Gerber, Playtex, Evenflo, Avent and Dr. Brown’s are the defendants in a billion-dollar class action suit filed in 2007. The suit is over bisphenol A (BPA), the harmful endocrine disruptor in hard plastic baby bottles, sippy cups, toys and the lining of infant formula containers.
Although the FDA claims that the BPA levels contained in the hard plastics that we commonly use are safe, the agency’s own scientific advisory board is criticizing the proclamation. Why? Because the claim is based on two studies funded by the American Plastics Council.
Frederik Vom Saal, a BPA researcher from the University of Missouri says, “Federal regulatory panels do not want to acknowledge the reality that who pays for science makes a difference.”
Other, more in-depth reviews of the existing research have alarmed scientists, including a review by the National Institute of Environmental Health and an overview of over 700 studies on BPA conducted by the National Toxicology Program. Congress members, under fire themselves, are calling upon the FDA to provide more evidence for their BPA stance.
Europe banned all BPA-containing products for children under three in 2006 and Canada banned BPA use in baby bottles in 2008.
Hormones in Water Supply
Bisphenol A use is so widespread (6 billion pounds a year), that it can be detected in the urine of 93% of the population. Other data shows that adolescents have higher BPA concentrations than adults, and young children the highest of all.
Plastic products containing BPA surround us: it makes up other hard water bottles, the plastic coating in metal cans of soup and other foods, bike helmets, dental sealants, computers, TV’s and countless other products that are part of our daily lives.
Adults (but not children) process BPA quickly but it is still commonly found in people because we are constantly exposed to it. As chemist Steven Hentges says, “There is low-level exposure but regular low-level exposure…It presumably is in our diet.”
Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor: it mimics the effects of estrogen and interferes with all hormone levels, cell signaling systems and genetic messages.
The endocrine system is an exquisitely balanced system that regulates everything from body growth, stress-response, insulin levels, metabolism, intelligence and behavior, sexual development and the ability to reproduce.
It is involved in the construction of cell membranes, the activation or deactivation of enzymes in our body and the uptake and export of cells. Hormones modify the expression of our genes.
Bisphenol A has been found to increase the risk of reproductive health problems and possibly increase breast, prostrate and ovarian cancers. In animal studies it decreases sperm count and alters menstrual cycles. Adult cases of diabetes, heart disease and liver toxicity may be linked to BPA.
Children are more susceptible to BPA’s effects for 5 reasons:
- According to their size and weight, they eat, breathe and drink more BPA than adults.
- BPA is found in breast milk and in the bloodstream of pregnant women.
- Young children put everything (including hard plastic toys) into their mouths
- The cells of young children are still undergoing genetic programming.
- Heating plastic increases the rate at which BPA leaches out of the plastic container and into an infant’s formula or food.
“Whenever you heat something you increase the likelihood of pulling chemicals out. This is the same process we use in the lab to extract chemicals from materials we want to analyze,” says Kellog Schwab of John Hopkins University.
One study found that heated water caused the rate of BPA to be released 15-55 times faster from plastic bottles than room temperature liquids.
The FDA admits that something will always “leach out of the container and into the food.”
“The possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed,” the National Toxicology Program reported.
Makers of BPA-free baby bottles are experiencing booming sales and consumers are investing in PET plastic bottles, glass bottles or metal canteens.
People have been told that #2, #4, and #5 recycling-coded plastic bottles are fine, that #1’s are good for a single use and to avoid #7s.
Yet, BPA isn’t the only compound to worry about in bottled water, or any water for that matter.
Phthalates: The Tip of the Iceberg
Phthalates are “plasticizers.” These compounds make plastic either more flexible or stiffen it. They are used in our automobiles, our sporting equipment, dental sealants, solvents, medication, and shampoo. They’re used in our computers and in the lighting of our homes. They’re used to build our homes, workplaces and schools.
Phthalates (like BPA) are endocrine disruptors or xenoestrogens.
In 1988, the Environmental Working Group found phthalates present in every person they tested for industrial pollutants. The EPA classifies phthalates as an air and water pollutant.
A new study, conducted by Goethe University, sampled 20 brands of water bottled in plastic bottles, glass bottles and plastic-lined paperboard. Both of the paperboard containers held high levels of phthalates, as did 78% of the plastic bottles and 33% of the glass bottles.
Researchers Wagner and Oehlmann placed estrogen-sensitive snails in the water and found that these estrogen-mimicking compounds doubled the snail’s rate of reproduction.
Patricia Hunt, of Washington State University explains: “Birth control pills, hormone therapy medications, and a host of contaminants can all get into our water supply, and we haven’t figured out a way to affordably filter them out.”
Epidemiologist Shanna Swan says: “I used to say # 4, 5, 1 and 2 [were safe recycling code numbers on plastic bottles]. All the rest are bad for you. Now I’m not saying that anymore. We don’t know about #4, 5, 1 or 2. This [study] raises questions about all plastic bottles.”
The Goethe University researchers claim: “We must have identified just the tip of the iceberg in that plastic packaging may be a major source of xenohormone contamination of many other edibles.”
What’s in your water?
What most people do not realize is that bottled water is less regulated than the drink you can get from the tap. We should be more concerned about the water that goes into plastic bottles than the chemical leaching that occurs afterwards, say John Hopkins professor Kellog Schwab.
- “Each year in the U.S., lead in drinking water contributes to 480,000 cases of learning disorders in children and 560,000 cases of hypertension in adult males.” (EPA—Environmental Protection Agency)
- “35% of the reported gastrointestinal illnesses among tap water drinkers were water related and preventable.” (CDC-Center for Disease and Control)
- Scientists believe that for every outbreak of gastrointestinal poisoning in the US, another 10 go unreported, and as many as 1 in 3 get chalked up to stomach flu.
- William K. Reilly, EPA administrator under the 1st Bush administration, classified drinking water contamination as one of the top 4 public health risks due to environmental problems.
- 560,000 people become ill each year from water.
- 10,700 bladder and rectal cancers may be associated with trihalomethanes (THMs) in water.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conducted a 4-year review of bottled water and the safety standards of the industry. They estimate that 25% or more of bottled water that we purchase is simply tap water. 22% of the brands that they tested contained contaminants above state health limits.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done some extensive testing of bottled water purity. They detected 38 toxic pollutants in 10 leading brands, with each brand containing an average of 8.
The chemicals listed included fluoride, byproducts of chlorine disinfection, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, fertilizer, plasticizers, solvents, fuel propellants, arsenic, radioactive isotopes and heavy metals.
Four of these leading brands also contained bacteria.
More than a third of these chemicals are not regulated whatsoever in bottled water. Two thirds are regulated on a “voluntary” basis but some of the water tested contained known carcinogens that exceeded even those “voluntary” set limits.
The Environmental Working Group reported: “With promotional campaigns saturated with images of mountain springs, and prices 1,900 times the price of tap water, consumers are clearly led to believe that they are buying a product that has been purified to a level beyond the water that comes out of the garden hose.”
This is not true.
A study at the University of Missouri found that one of these leading brands of water increased breast-cancer-cell multiplication by 78%.
(The EWG was unable to conclude if the estrogen-mimickers came from public water sources or the leaching of chemicals from the plastic containers.)
Normally, a scientific report does not “name names,” but exceptions were made for Walmart’s “Sam’s Choice” and Giant’s “Acadia” because they contained trihalomethane levels (a known carcinogen) high enough to violate California law. Both of these waters also contained other contaminants in levels that exceeded the industry’s standards.
About ¼ of the bottled water we buy in America is repackaged tap water from Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
TEDX is the acronym for The Endocrine Disruption Exchange. It is an agency compiled of doctors and scientists committed to informing the world about the dangers of low-level and chronic exposure to endocrine disruptors.
They explain that in 1991, an international group of experts warned: “Unless the environmental load of synthetic hormone disruptors is abated and controlled, large scale dysfunction at the population level is possible.”
TEDX mourns that it took only 10 years for a literal pandemic of disorders to multiply. They believe that the now-common incidences of ADHD, Alzheimers, autism, cancer, diabetes, infertility, intelligence and behavioral problems, obesity, Parkinson’s…the diseases and disorders that touch all of our lives everyday… are due to the endocrine-disruption epidemic.
They posit “hormone disruption could pose a more imminent threat to humankind than climate change.”
Just in case you weren’t worried enough about your water, there’s always antimony and Atrazine.
Antimony is a chemical compound found naturally in the environment. Because we make such great use of petroleum (a natural and ever-dissipating resource), we imbibe antimony in our food, drinking water and air.
William Shotyk, a geochemistry professor, has conducted two studies that show we take in antimony from PET bottles as well. Plastics are made from petroleum, and as Rocky Anderson, mayor of Salt Lake City points out: “Disposable plastic bottles [#1-PET bottles] can contain antimony, which is a potentially toxic trace element with chemical properties similar to arsenic.”
Atrazine is a widely-used pesticide with recognized impact to wildlife development and human health. It is the most commonly used pesticide in the US and is banned by the European Union as a known endocrine disruptor for humans and other animals.
It causes low sperm production in human males and the development of hermaphrodites in amphibians. It is tied to poor sperm quality in human males and scientists believe that it could affect the development of the brain and reproductive organs in both fetuses and young children.
They are more worried, about the synergistic effect they fear that Atrazine has: an inducer and multiplier of other chemical effects on humans.
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