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Entries in Contaminents (6)


Poison by dosage

For the many people who might be having a hard time understanding how our regulatory agencies could have been so wrong in their assessment of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, I came across a great interview today with renowned environmental health scientist, Dr. J. Peterson Myers.  The interview was conducted on September 4 by Living on Earth, one of my favorite places for environmental news and insight.  The short of it, as summarized on their own site, is:

"Modern toxicology doesn't typically test chemicals for what they do at low doses. But, sometimes, small amounts of substances can be harmful to human health, especially when it comes to the hormone-mimicking chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. Pete Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, talks with host Jeff Young about what tiny exposures of common chemicals do in our body, and why regulatory agencies don't test low doses."

View the entire transcript of Low Dose Makes the Poison on the Living on Earth website.


Sigg makes the list of deplorable companies

I always felt particularly relieved, after discovering the dangers of BPA perhaps a little too late, that Calvin had very few bottles (probably as many as I can count on my fingers) over all the course of his infant life.  When he reached the age of cup drinking we went almost straight to having him drink out of small glasses at home and used the Born Free BPA-free sippy cups when we were out.  Not too much later, in response to Calvin's desire to be get away from the "baby's" sippy cup, we came home with the much touted Sigg water bottle - a metal water bottle made in Switzerland and supposed to be safe from the dangers of BPA.  Supposed to be. 

As it turns out, the SIGG water bottle was never sold as "BPA free", just the whole green freak community (of which I am lovingly part) accepted it as such based on the rather vague comments of the company's CEO.  We accepted that statement because we wanted to, so when the same CEO came out last week to confess that bottles made before August 2008 were coated with a BPA lining, we had only ourselves to blame.   We'd banked our children's lives on imperfect knowledge.  I, for one, hadn't even read the original statement by the company, but had jumped right on the band wagon, trusting the general opinion of the general public, and got just the general end that I deserved–a general feeling of guilt about the amount of synthetic hormones my son may or may not have ingested.  Epistemology–the theory of knowledge and how we really know what we really know.  Is there really any way to know without seeing for ourselves?  All the rest is just based on trust, and unfortunately we are having to trust an industry which has consistently lied to us and let us down. 

Click here to see the EWG's article posted August 27, 2009.


Stainless steel: it's what's for (making) dinner.

Teflon has been the family's cooking medium of choice for nearly half a century now, but more recently information started to leak out that this time saving kitchen must-have is really a big health no-no. One of the chemicals found in teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid, has been listed as a likely carcinogen by the EPA.  Of course the real concern comes in when the teflon coating on pans becomes scratched, old, or over heated.  Two years ago the show 20/20 aired a segment from the EWG on the dangers of "teflon flu," the ocurrence of flu symptoms in a person exposed to the fumes of overheated teflon.  If my teflon pan can give me the flu, and possilby cancer, I don't want it!  So what are the options?  Aluminum isn't good for you either, and many stainless steel products are tempered with nickle, another problematic element.  Plus, who wants to build arm muscles by scrubbing pans all night?  Time to start cooking in Titanium, at one to two hundered dollars per pan.  Or, I found the following information, taken from a Health Sciences Institute posting, to be helpful:  choose stainless steel, evaluate it for nickle content (if a magnet will stick to it you're okay), and to avoid the stuck on food problem heat the pan fully before adding your oil or food (most of us, I think, add the oil while the pan is still heating) and add water to the pan for soaking as soon as possible.  So, what's on my Christmas list this year?  Stainless steel.


More bad news

This isn't actually breaking news, although it was news to me. Last June Tyson Foods started selling a line of 100% natural chicken. We were thrilled with the new line because it touted chickens raised without antibiotics or hormones and was priced within our standard grocery range. We weren't the only ones excited about the announcement and newspapers and blogs everywhere picked up the story immediately, but we should have known that it was too good to be true. In June of this year the USDA moved to rescind its authorization of the antibiotic free label, a move that Tyson Foods is trying to fight in the courts. The battle is over the fact that Tyson injects its chickens with Gentamicin (a popular antibiotic) before they hatch so that they can claim to have raised them without the medication, while the USDA is crying foul (and we say good for them). Since the antibiotic is believed to have cleared the birds' systems within a few weeks, it is likely that the chicken on the shelves is free of the drug, but I would like to be able to make that distinction for myself rather than choosing a product based on its misleading label. While it is good to know that the USDA organic labels might actually be good for something, it is ever so disappointing to see clearly the food industry we are dealing with.


The verdict is in – BPA should be out.

Many worries about the safety of BPA, the estrogen simulating chemical found in some plastics and in the lining of most cans, have been discussed over the past year only to be kept at bay by the supposedly watchful FDA's constant "don't worry" attitude. In response to the growing concern a panel was assembled to review the data used to determine the safety of BPA in our food containers, and now the results are in. You've probably already seen the news – it was on the front page of newspapers across the country, our own included – but just in case you missed it, or skipped over it for the surfeit of election tidbits, we want to remind you about the importance of this panel's findings; for while the panel does not come right out and say that BPA is unsafe at current levels, it did find that the FDA "failed to consider the cumulative effect," did not study enough samples, and did not take into account recent studies that bring to light a greater concern. There are many more accusations put forth by the panel, and many great places you can go to read various views on the panel's findings (I will link a few of them at the end of this post).

Currently the FDA is planning to put in motion a new study and will get back to us, but in the meantime what do we do? It's relatively obvious that the panel believes there is some reason for concern, but will the FDA put into motion safe guards while we await their new determination? It's more likely we will have to be our own advocates and we believe it is better to be safe than sorry. And don't think this is only about infants and children; studies completed in September link BPA to diabetes and heart disease and suggest that the chemical may interfere with chemotherapies.  So what can you do?  Avoid #7 plastics; use fresh or frozen foods instead of canned; keep in mind that many metal drink containers (water bottles, coffee mugs, soda cans) are lined with BPA, so choose brands (such as Nalgene or Camelback) that are known to be BPA free; avoid heating foods in BPA laden containers, or putting foods in such containers if they are warmer than room temperature, as heat may cause increased leaching of the chemical; finally, use your economic powers to speak for you and try to purchase from companies that are either already BPA free, or those who are making the effort to remove the chemical from their shelves (Toys-R-Us or CVS to name two).

Because being informed is the best defense, here are some eye-opening articles, new and old:

The New York Times Well Blog "Panel Rebukes FDA on BPA Safety" (Oct. 29, 2008)

USA Today "Advisers: FDA Decision on Safety of BPA Flawed" (Oct. 31, 2008)

The EWG "Bisphenol A: Toxic Plastics Chemical in Canned Foods" (March 2007)

The EWG consumer tips to avoid BPA exposure (March, 2007)