[Pharmwaste] Amid conflicting studies,
some consumers try to protect their health by limiting
exposure to chemicals (bisphenol A) - also 4 other articles on BPA
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Tue May 13 17:15:02 EDT 2008
May 13, 2008
Amid conflicting studies, some consumers try to protect their health by
limiting exposure to chemicals
By Shari Rudavsky
shari.rudavsky at indystar.com
You won't find plastic cups in the kitchen cabinets of Kelly Huff's
Northside home. Nor does she keep food in plastic storage containers;
it's glass for her leftovers. Her toddler daughter and infant son have
no plastic toys. And when Huff drinks water, she chugs it from a
reusable aluminum thermos.
"Why have them around if you don't have to?" Huff, 30, asks about
Eradicating plastics from one's life completely would require taking a
large leap. Plastics comprise thousands of products in our daily lives.
Increasingly, however, people have begun to question just how safe
plastics are, especially when it comes to storing the food and water we
ingest. Others say that any plastic panic is unfounded, and that
multiple studies have shown the material is perfectly safe.
In recent weeks, the anti-plastics camp has welcomed two reports -- one
from the Canadian government and a draft report from the National
Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program -- that acknowledge
that a chemical commonly found in plastic may affect the health of
fetuses and infants.
Studies suggest that the compound bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in
reusable water bottles, the lining of canned goods and baby bottles,
could cause neural behavioral changes and affect the mammary and
prostate glands. In girls, it could cause earlier puberty. While reports
showed no link between BPA and the health of adults, many believe it
poses unknown danger.
"This chemical has no place in consumer products that we come in contact
with, especially those that contain water or food," says Michael Schade
of the Center for Health Environment and Justice, an advocacy group in
Another class of chemicals, the phthalates (the "ph" is silent) that are
used in plastics, is also coming under scrutiny for its effects on human
Much of the research here focused on the health risks to animals in
utero or very young children. Still, there's no telling whether risks
extend to adults, some caution.
"There aren't a lot of studies done in adults with these," says Dr.
Anila Jacob, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group,
which is advocating to remove BPA from the market. "That doesn't mean we
discount the possibility of adverse health effects in adults."
What does science say?
But some say science has proved these chemicals are safe.
"We think that the products that we have do meet the safety requirements
for their uses and based on the science, there isn't a reason for
consumers to be concerned," says Steven Hentges, who manages the
polycarbonate/BPA global group at the American Chemistry Council, which
represents the leading chemical companies.
The Food and Drug Administration, which approves these materials for use
in the United States, agrees. At the end of April, the agency released a
statement saying it saw no reason to recommend that anyone discontinue
using products that contain BPA.
The National Toxicology Program draft report found there was "neglible
concern" that people who have been swigging from water bottles made with
BPA should stop.
"There's nothing in there to cause alarm or panic," says Dr. Michael D.
Shelby, director of the Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to
Human Reproduction, which produced the report.
The report concluded there was "some concern" -- ranking approximately 3
on a 5-point scale -- that the compound has an impact on the very young.
Others think it deserves more attention. A group of U.S. senators,
including Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), introduced a bill last month
proposing to ban BPA from infant and children's products.
Companies, too, are taking note. Nalgene recently promised to phase out
BPA from all of its water bottles. Target and Toys 'R Us also have plans
in place to phase out the sale of products with polyvinyl chloride,
which contain phthalates.
This year, corporate shareholders filed a record 21 resolutions on toxic
chemicals, about half of which involved polyvinyl chloride, according to
the Investor Environmental Health Network.
"Investors and businesses are waking up to the fact that the risks
caused by toxic chemicals . . . jeopardize a company's bottom line,"
Richard Liroff, the Network's founder, says. "The increased pressure is
Plastic alternatives that don't rely on BPA or phthalates could be both
more expensive and less safe than better-studied compounds, Hentges
Concern over levels
What we do know, however, gives some people pause.
Almost 93 percent of all American adults have BPA residue in their
urine, according to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Women had higher levels than men, and children's levels were
highest of all.
Those wary of plastics point to studies that suggest that a link might
exist between BPA and breast and prostate cancer, early infertility,
recurrent miscarriage and thyroid disease.
Research suggests that phthalates -- used in many products including
toys, floor tiles, cosmetic containers and shower curtains -- may have
myriad health effects. They have been linked to lower sperm counts,
genital birth defects and abdominal obesity in men. Other studies
suggest phthalates may have toxic kidney effects.
These studies, however, have mostly been done on animals, making it
unclear how, if at all, results translate to humans. Conducting
large-scale studies on humans on one chemical's risk profile are very
difficult, scientists note, since we are exposed to thousands of
"While a certain compound studied in a controlled environment at high
levels may give you a toxic response, it does not necessarily indicate
that at low levels in our environment we're going to see that same
response in humans," says Gregory Knipp, an associate professor of
industrial and physical pharmacy at Purdue University.
"The key thing we need to realize is that more research needs to be
"As this technology develops, we start to begin to understand more and
we have to balance that 'Chicken Little, the sky is falling' response
with reasonable risk assessments," says Knipp.
Northeastside resident Diane Slomka figures it can't hurt to err on the
side of caution. After her younger child, now 3, was born, she began
having doubts about the plastic materials in her home and kitchen.
She now uses stainless steel sippy cups and never stores food in
plastic, including plastic bags. If she needs to freeze leftovers, she
does so in Pyrex.
"You can read 100 different opinions on things, but if you store
something in a Ziploc bag and eat it, you can taste it. That was enough
to really convince me," says Slomka, 38. "It's a matter of limiting the
exposure as best you can without completely making yourself crazy."
Also, these articles on BPA:
Chemical in plastic bottles raises red flags. If you haven't done it
yet, you might want to get rid of the plastic baby bottles in your house
that contain bisphenol-a. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio. 13 May 2008.
Baby-bottle feeding linked to premature puberty, breast cancer risk. A
New Zealand toxicologist has warned against the use of plastic bottles
for feeding babies, as it may contain potentially harmful chemicals that
may lead to premature puberty and breast cancer. Asian News
International, South Asia. 13 May 2008.
Interview: Grist on bad bottles. Recently there's been a big concern
about bisphenol-A, or BPA, in some plastics. The journalists at Grist
have been looking at the BPA issue for a few years. Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, Michigan. 12 May 2008.
A perfect storm. After 11 years studying bisphenol A and sounding the
alarm about its potential health risks, University of Missouri Professor
Frederick Vom Saal's warnings are attracting national attention.
Columbia Tribune, Missouri. 11 May 2008.
Safety concerns boost business. Recent warnings about the chemical
compound bisphenol A or BPA -- found in plastics used to make everything
from sippy cups and baby bottles to cooking spoons -- is helping spur
blockbuster sales for some savvy retailers. Miami Herald, Florida. 11
May 2008. http://www.miamiherald.com/business/story/527909.html
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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