ON A PERSONAL NOTE/By Maramis
(This article is based on an article in Mother Jones Magazine, written by Mariah Blake, for the purpose of showing how newer BPA-free plastics, created to counter BPA plastics, found practically everywhere, and found to be responsible for a variety of ailments and abnormalities, including diabetes, heart disease, and high liver enzyme levels, can actually be even more potent than the BPA plastics.
That was the shocking expose of her article. Since I just came across it recently, I was outraged that after all the research on BPA and the proof provided for all the damage it does, it is still around.)
As an environmental-health advocate who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, Michael Green fought to remove the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. It is found in things like sippy cups and baby bottles and all plastic items in general, but those that come in contact with babies and growing children cause the most concern of all.
Somewhere along the line, Green learned about BPA-free plastics, which were intended to be a great innovation, but also discovered that some of them contained synthetic estrogens, too.
In October of 2011, his concern for what could be happening to all children coming into contact with those plastics (including his very own daughter who drank out of a favorite plastic sippy cup) brought him to take a stand and publicly explain what the health impact from the chemicals leaching out of those plastics could be. After listing just a few linked to those chemicals, such as cancer and diabetes, he announced that his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogen-like chemicals.
The center rounded up a large assortment of plastic cups purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, and sent them to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than 25 percent of them came back positive for estrogenic activity. CertiChem’s founder, George Bittner, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently co-authored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives that reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens — even when the plastics 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.
Estrogenic chemicals found in many common products have been linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals. According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. “Pick a disease, literally pick a disease,” said Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA.
In 2008, concern about “toxic baby bottles” and “poison” packaging became big news. Good Morning America issued a “consumer alert.” The New York Times urged Congress to ban BPA in baby products. Sen. Dianne Feinstein warned in the Huffington Post that “millions of infants are exposed to dangerous chemicals hiding in plain view.” Concerned parents threw away all their plastic containers, and retailers such as Walmart and Babies R Us started pulling bottles and sippy cups from their shelves. Bills banning BPA in infant care items began to crop up in states around the country.
Today many plastic products, from sippy cups, Tupperware containers, and even blenders 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.” (That comment alone might be responsible for many deaths in the future, if child-bearing women ignore the dangers.)
“A poison kills you,” says biology professor Frederick vom Saal. “A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.
Part 2 will show how greed for bigger and ongoing profits comes first for many corporations, no matter how many babies and children — and adults — must suffer for that greed.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.