Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plastics - Don't Microwave that Chicken in It!

Plastics.   That was the advice given to Dustin Hoffman's character in the graduate, and boy was that fella right.  If you'd been in on the ground  floor of plastics, you'd be riding pretty right now.  Plastics are ubiquitous. 

Unfortunately, it turns out that some of our favorite uses of the miracle material create toxic effects that can be measured and correlated to health impairments that range from chromosome damage to cancer.  

A recent New Yorker article,  by one of my favorite and most trusted medical writers, Dr. Jerome Groopman, is long but entirely worth the read.  He explores some of the unintended, unexpected side effects of some of our most common and well-loved products.

Here's a couple of quotes from the article to get you thinking:

Excerpt #1:

"Findings for chemicals like PAH, which can also be a component of air pollution, are passed from mother to child during pregnancy has now been replicated for more than two hundred compounds. These include PCBs, chemical coolants that were banned in the United States in 1979 but have persisted in the food chain; BPA and phthalates, used to make plastics more pliable, which leach out of containers and mix with their contents; pesticides used on crops and on insects in the home; and some flame retardants, which are often applied to upholstery, curtains, and other household items.

Fetuses and newborns lack functional enzymes in the liver and other organs that break down such chemicals, and animal studies in the past several decades have shown that these chemicals can disrupt hormones and brain development. Some scientists believe that they may promote chronic diseases seen in adulthood such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer. There is some evidence that they may have what are called epigenetic effects as well, altering gene expression in cells, including those which give rise to eggs and sperm, and allowing toxic effects to be passed on to future generations."

If this is all true, why haven't these toxins been banned?  Well, possibly because the plastics industry doesn't want to see them banned.  Check this excerpt:

Excerpt #2

"Critics such as Elizabeth Whelan, of the American Council on Science and Health, a consumer-education group in New York (Whelan says that about a third of its two-million-dollar annual budget comes from industry), think that the case against BPA and phthalates has more in common with those against cyclamates and Alar than with the one against lead. “The fears are irrational,” she said. “People fear what they can’t see and don’t understand. Some environmental activists emotionally manipulate parents, making them feel that the ones they love the most, their children, are in danger.” Whelan argues that the public should focus on proven health issues, such as the dangers of cigarettes and obesity and the need for bicycle helmets and other protective equipment. As for chemicals in plastics, Whelan says, “What the country needs is a national psychiatrist.”

To illustrate what Whelan says is a misguided focus on manufactured chemicals, her organization has constructed a dinner menu “filled with natural foods, and you can find a carcinogen or an endocrine-disrupting chemical in every course”—for instance, tofu and soy products are filled with plant-based estrogens that could affect hormonal balance. “Just because you find something in the urine doesn’t mean that it’s a hazard,” Whelan says. “Our understanding of risks and benefits is distorted. BPA helps protect food products from spoiling and causing botulism. Flame retardants save lives, so we don’t burn up on our couch.”
Really?  One more excerpt:

Excerpt #3:

"To help strengthen epidemiological analysis, Sir Austin Bradford Hill, a British medical statistician, set out certain criteria in 1965 that indicate cause and effect. Researchers must be sure that exposure to the suspected cause precedes the development of a disease; that there is a high degree of correlation between the two; that findings are replicated in different studies in various settings; that a biological explanation exists that makes the association plausible; and that increased exposure makes development of the disease more likely.

When epidemiological studies fulfill most of these criteria, they can be convincing, as when studies demonstrated a link between cigarettes and lung cancer. But, in an evolving field, dealing with chemicals that are part of daily life, the lack of long-term clinical data has made firm conclusions elusive. John Vandenbergh, a biologist who found that exposure to certain chemicals like BPA could accelerate the onset of puberty in mice, served on an expert panel that advised the National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, on the risks of exposure to BPA. In 2007, the panel reviewed more than three hundred scientific publications and concluded that “there is some concern” about exposure of fetuses and young children to BPA, given the research from Vandenbergh’s laboratory and others.

Vandenbergh is cognizant of the difficulty of extrapolating data from rodents and lower animals to humans. “Why can’t we just figure this out?” he said. “Well, one of the problems is that we would have to take half of the kids in the kindergarten and give them BPA and the other half not. Or expose half of the pregnant women to BPA in the doctor’s office and the other half not. And then we have to wait thirty to fifty years to see what effects this has on their development, and whether they get more prostate cancer or breast cancer. You have to wait at least until puberty to see if there is an effect on sexual maturation. Ethically, you are not going to go and feed people something if you think it harmful, and, second, you have this incredible time span to deal with.”

PLEASE read the rest of this story here:

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