings.’ (Democracy Now!)
Toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children — such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia — according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The researchers say a new global prevention strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed. The report [was] published online February 15, 2014 in Lancet Neurology.
“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.
The report follows up on a similar review conducted by the authors in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” or chemicals that can cause brain deficits. The new study offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognized ones, including manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants).
In a finding that surprised even the researchers conducting the study, it turns out that both rich and poor Americans are walking toxic waste dumps for chemicals like mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and bisphenol A, which could be a cause of infertility. And while a buildup of environmental toxins in the body afflicts rich and poor alike, the type of toxin varies by wealth.
EFSA’s scientific experts have provisionally concluded that for all population groups diet is the major source of exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) and exposure is lower than previously estimated by EFSA. BPA is a chemical compound used in food contact materials such as packaging as well as in other consumer products. This is the Authority’s first review of exposure to BPA since 2006 and the first to cover both dietary and non-dietary sources (including thermal paper and environmental sources such as air and dust). As part of a two-stage process of its full risk assessment, EFSA is now seeking feedback on this draft assessment of consumer exposure to BPA. During a later phase, EFSA will publicly consult on the second part of its draft opinion, focussing on its assessment of the potential human health risks of BPA.
New data resulting from an EFSA call for data led to a considerable refinement of exposure estimates compared to 2006. For infants and toddlers (aged 6 months-3 years) average exposure from the diet is estimated to amount to 375 nanograms per kilogram of body weightper day (ng/kg bw/day) whereas for the population above 18 years of age (including women of child-bearing age) the figure is up to 132 ng/kg bw/day. By comparison, these estimates are less than 1% of the current Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for BPA (0.05 milligrams/kg bw/day) established by EFSA in 2006.
For all population groups above three years of age thermal paper was the second most important source of BPA after the diet (potentially accounting for up to 15% of total exposure in some population groups).
Among other key findings, scientists found dietary exposure to BPA to be the highest among children aged three to ten (explainable by their higher food consumption on a body weight basis). Canned food and non-canned meat and meat products were identified as major contributors to dietary BPA exposure for all age groups.
BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a chemical used in almost every type of food packaging to extend shelf life, make the product more durable, and withstand extreme temperatures. But it’s also been linked to plenty of health concerns, the newest concerns for pregnant women in particular. In addition to the functionality of BPA, it is also linked to increase risks of cancer, heart disease, and reproductive abnormalities.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) released a paper this week advising pregnant women to avoid BPA when possible. “Pregnant women should reduce the use of foods and beverages in cans and plastic containers to minimize exposure to chemicals including BPA as part of a safety-first approach,” the RCOG said in statement.
by Steve Connor
‘Further evidence has emerged showing that a chemical used widely in plastic packaging and the lining of drinks cans may be harmful to health.
The latest study has shown that bisphenol A (BPA) can affect the way genes work in the brains of laboratory rats, although other scientists have questioned the relevance of the findings to humans.
Researchers found that feeding BPA to pregnant rats was associated with lasting alterations to the “epigenetic” structure of genes in the brain tissue of their offspring, causing possible changes to certain aspects of sex-specific behaviour, such as chasing, sniffing and aggression.
[...] The researchers concluded: “This study provides evidence that low-dose maternal BPA exposure induces long-lasting disruption to epigenetic pathways in the brain of offspring….Importantly, our findings indicate that these BPA-induced changes occur in a sex-specific, brain region-specific and dose-dependent manner.”’
[...] To date, science has not directly linked any of these environmental exposures with any of the disabling behavioral and cognitive conditions that fall along the autism spectrum. But rising rates of autism along with the increasing breadth and reach of synthetic chemicals — some of which are known to be toxic and most of which we know near nothing about — raises questions for which scientists are beginning to offer a few answers.
As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in April, autism now affects an estimated one in 88 kids. Among boys, the burden is even higher: about one in 54. And the ramifications of the rise go beyond the child, the family and even the school. In decades to come, individuals with autism are now expected will account for one in 88 adults, meaning society will pay the price in terms of lifetime care and other medical expenses. All told, managing autism already costs the country $35 billion a year.
Researchers sense the urgency. Many are now investigating factors that might help curb the epidemic. This generally means looking beyond genetics, the avenue of investigation that has consumed most of the government’s funds and researchers’ time over the last several years.
“While studying genes might help us identify diagnostic tests, which can make you a profit, it will not lead us towards preventing disease,” said Bruce Lanphear, an environmental health researcher at Simon Frasier University in British Columbia. He pointed to lung cancer as a case in point: All the genetic links in the world amount to little compared to the role of smoking cigarettes, and therefore encouraging people to abstain is medicine’s single most effective response.
It’s also increasingly clear that genetics can’t tell the whole story of autism. A Stanford University study of twins published last year found that genetics accounts for just 38 percent of the risk.
“That analysis suggested that the assumption that this is mostly a genetic condition was perhaps made in error,” said Diana Schendel, a scientist with the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “Maybe the environment plays a larger role in autism than we once believed.”
Schendel, who is involved in a large study looking at possible risk factors during a child’s early development, doesn’t expect to find one smoking gun. Like other experts in the field, she thinks a cocktail of chemical insults on top of genetic susceptibility is likely to blame for each case of autism.
Drugs used decades ago to treat morning sickness, bipolar disorder and ulcers, as well as the insecticide chlorpyrifos, have already been tied to autism. With about 80,000 chemicals available for industry use, most of which remain untested for toxicities, researchers have plenty more potential culprits to investigate. A study spearheaded by the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group found an average of 200 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals in 2004.
Such figures have raised alarms given the host of health problems on the rise among kids, including diabetes, obesity, asthma and cancer. Growing children are extremely sensitive to chemicals, even at very low doses. And of all the developing organs, the brain may be the most vulnerable. The time window for a chemical to wreak havoc extends from the early embryo all the way through adolescence, when the brain finally matures.
“The brain goes through rapid changes, all complex and all easily disrupted,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. “Take a Swiss watch and multiply that by 1,000.”
In April, Landrigan co-authored a report that highlighted 10 widely used chemicalsand mixtures of chemicals that are suspected of harming the developing brain, including lead, methylmercury, organochlorine pesticides, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol-A and phthalates, automobile exhaust, and flame retardants.
Recent research by Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an autism expert at the University of California, Davis, supports the list. She has found hints of links between autism andproximity to freeways, pesticides and a parent’s occupational exposures, as well asnutrition.
The latter study was the first to illustrate how genes and the environment might interact to trigger the disease. “Children who inherited unlucky genes that made them less efficient at utilizing and metabolizing the folic acid of prenatal vitamins had a five- to seven-fold higher risk of autism,” Hertz-Picciotto said.
Other research published over the past few months has added evidence that flame retardants and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as some factors more broadly considered environmental such as a mother’s diabetes or fevers during pregnancy, might be implicated in autism and other learning disorders. Several more ongoing studies are looking into social factors, medications taken during pregnancy, and infections.
“We are so many years away from having the answers, but we are far closer to a tsunami of young autistic men in our communities, getting assaulted, assaulting others,” said Donna Ross-Jones of Los Angeles, who blogs about life as the mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism. “When we look at the impact on housing and employment, on society, it’s pretty scary. This is not like a small group we can put in a closet.”
Bisphenol A (BPA) is often used to line food and beverage cans as well as to keep plastics flexible, but a new study suggests the compound can leach into the foods we eat.
BPA has been linked to behavior problems, obesity, hormone abnormalities and even kidney and heart problems. Now, new research from scientists at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health has found a link between the compound and an increased risk for asthma.
“Our study found that routine low doses of exposure were associated with increased odds in wheezing,” said lead author Dr. Kathleen Donohue, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and an investigator at the center.
Donohue and her colleagues followed 568 women participating in a study on environmental exposures to mothers and newborns. They measured the BPA levels in the women’s urine during their third trimester of pregnancy and also tested their kids’ urine for BPA when they were aged 3, 5 and 7. At ages 5 and 12, based on their symptoms, tests and medical history, their physicians diagnosed the children who met the criteria for asthma with the respiratory disorder.
Donohue and her team found that BPA might be one of the environmental exposures that may have contributed to the increase in asthma over the years. She also said that pregnant women pass the chemical to their fetuses through their blood stream or placenta.
However, there are things that consumers can do to help prevent ingesting BPA. Donohue recommends that people “use less canned foods, use less stainless steel.” She also suggests that before purchasing plastic products to check the number in the small triangle on the bottom of the merchandise. It is better to avoid anything plastic with a 3 or a 7.
Scientists at Duke University say a substance found in many plastics could inhibit the development of the central nervous system. The report says bisphenol-A, widely known as BPA, can suppress the chemical chain of events that allows neurons to improve their functioning early in life.
“It disrupts this process and it corrupts this process,” says Dr. Wolfgang Liedtke, lead author of the study.
“And that, for example, would be a scenario that fits very nicely to the setting of neuro-developmental diseases, where we see an exponential growth in the number of cases that are being diagnosed year by year.”
Liedtke says BPA had harsher effects on female neurons harvested from mice, rats and aborted human fetuses. He says that suggests BPA exposure could be linked to autism disorders such as Rett Syndrome, which is almost exclusively found in girls. The study appears in Monday’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
by Andrew Hough
In a landmark report, the WHO warned “synthetic chemicals” had “serious implications” for human health.
The global health watchdog suggested so-called “gender-bending” compounds found in toys, PVC flooring and even credit cards should be banned in order to protect future generations.
The study said that more research was needed to fully understand the links between endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) – found in many household and industrial products – and “specific diseases and disorders”.
It found links between exposure to EDCs and health issues such as testicular problems, breast, prostate and thyroid cancer, developmental effects on the nervous system in children and attention deficit hyperactivity in children.
The UN agency said the study, titled State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, was the most “comprehensive” report on EDCs to date because it has evaluated several chemicals and related evidence rather than focusing on just one.
The report, published following more than two years of research, admitted it was “reasonable to suspect” substances called phthalates – often found in pesticides bisphenol A and other PCBs – harmed female fertility and increased childhood illnesses such as leukaemia.
It also flagged concerns of bisphenol A, a man-made compound found in a host of daily items such as tin cans and sunglasses, which is thought to interfere with the natural hormones that influence a person’s development and growth.
According to the WHO, there was “very strong evidence” in animals they can interfere with thyroid hormones, which could cause brain damage, decrease intelligence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
In prostate cancer, “significant evidence” existed that suggested a link with agricultural pesticides, the team of international medical experts found. It also said wildlife was at risk.
“The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety,” said the report.
“Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases.”
The same report published a decade ago, found only “weak evidence” that the chemicals harmed human health.
“The latest science shows that communities across the globe are being exposed to EDCs, and their associated risks,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director for Public Health and Environment.
“WHO will work with partners to establish research priorities to investigate links to EDCs and human health impacts in order to mitigate the risks.
“We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.”
The study reflected similar warnings from the European Environment Agency (EEA) last year, which warned items such as cosmetics and medicines containing EDCs could be harmful to humans.
Bisphenol A, also known as BPA is a chemical that is commonly found in a large number of consumer products including water bottles and food containers. In fact, in the United States, this dangerous chemical is found in more than 90% of the population, which points to widespread exposure. While the chemical is linked to numerous health issues, research out of Penn State College of Medicine found that early exposure to BPA while pregnant may lead to wheezing in children.
The studies followed 367 children whose mothers all had traceable levels of BPA in their urine during pregnancy. Parents monitored and reported on wheezing episodes twice yearly for a period of three years.
The results indicated that children at six months were twice as likely to have a wheezing episode if their mothers had elevated levels of BPA during pregnancy as those children whose mothers levels were lower. As the children aged, the effects seemed to diminish.
When researchers investigated urine concentrations of BPA at different times in the pregnancy, it was discovered that pregnant women exposed at 16 weeks led to a greater change of children wheezing than those exposed at 26 weeks. Exposure early in pregnancy appears to be worse than later exposure.
Jet Fuel, Plastics Exposures Cause Disease in Later Generations; Reproductive Diseases, Obesity ~ Science Daily
Washington State University researchers have lengthened their list of environmental toxicants that can negatively affect as many as three generations of an exposed animal’s offspring.
Writing in the online journal PLOS ONE, scientists led by molecular biologist Michael Skinner document reproductive disease and obesity in the descendants of rats exposed to the plasticizer bisephenol-A, or BPA, as well DEHP and DBP, plastic compounds known as phthalates.
In a separate article in the journalReproductive Toxicology, they report the first observation of cross-generation disease from a widely used hydrocarbon mixture the military refers to as JP8.
Both studies are the first of their kind to see obesity stemming from the process of “epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.” While the animals are inheriting traits conveyed by their parents’ DNA sequences, they are also having epigenetic inheritance with some genes turned on and off. Skinner’s lab in the past year has documented these epigenetic effects from a host of environmental toxicants, including plastics, pesticides, fungicide, dioxin and hydrocarbons.
The recent PLOS ONE study found “significant increases” in disease and abnormalities in the first and third generations of both male and female descendants of animals exposed to plastics. The first generation, whose mother had been directly exposed during gestation, had increased kidney and prostate diseases. The third generation had pubertal abnormalities, testis disease, ovarian disease and obesity.
The study also identified nearly 200 epigenetic molecular markers for exposure and transgenerational disease. The markers could lead to the development of a diagnostic tool and new therapies.
The Reproductive Toxicology study exposed female rats to the hydrocarbon mixture as their fetuses’ gonads were developing. The first generation of offspring had increased kidney and prostate abnormalities and ovarian disease. The third generation had increased losses of primordial follicles, the precursors to eggs, polycystic ovarian disease and obesity.
The study, said Skinner, “provides additional support for the possibility that environmental toxicants can promote the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease.”
“Your great-grandmothers exposures during pregnancy may cause disease in you, while you had no exposure,” he said. “This is a non-genetic form of inheritance not involving DNA sequence, but environmental impacts on DNA chemical modifications. This is the first set of studies to show the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease such as obesity, which suggests ancestral exposures may be a component of the disease development.”
Canned foods are convenient; they are cheap, and they can last a really long time. They are great if you are stocking up for a breakdown of the system as we know it or the zombie apocalypse. But, many canned goods carry a dangerous secret, Bisphenol-A (BPA). While it isn’t much of a secret anymore, the U.S. government would have you think there’s nothing to worry about, “nothing to see here”. While other governments have labeled this chemical compound a “toxic substance,” the FDA simply says they “need more research.”
Here’s what you need to know about BPA and canned goods:
- BPA is a known hormone disrupter, which mimics estrogen in the body. It has been tied to fertility problems and even breast and prostate cancer.
- Studies from Yale School of Medicine have concluded that BPA causes “adverse neurological effects.”
- BPA may be causing early onset puberty and reproductive “abnormalities”.
- It’s even been linked to ADHD.
It is quite disturbing that a study conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund has found that BPA is highly present in 6 different canned foods marketed specifically towards children. These canned goods are leaking BPA, and causing numerous health problems. Some research from Harvard University found that eating canned soup can spike your urinary bisphenol A levels by 1,200% compared to fresh soup.
While the U.S. recently banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, it remains in most plastic food containers and the lining of canned goods. In 2010, Canada became the first country to outright name BPA as a toxic substance. If government scientists there are willing to step up and make that bold statement, don’t you think they might have some pretty good evidence?
Sadly, it seems nearly impossible to avoid all BPA because it is so prevalent. However, you can reduce your exposure by giving up canned goods.
- Find canned or preserved goods in glass jars.
- Preserve your own foods.
- Eat fresh whenever possible.
- Don’t expose anything containing BPA to the microwave, dishwasher, or heat in general. Heat hastens and amplifies the BPA-leaking process.
Bisphenol A, a substance found in many synthetic products, is considered to be harmful, particularly, for fetuses and babies. Researchers from the University of Bonn have now shown in experiments on cells from human and mouse tissue that this environmental chemical blocks calcium channels in cell membranes. Similar effects are elicited by drugs used to treat high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia.
The results are now presented in the journal Molecular Pharmacology.
The industrial chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is worldwide extensively utilized for manufacturing polycarbonates and synthetic resins. “This substance has been shown to affect the hormonal system and may have negative effects on the function of enzymes and carrier proteins,” reports Prof. Dr. Dieter Swandulla from the Institute of Physiology II at the University of Bonn. BPA is associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and neurological dysfunction. “It seems that fetuses and newborns are particularly sensitive to BPA,” adds the physiologist. Due to its unpredictable effects, the EU Commission banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2011 as a precaution.
Bisphenol A blocks multiple essential calcium channels
The team of researchers around Prof. Swandulla now reports that BPA reversibly blocks calcium channels essential for cell function in mouse and human cells. Calcium ions flowing through these pore-like so-called channel proteins into living cells, control e.g. the contraction of heart muscle cells, the activity of enzymes, and the communication of nerve cells with each other. “Drugs such as those used to treat high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia on the one hand, and neurotoxins, such as heavy metals, on the other hand act on exactly the same calcium channels,” explains the physiologist from the University of Bonn. “This indicates that BPA can indeed have adverse effects on human health.” Since BPA binds to the calcium channels reversibly, there is at least the possibility of the chemical being eliminated from the body.
Bisphenol A and its derivatives are ubiquitous
Nowadays BPA and its related substances can be detected almost everywhere in the environment. Effective doses are found in CD’s, paper money, thermal paper, food cans, dental fillings and flame retardants, even in the breathing air and in house dust. Humans are meanwhile chronically exposed to these compounds. “This is why it would be desirable to completely stop the production of BPA,” says Prof. Swandulla. “Due to the high-volume production and its widespread occurrence, it would, however, take a very long time to remove this chemical from the environment and the human organism.” Consequently, alternatives to BPA should be utilized which are harmless to humans and other organisms.
by Lisa Garber
In a study involving over 26,600 French men, researchers concluded that average sperm count decreased by 32.2% in the past 17 years. We’re sad, but not surprised. In addition to the number of sperm dropping dramatically, the number of normally formed sperm also declined by a third.
University of Sheffield’s Dr. Allan Pacey, however, says the study “does not resolve the issue of whether or not sperm counts have declined or not. If we were to believe the data uncritically, we should put the changes into clinical context: the change in sperm concentration described 73.6 to 49.9 million per milliliter is still well within the normal range and above the lower threshold of concern used by doctors which is suggestive of male infertility (15 million per milliliter).”
The study authors insist in the journal Human Reproduction, however, “This constitutes a serious public health warning. The link with the environment particularly needs to be determined.”
Environmental factors, in fact, like the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, are on our list of possible reasons the sperm count of the French, and Americans, has fallen.
1. BPA, Endocrine Disruptors
Ubiquitous chemicals like bisphenol-A (and its close cousin, bisphenol-S, which is found in abundance in BPA-free products) have linked to various reproductive difficulties and even anogenital distance in male infants (who later face 7 times the risk of being sub-fertile). Although BPA has been banned in baby bottles, the chemical is still heavily used in plastics, canned food, cosmetics, and more.
Dr. Joelle Le Moal from the Institut de Veille Sanitaire says, “Impairments in the quality of human gametes (male sperm and female eggs) can be considered as critical biomarkers of effects for environmental stresses, including endocrine disrupters. Firstly, this is because gametes are the very first cells from which human beings are built up during their lifetimes.
“According to the theories about the developmental origins of health and diseases, early exposures may have an impact on adult health.”
2. Bad Food
France maintains a ban on GMOs, but that doesn’t mean everything they eat is GMO-free. GMO technology and glyphosate (an ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, often found in residual traces on conventionally grown food) have been repeatedly linked with infertility in men. Eating junk food containing GMOs (and animals raised on GMOs) might therefore contribute to a lower sperm count.
3. Computers and Wi-Fi
Just 4 hours of using a Wi-Fi connected laptop leads to a dramatic drop in sperm quality. And according to a study published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes of laptop use to cause scrotal damage and impair fertility. This is true likely thanks to both the excessive heat of a laptop as well as the low-dose radiation from Wi-Fi. In fact, one couple conceived only after the male began using his laptop not on his lap but on a table or desk.
So what can be done to protect sperm health? Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to positively affect sperm health, and turmeric is a radioprotective substance with countless other benefits. Avoidance of the aforementioned factors, however, is the best—and most difficult—course of action.
[..] Studies across the world show the age that girls are physically maturing is falling all the time. Now doctors are revising their opinions of what is ‘normal’. And a startling number of children in Britain are beginning puberty at a shockingly early age. Many parents are stunned when they learn that, according to official NHS advice, early — or precocious — puberty is only diagnosed if breast or pubic hair growth ‘starts before the age of six to eight’.
So what is causing this disturbing phenomenon? Doctors are unable to fully explain it — but one theory is that exposure to chemicals in the environment, processed foods and plastics that mimic the effects of hormones are triggering maturity sooner. Other studies have linked it to the fact that girls are generally gaining weight earlier in life thanks to better nutrition — while other studies have found a link to exposure to artificial light from TV and computer screens.
Every decade, according to German researchers, the average age for the onset of puberty falls by four to five months.
So girls who appear to be growing up faster than ever actually are.
In girls, breast development is generally the first sign of adolescence. The most comprehensive U.S. research suggests this starts aged seven for 10 per cent of white girls, and 23 per cent of black girls — 15 years ago the percentages were half that. Studies show that black girls go into puberty so consistently earlier than white girls (regardless of weight or size) that researchers believe it is mainly down to genetic differences between the races — ie. the gene that triggers puberty is activated earlier in black children.
A further study, published this month, shows precocious puberty is also affecting boys. It found it starts two years earlier than previously expected — at an average age of nine for black boys, and ten for white.
Yet it seems parents — as well as primary schools — are finding it hard to adapt to the changes.
The changes of puberty affect girls more deeply, because they experience a more visible transformation, which leaves them open to teasing from their peers.
It also means dealing with issues like pre-menstrual tension, headaches, anaemia and acne before a child is psychologically ready to understand what’s happening to her body.
The chemical, better known as BPA, is used to make hard plastic containers and metal can linings.
“Based on the overall weight of evidence, the findings of the previous assessment remain unchanged and Health Canada’s Food Directorate continues to conclude that current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children,” Health Canada’s Bureau of Chemical Safety wrote in its report.
“To be clear, no assessment is ever ‘final,’” the agency said in a statement. “Health Canada will continue to monitor the latest information around exposure to BPA and the safety of its use as a food packaging material.”
BPA made headlines in 2008 when it was found to leach out of plastic when heated. Studies by the Canadian government at the time concluded the chemical was “not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children.”
Two years later, however, the country declared the chemical “toxic” and banned it from baby bottles on the basis that, when heated, they might leach levels of BPA that are harmful to infants.
“Canada was the first country in the world to take action on bisphenol A by proposing a series of measures to reduce BPA exposure to newborns and infants,” Health Canada said. “It is important to note that this action was taken on a precautionary basis due to the uncertainty raised in some experimental studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A.”
But the precautionary move set off a chain reaction. Under consumer pressure, U.S. companies voluntarily pulled BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the ban official in June, even though the human health risks of dietary BPA exposure remain unclear.
“The FDA ban of BPA in baby bottles is not based on definitive scientific studies,” said Dr. Robert Brent, professor of pediatrics, radiology and pathology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “The country is bordering on lunacy from the exaggerated fear of chemicals.”
Laboratory studies in cells and animals have linked BPA to cancer, infertility and diabetes. And just three weeks ago, a study of more than 2,800 U.S. children and teens found those with high urinary levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.
“Our study can’t identify obesity as being caused by BPA. But in the context of increasing evidence from experimental studies, it raises further concern,” said study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.
The FDA admits it “sees substantial uncertainties with respect to the overall interpretation of many published studies, and, particularly, their potential implications for human health effects of BPA exposure,” according to a statement. But the agency said it will consider Trasande’s study in its “ongoing evaluation of the safety of BPA.”
The new report updates Health Canada’s 2008 BPA risk assessment with data from six Canadian studies conducted in the past four years. And although it reaffirms the government’s stance on the safety of BPA — that it is “not expected to represent a health risk” — Canada will “continue to support the development of alternatives to using BPA in food can linings and will prioritize the review of these new materials as they are developed,” according to the statement.
NEW research is demonstrating that some common chemicals all around us may be even more harmful than previously thought. It seems that they may damage us in ways that are transmitted generation after generation, imperiling not only us but also our descendants.
Yet following the script of Big Tobacco a generation ago, Big Chem has, so far, blocked any serious regulation of these endocrine disruptors, so called because they play havoc with hormones in the body’s endocrine system.
One of the most common and alarming is bisphenol-A,better known as BPA. The failure to regulate it means that it is unavoidable. BPA is found in everything from plastics to canned food to A.T.M. receipts. More than 90 percent of Americans have it in their urine.
Even before the latest research showing multigeneration effects, studies had linked BPA to breast cancer and diabetes, as well as to hyperactivity, aggression and depression in children.
Maybe it seems surprising to read a newspaper column about chemical safety because this isn’t an issue in the presidential campaign or even firmly on the national agenda. It’s not the kind of thing that we in the news media cover much.
Yet the evidence is growing that these are significant threats of a kind that Washington continually fails to protect Americans from. The challenge is that they involve complex science and considerable uncertainty, and the chemical companies — like the tobacco companies before them — create financial incentives to encourage politicians to sit on the fence. So nothing happens.
Yet although industry has, so far, been able to block broad national curbs on BPA, new findings on transgenerational effects may finally put a dent in Big Chem’s lobbying efforts.
One good sign: In late July, a Senate committee, for the first, time passed the Safe Chemicals Act, landmark legislation sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, that would begin to regulate the safety of chemicals.
Evidence of transgenerational effects of endocrine disruptors has been growing for a half-dozen years, but it mostly involved higher doses than humans would typically encounter.
Now Endocrinology, a peer-reviewed journal, has published a study measuring the impact of low doses of BPA. The study is devastating for the chemical industry.
Pregnant mice were exposed to BPA at dosages analogous to those humans typically receive. The offspring were less sociable than control mice (using metrics often used to assess an aspect of autism in humans), and various effects were also evident for the next three generations of mice.
The BPA seemed to interfere with the way the animals processed hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin, which affect trust and warm feelings. And while mice are not humans, research on mouse behavior is a standard way to evaluate new drugs or to measure the impact of chemicals.
“It’s scary,” said Jennifer T. Wolstenholme, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia and the lead author of the report. She said that the researchers found behaviors in BPA-exposed mice and their descendants that may parallel autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder in humans.
Emilie Rissman, a co-author who is professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at University of Virginia Medical School, noted that BPA doesn’t cause mutations in DNA. Rather, the impact is “epigenetic” — one of the hot concepts in biology these days — meaning that changes are transmitted not in DNA but by affecting the way genes are turned on and off.
In effect, this is a bit like evolution through transmission of acquired characteristics — the theory of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the 19th-century scientist whom high school science classes make fun of as a foil to Charles Darwin. In epigenetics, Lamarck lives.
“These results at low doses add profoundly to concerns about endocrine disruptors,” said John Peterson Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences. “It’s going to be harder than just eliminating exposure to one generation.”
The National Institutes of Health is concerned enough that it expects to make transgenerational impacts of endocrine disruptors a priority for research funding, according to a spokeswoman, Robin Mackar.
Like a lot of Americans, I used to be skeptical of risks from chemicals like endocrine disruptors that are all around us. What could be safer than canned food? I figured that opposition came from tree-hugging Luddites prone to conspiracy theories.
Yet, a few years ago, I began to read the peer-reviewed journal articles, and it became obvious that the opposition to endocrine disruptors is led by toxicologists, endocrinologists, urologists and pediatricians. These are serious scientists, yet they don’t often have the ear of politicians or journalists.
I’m hoping these new studies can help vault the issue onto the national stage. Threats to us need to be addressed, even if they come not from Iranian nuclear weapons, but from things as banal as canned soup and A.T.M. receipts.
If there was a problem with fertility, most men wouldn’t know it until they tried to conceive a child. Everything can seem to be in great working condition, but low sperm counts leading to infertility are more common than we might think. As a matter of fact, contrary to popular belief, about half of all infertility cases involve some problem on the man’s side of the two-person equation.
Sperm Counts Plummeting from Chemicals
According to experts, this usually comes as a surprise to men, who assume everything is working well until their wife doesn’t conceive after a few months of trying. Unlike in women, where symptoms like missed periods of erratic bleeding can signal fertility issues ahead of time, for men the problem is undetectable until the sperm is expected to perform.
Numerous factors can contribute to male infertility, but one—low sperm count—has progressively been getting worse over the past 50 years.
What’s causing the lowered sperm counts in men? Several things can be blamed, says Dr. Paul Turek, a male fertility specialist.
Contributing factors to a low sperm count include:
- Keeping your cell phone in your pocket
- Consistently using a laptop in your lap
- Recreational drugs
- Some hair loss medications
Yes, BPA (Bispehnol-A), still found in plastic food containers, can seriously affect both male and female fertility. Though the FDA recently moved to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles, it is still found in numerous everyday products. And even those labeled “BPA-free” now contain a distant relative to BPA, known as BPS chemical, whose affects may be just as detrimental.
Not only low sperm counts, but reproductive difficulties, including Anogenital distance, have been shown to come up from BPA-exposure in the past. Males with short AGD have been found to have 7 times the chance of being sub-fertile. This is a troubling statistic given that prenatal BPA exposure through parental consumption is associated with shortened AGD.
Eight million couples struggle with fertility problems in the United States each year. But, many of these problems can be easily prevented, with common sense nutrition, self-care, and conscious awareness of those triggers that can lead to a low sperm count.
“You know you can bring a sperm count to zero by taking hot baths every other day for a month,” Turek explained. “It’ll take you three months to recover. It’ll go to zero.”
Shortly after moving to Canada’s Okanagan Valley, Patricia Lee started experiencing severe irregularities in her menstrual cycle. She had one period that lasted two and a half months. The bleeding was so intense that at one point, doctors recommended a blood transfusion.
“I couldn’t sleep – it was excruciatingly painful and I grew quite weak,” said Lee, now 47. Her diagnosis: a fibroid, or benign tumor, the size of a ping-pong ball in her uterus, and two cysts in her ovaries.
At the time, Lee lived in a long, slender valley through the center of British Columbia that produces nearly all of the province’s tree fruits and grapes. Agriculture is intensive there, as is pesticide use.
Lee will never know what role, if any, her environment played in causing her uterine fibroids. But scientists have long suspected a link between hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment and gynecological diseases.
Research investigating these links has had mixed results. Now several new studies are adding to the evidence that some estrogen-mimicking pesticides and industrial chemicals may increase women’s risk of uterine and ovarian diseases – helping to solidify a theory that emerged two decades ago.
“Our studies are beginning to corroborate the idea that environmental estrogen may be associated with endometriosis,” said Germaine Buck-Louis, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s epidemiology division in Maryland.
Back in 1993, a connection between endometriosis and environmental chemicals was discovered. Rhesus monkeys fed food contaminated with dioxins – hormone-disrupting pollutants created by waste incinerators and other industries – developed endometriosis 10 years later.
Endometriosis, when uterine tissue grows in the ovaries or other parts of the body, often causes pelvic pain and infertility. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of reproductive-age women in the United States suffer from it, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
In a major new study, two groups of women in the Salt Lake City and San Francisco areas – one group with pelvic pain and the other with no symptoms — were more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis if they had high blood levels of the estrogen-like pesticide hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) than women with low levels. HCH has been banned as a crop pesticide in the United States but it builds up and persists in the environment, so it remains in some food supplies.
Calling the research “revolutionary,” Buck-Louis said that finding the link in both groups of women “is a pretty strong signal” that the connection between endometriosis and the pesticide is real.
Also, women in the same group with the highest blood of a sunscreen chemical, benzophenone, in their urine had a 19 percent higher risk of endometriosis than women with the lowest levels, according toresearch published in Environmental Science and Technology.
And in Italy, women had endometriosis more often if they had higher levels of two banned chlorinated chemicals that can disrupt hormones – polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or residue of the insecticide DDT, according to a 2009 study of 158 women.
Recent research has uncovered links to other gynecological problems, too. Women in Greece diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – which causes irregular menstrual periods, infertility, weight gain and excessive hair growth – were more likely to have higher blood levels of the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A than women without the disease, according to a study published last year.
“It’s certainly plausible that any outside source that alters estrogen levels, even slightly, could contribute to gynecological diseases,” said Dr. Megan Schwarzman, a family physician at San Francisco General Hospital and an environmental health scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Exposure to many hormone-disrupting chemicals starts in the womb, and some scientists suspect the timing may be important in determining reproductive disease risk later in life.
“We know from animal models that there are critical periods during early development when cells are rapidly dividing and forming the circuitry through which cells will communicate with each other to form various tissues of the body,” said Retha Newbold, a reproductive biologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. “When chemicals alter this set-up, the changes may not be reversible.”
Future generations of females may be at risk, too, according to new animal research by Washington State University scientists.
Female rats exposed in the womb to high doses of several chemicals – including pesticides and plasticizers – developed cysts resembling human polycystic ovarian syndrome and premature menopause, according to the study published in PLoS One in July. Those changes were passed down through three generations – great-granddaughters of the exposed rats also developed cysts and other ovarian problems, even though they were not directly exposed.
Seeking to learn how the chemicals were able to harm future generations, the Washington State researchers examined the DNA of the ones whose mothers were exposed to vinclozolin, an estrogenic fungicide commonly used in the wine industry. They found that the chemical had reprogrammed genes as the rat fetuses developed.
Other chemicals in the study that had the multi-generational effects were dioxins, a pesticide mixture including permethrin and DEET and a plastic mixture including BPA and two widely used phthalates.
“What we are seeing in animal models is sobering,” said John McLachlan, a biomedical scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans. The gene mechanisms responsible for transmitting such harmful effects across generations are essentially the same in humans, he said.
In the case of uterine fibroids, the body’s natural estrogens turn genes on and off in the smooth muscle of the uterus that allow the tumors to grow, according to research by McLachlan and colleagues. They are now investigating whether estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the environment affect these same genes.
The danger of estrogen-like chemicals already has been well-documented with DES, or diethylstilbestrol, a drug that was prescribed to millions of women at risk of miscarriages from 1940 through 1971. Daughters and granddaughters of the pregnant women who took the potent estrogenic drug had an increased risk of endometriosis, uterine fibroids and rare reproductive cancers.
But pesticides, sunscreen ingredients and PCBs are less potent hormone mimics than DES. The effects on women’s health are not as clear.
Some studies have found no connection between women’s exposure to environmental chemicals and gynecological diseases. For instance, among several hundred women in Italy highly exposed to dioxins from a 1976 factory explosion, UC Berkeley scientists found no significant increase in endometriosis linked to their contaminant levels. And in Japan, there was no increased rate of the disease among 139 infertile women with higher exposures to hormone-disrupting compounds including PCBs and dioxins, according to a 2005 study.
Newbold said because decades can pass between exposure during fetal development or early childhood and the manifestation of the disease in adult life, it can be difficult to nail down a link.
“Only recently are studies starting to focus on developmental risk factors in relation to adult disease,” she said.
Endometriosis and fibroids are referred to as “benign uterine diseases,” characterized mostly by painful periods, according to McLachlan. “Because these growths are not life-threatening or malignant, traditionally, these diseases haven’t garnered the attention they should,” he said.
But the disorders sometimes are linked to fertility problems, and researchers also are beginning to realize that such symptoms can be a sign of serious diseases to come.
“Gynecological problems during the reproductive years may be a predictor of diseases, such as cancer, later in life,” said Barbara Cohn, a reproductive health scientist and director of Child Health and Development Studies at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, Calif.
Endometriosis has been associated with an increased risk of some ovarian cancers. However, the risk remains small, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology in May. Women with endometriosis have a 1.5 percent lifetime chance of developing ovarian cancer compared with 1 percent in the general female population.
The research is less clear on a link between cancer and other gynecological diseases, such as uterine fibroids.
Lee was terrified that her fibroids and extreme menstrual periods were signs of cervical or ovarian cancer. Several doctors recommended that she have her uterus removed – standard treatment for severe fibroids. But she refused.
“You wouldn’t cut your nose off because you got frequent nose bleeds,” said Lee. “No one seemed concerned with trying to figure out why I was having such heavy periods.”
Pesticides and other environmental chemicals may not have contributed to Lee’s gynecological problems, since other factors, such as age and genetic predisposition, also increase a woman’s risk.
More than 90% of pregnant women had elevated levels of bisphenol A from a variety sources, notably tobacco smoke, cash register receipts and canned vegetables, a new study says.
BPA, an estrogen-like chemical, is widely used in food and beverage can linings, plastic bottles and cash register receipts. It has been linked in human studies to heart disease and diabetes.
“This really highlights that there are a lot of sources of BPA exposure during pregnancy,” lead author Joe Braun, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Environmental Health News. “This identifies some sources that are modifiable, meaning that women can actually lower their exposures to them.”
Researchers tested the urine of 389 pregnant women in the Cincinnati area who delivered babies between 2003 and 2006. They found that more than 90% had BPA in their urine at 16 and 26 weeks of pregnancy and 87% had detectable levels when their babies were born.
Especially vulnerable were those who consumed canned vegetables at least once a day, were exposed to tobacco smoke or worked as store cashiers, according to the study published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Other research has found BPA in some cash register receipts and surmised the chemical could be absorbed through the skin or ingested.
In the latest revelation about the chemical industry and its lax federal watchdogs, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found that plastic containers marked “microwave safe” are anything but.
These containers, marketed to parents as being safe for infants, release “toxic doses” of Bisphenol-A when heated, the paper found.
“The amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals,” the paper reports. “The problems include genital defects, behavioral changes and abnormal development of mammary glands. The changes to the mammary glands were identical to those observed in women at higher risk for breast cancer.”
The investigation also found Bisphenol-A in additional products — not just hard, clear plastics and the lining of cans. BPA “is present in frozen food trays, microwaveable soup containers and plastic baby food packaging” — and not only in plastics marked No. 7, but in Nos. 1, 2 and 5 as well, according to the report.
The report reminds us that “microwave safe” — like so many packaging claims — is pure marketing. The phrase is not regulated by the government, and its use is not subject to any independently verifiable guidelines.
The Journal Sentinel has been leading the effort to understand Bisphenol-A, which was developed as a synthetic estrogen, but which has come to be widely used in consumer products and food packaging. While independent and government scientists have increasingly raised concerns about the chemical, the Food and Drug Administration, in choosing not to regulate its use, has so far side with the chemical industry, which claims the chemical is safe. Canada has declared it unsafe, and is moving to restrict its use in products designed for use by infants.
Read the paper’s full account.
7 Steps to Avoid Bisphenol A
Tips from the Journal Sentinel
- Do not microwave food or beverages in plastic.
- Do not microwave or heat plastic cling wraps.
- Do not place plastics in the dishwasher.
- If using hard polycarbonate plastics (water bottles, baby bottles or sippy cups), do not use for warm or hot liquids.
- Use safe alternatives such as glass.
- Avoid canned foods when possible (BPA may be used in can linings).
- Look for labels on products that say “BPA-free.”
The federal government announced Tuesday that baby bottles and sippy cups can no longer contain the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA.
The U.S. chemical industry’s chief association, the American Chemistry Council, had asked the Food and Drug Administration to phase out rules allowing BPA in those products in October, after determining that all manufacturers of bottles and sippy cups had already abandoned the chemical due to safety concerns.
It is illegal for companies to use substances not covered by FDA rules.
“Consumers can be confident that these products do not contain BPA,” FDA spokesman Allen Curtis said in a statement, adding that the agency’s action was based on the bottle industry’s phase out of the chemical. “The agency continues to support the safety of BPA for use in products that hold food.”
The chemical industry’s request may help curb years of negative publicity from consumer groups and head off tougher laws that would ban BPA from other types of packaging because of health worries.
Legislation introduced by some members of Congress would ban BPA nationwide in all canned food, water bottles and food containers. Chemical makers maintain that the plastic-hardening chemical is safe for all food and drink uses.
BPA is found in hundreds of plastic items from water bottles to CDs to dental sealants. Some researchers say ingesting the chemical can interfere with development of the reproductive and nervous systems in babies and young children. They point to dozens of studies showing such an effect from BPA in rodents and other animals.
But the FDA has repeatedly stated that those findings cannot be applied to humans. The federal government is currently spending $30 million on its own studies assessing the chemical’s health effects on humans.
About 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their urine, mainly because the chemical leaches out of food and beverage packaging. The vast majority of canned goods in the U.S. are sealed with resin that contains BPA to prevent contamination and spoiling. Canned food manufacturers have used the chemicals since the 1950s. The practice is approved by the FDA.