Posted by on October 24, 2012 - 9:27am




The breast cancer rate in the UK per 100,000 women in 2010 was practically double the rate in 1971. A number of UK scientists attribute this dramatic rise in the rates to the routine exposure to toxic chemicals, which are added to personal care, beauty, and household products.    However, with the introduction of regular screening in 1987, the mortality rates have dramatically declined.  Proving  cause and effect of environmental exposure cause  is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive but the interest is growing.     These chemicals are getting into women’s bodies by applying them to the skin, by inhaling them, and by eating and drinking.  The report from Breast Cancer UK, a public charity, offers practical suggestions to reduce one’s exposure to these toxic chemicals:

  • Read the labels on products and buy those with fewer ingredients and be aware of which chemicals may be hazardous to your health.
  • Be especially careful with  food and drink for babies and small children especially those with bisphenol-A (BPA) and diethylstilbestrol (DES) as these are both hormone altering substances which can raise the risk of developing cancer later in life
  • Cut down on food and drinks that come in a can unless it says they are BPA free
  • Body care products – avoid, or cut down on the ones that contain TEA (triethanolamine), Formaldehyde, DEA (diethanolamine), Parabens, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP, DMP, DEP), DMDM Hydantoin, Triclosan, Fragrance, PEGs (polyethylene glycol), and anything with "glycol" or "methyl
  • Hand washes, anti-bacterial soaps, toothpaste – avoid products containing Triclosan
  • Food and cosmetic products avoid or cut down those that contain Parabens

Breast Cancer UK advocates that the government take action to reduce people’s exposure to cancer-causing chemicals




Christian Nordqvist (1 October 2012) Medical News Today









Posted by on April 15, 2011 - 9:21am

We aren't sure how Bisphenol A (BPA) (found in plastic food containers) affects human beings — especially developing fetuses and young children — and if concerning test results in animal subjects translate to people. Should BPA be banned from baby bottles, as it has been in other countries like Canada?   Unfortunately, our ability to detect chemicals in our bodies is running ahead of our ability to understand exactly how them may affect us.

An estimated 93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However,  once we stop being exposed to the chemical, BPA levels can drop dramatically. We can rid ourselves of BPA fairly quickly, unlike other more long-lasting chemicals like lead.

That's the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. A team of researchers from the Silent Spring Institute, the Breast Cancer Fund and Vassar College took five families from the San Francisco Bay area and had them stop using canned foods and plastic food packaging for several days. The scientists found that BPA levels among the family members dropped by an average of over 60% — but once they went back to their normal diet, the BPA levels went back up as well. That's pretty strong evidence that restricting use of certain plastics and packaging can significantly reduce exposure to the chemical, and whatever harm it may do.

Here's how the study worked: the five families of four provided urine samples for two days while they ate their normal diets. That gave researchers a background level for BPA and some phthalates — plasticizing chemicals that have also been tagged as endocrine disruptors (

naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body). Next, the researchers gave each family three days' worth of freshly prepared organic meals and snacks, stored in glass and stainless steel containers. (One popular source of BPA is in the liner inside canned food.) The families gave  samples on the second and third days that were tested for BPA and phthalates. Lastly, the families returned to their normal diets for three days, and were tested twice again.

In addition to BPA, the researchers also tested for the phthalate DEHP — which is also found in food packaging — as well as DEP and several other chemicals that are not used often in packaging. That mix of chemicals was chosen to give the research team a better idea of the role that plastics and packaging might play in exposure to BPA. The fact that BPA levels among the families dropped when their diet changed — but levels of DEP, which is used in fragrances, didn't — underscores the importance of food packaging in exposing people to BPA.

Is this study significant?  Although this research was peer-reviewed, it was a small study and one that was carried out by environmental groups that have raised concerns about BPA and other potentially toxic chemicals in the past. But if you are worried enough about BPA and phthalates to want to cut down your exposure, avoid canned foods and use glass or stainless storage containers.  There are also more plastic  products available that are BPA-free, including baby bottles.

Industry has registered its skepticism of this study and the the American Chemistry Council has stated:
This study simply confirms these reassuring points: that consumers have minute exposures to BPA and DEHP from food sources, and that the substances do not stay in the body, but are quickly eliminated through natural means. Additionally, data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada have shown that typical consumer exposure to BPA and DEHP, from all sources, is up to 1,000 times lower than government-established safe exposure levels. “Consumers should feel confident that they can continue to eat healthy canned or packaged foods because materials intended for use in food contact are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

EDITOR'S NOTE:   This is an interesting article because it demonstrates how one study can be interpreted in several ways and why it is important to have large randomized controlled studies to get solid answers.     The "experiment" above sounds like it was well designed but the numbers are extremely small so questions about bias, misinterpretation and control are very possible.   The comment from the American Chemistry Council points out a common problem with epidemiology studies:  when does small exposure turn into unsafe levels of exposure?  This is one of the main reasons we cannot always prove cause and effect when we talk about environmental exposure.  Because this latter organization represents the chemical industry, they too can be biased.  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program are finding new ways to study the impact of chemicals, especially related to their effect on our hormones, which should help get some solid answers.     BTW,  I've stopped microwaving in plastic.

Posted by on July 16, 2009 - 10:23pm

While browsing through Facebook status updates earlier today, I noticed that two friends independently posted a link to this op-ed on the New York Times website, written by blogger Nicholas D. Kristof.  Mr. Kristof posted his thoughts on something that has been nagging at us, the consumers, for a while now: chemicals in our plastics that act as so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  Simply put, EDCs are imposter molecules that mimic hormones naturally present in our body and therefore interfere with normal biological processes regulated by these hormones.  These affect both men and women but in different ways, as there are notable differences in body chemistry between the sexes.  Perhaps the most infamous EDC is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, more commonly known as the pesticide DDT, which has been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s for possible carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity, among other big no-nos.  You may have also heard of bisphenol A (BPA), which many companies recently stopped incorporating into their products due to its potential toxic effects.  In females, EDCs have been linked to early puberty, breast cancer, uterine fibroids, disrupted lactation among a variety of possible effects.  EDCs are such a hot issue that the Endocrine Society released an extensive report this year summarizing what is known about their effects.  For me, it was provocative to read that the rise in obesity appears to correlate with the rise in industrial chemical use.

There is a scarily extensive list of known EDCs and many of these are, of course, still in use today.  They are everywhere – from the plastic in your water bottle to canned fruit tins to flame retardants to shampoo.  But what does it all mean?  Is my Brita pitcher leeching poison into my water as we speak?  Do I stop washing my hair?  Even as a scientist-in-training, I find it very difficult to organize the bubbling vat of information published by laboratories around the world on a daily (hourly?) basis.  However, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in graduate school is to approach scientific results with a healthy dose of skepticism and to ask a lot of questions. Published research on EDCs is a prime target for this skepticism.  My impression is that many labs continue to duel over what exactly a chemical and how much of it will endanger our bodies.  There are lot of "links," "associations" and "correlations," but as a scientific claim is made it is just as quickly shut down by a competing report.  Sometimes researchers will use a much higher dose of a particular chemical than the average person would normally be exposed, exaggerating the risks.  Studies might be done on cells growing in a plate that don’t behave like a normal cell, or on animals whose physiology does not behave or react like a human’s.  This is particularly true for early studies on a new chemical.  As Candace pointed out in her “What is Women’s Health?” entry, there is also the dangerous tendency to universalize a study that was conducted only on a single gender group, age group, ethnicity, or nationality, and so on and so forth.

All the grains of salt aside, I do appreciate the awareness that the media raises regarding the products we purchase, what they might contain, and how they might be harmful.  I think it is also our personal responsibility to be educated about what we choose to believe and question how something came to be stated as fact.  There is certainly no shortage of information out there.  Here are a few links I found useful regarding EDCs:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which seeks to identify potential EDCs and determine their specific effects at defined doses
  • The Endocrine Society’s full report on EDCs (opens a PDF)
  • Informative fact sheet about BPA from the National Toxicology Program (opens a PDF)

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