Posts Tagged ‘ plastics ’

Are ‘BPA-Free’ Plastics Safe? Report Raises Questions

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Many parents breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA banned the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastics that are used in infant feeding vessels including bottles and sippy cups in 2012.  Studies have linked the chemical, which is known to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the hormone estrogen, to health problems including miscarriage risk, and childhood obesity, asthma, and behavioral issues.  Many parents were disappointed, though, when the FDA, shortly before making its BPA ban in infant materials, stopped short of banning it from all food containers, especially canned foods and even infant formula packages.

But the debate over the safety of plastics is far from over–and it is larger than the BPA question–according to a new report from Mother Jones magazine that chronicles the work of research organizations that claims that even “safe” plastics leach estrogenic, hormone-disrupting compounds.  More from the Mother Jones article:

Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.

He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette’s sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. “When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup,” he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.

The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.

Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer….

….

Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.

Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner’s testing methods. (It hasn’t.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan’s safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. “It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe,” the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, “consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity.”

Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking.

The article goes on to report that CertiChem and PlastiPure are appealing the 2013 court ruling that alleged the companies were trying to discredit Eastman in order to market their own “safe” plastics, and the groups are working on new research.

Mother Jones also published a timeline that shows the history of the fight against BPA, and how the industry and even government regulators have apparently ignored concerning research about the safety of BPA-free plastics.

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Image: Child with plastic sippy cup, via Shutterstock

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Plastics, Chemicals Used in Cosmetics Linked to Premature Births

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Exposure to phthalates, a type of chemical used in certain plastics and cosmetics, has been linked in a recent study to an elevated risk that pregnant women will deliver their babies prematurely.  More from Reuters:

Researchers found that women who delivered babies before 37 weeks gestation had higher levels of phthalates in their urine, compared to women who delivered their children at full term, which is 39 weeks.

Preterm birth is a real public health problem,” said John Meeker, who led the study. “We’re not really sure how to go about preventing it, but this may shed light on environmental factors that people may want to be educated in.”

Meeker, from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, added, “We knew that exposure to phthalates was virtually ubiquitous here in the U.S. and possibly worldwide and preterm births increased for unknown reasons over the past several decades.”

Phthalates are included in products for a variety of reasons, include to make plastic flexible.

Image: Lipsticks, via Shutterstock

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BPA May Increase Childhood Obesity, Study Finds

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

A new study is reporting that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastics and food cans, may, in addition to causing a host of health risks, raise the risks that children will become obese.  Though BPA has been removed from many plastic children’s toys, bottles, sippy cups, and food packages, it has not been banned from use.

From MSNBC.com:

In a nationally representative study of nearly 3,000 children and teens, researchers found that kids with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were 2.6 times more likely to be obese compared to those with low levels of the chemical. The report was published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It’s the latest evidence that obesity might be affected by more than just diet and exercise, said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

“Clearly poor diet and lack of physical activity contribute to increased fat mass, but the story doesn’t end there,” he said.

Image: Childhood obesity sign, via Shutterstock

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Pressure Builds on FDA to Ban BPA in Food Packaging

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been slowly disappearing from toys, food packaging and food service items since it was revealed to have health risks including cancer, sexual dysfunction, and heart disease.  The issue is particularly important for children, as BPA levels–detectable in the blood and urine of pregnant women, and in the umbilical cord blood of infants–is believed to impact fetal and child development alike.

The fight to have BPA banned from all food service items was escalated late last week when Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.  The Washington Post reports that Markey’s argument is not based on the health risks of BPA, but rather is based on the obsolescence of the material:

Markey did not premise his request on the chemical’s potential dangers. Instead, he used a provision that allows people to petition for changes to food additive rules if it can be shown that an additive’s old use has been abandoned. Markey’s office polled the food industry and found that major manufacturers no longer use BPA in their food packaging. Using this “abandonment” clause enables the government to sidestep the debate over whether BPA is safe and still bar the chemical’s use.

In three separate petitions, Markey is asking FDA to ban the chemical’s use in the packages of three types of household products: infant formula and baby/toddler food, canned foods and beverages, and small reusable food containers.

The four companies that make nearly all the nation’s formula said they no longer use BPA, according to the petition. Seven other companies that make canned foods said they either no longer use BPA or they are phasing it out. Seven firms that make reusable containers, such as Tupperware and Glad, said they have either never used BPA or have stopped using it.

The FDA has previously stipulated that BPA carries health risks, but has stopped short of banning it saying that it is safe in small doses.

Image: Plastic baby bottle, via Shutterstock.

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Study Links Chemicals In Plastics To Toddler Delays

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

plasticA new study suggests that phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic products flexible, may delay child development, The Washington Post reports.

Sometimes called plasticizers, phthalates are used in thousands of products, from shower curtains and garden hoses to water bottles and hairspray. Although scientists suspect that they cause health problems, little data has confirmed their effect on people.

The Post described this new study:

A small study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives measured levels of four kinds of phthalates in the urine of 319 non-smoking pregnant women. When the children born of those pregnancies were three years old, the researchers assessed their mental, motor and behavioral development.

The study found that phthalates exposure during pregnancy was associated with increased risk of motor delay, a condition that could potentially translate to problems with fine and gross motor skills later in life, according to the study. One of the phthalates was associated with “significant” decreases in mental development among girls; among boys and girls, three of the phthalates were associated with behavior problems such as anxiety and depression, “emotionally reactive behavior” and withdrawn behavior.

More studies are needed because it’s unclear how exactly phthalates act on the body, researchers wrote. These findings “raise a public health concern,” but “should be interpreted with caution,” they said.

(image via: http://momsgoinggreenblog.com)

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