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New studies add fuel to concerns over BPA

A new UC San Diego study suggests that the byproducts of a chemical used in plastic found in the lining of cans may disrupt human hormone function more than the chemical itself.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, may help explain why the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, has been tied to many health problems even though the chemical doesn’t have a strong effect on cells in a Petri dish.

“We have a candidate chemical that is doing the nasty stuff, or the endocrine disruption," said study co-author and UCSD structural biologist Michael E. Baker. "We know that BPA exposure causes a lot of endocrine problems, but if you’re analyzing BPA in urine, you may not be analyzing the chemical that’s really doing the endocrine disruption."

Several studies have linked BPA exposure to health problems such as breast cancer and birth defects in animals and humans. Researchers say the chemical may be harmful because it mimics hormones such as estrogen. A 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found more than 90 percent of participants tested had measurable levels of the chemical in their urine.

But when BPA is put into a dish with cells that bind to estrogen, the cells don’t proliferate, Baker said. For instance, breast cancer cells may grow prolifically in the presence of estrogen, but would need much more BPA to see the same growth, he said.

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Flame retardant added to state's list of cancer-causing chemicals

In a victory for environmentalists, a flame retardant common in furniture and baby products was officially listed yesterday by the state as a cancer-causing chemical. 

Although the chemical, chlorinated Tris, was banned from children's pajamas in the 1970s, it recently experienced a resurgence in furniture foam. Today, it is the nation's most commonly used flame retardant in furniture and baby products.

“The listing of chlorinated Tris on Prop. 65 is a public health victory,” said Sarah Janssen, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Widespread exposure to this chemical, now officially identified as a cancer-causing chemical, is a threat to vulnerable populations. This listing should result in labeling requirements for products that contain dangerous levels of this chemical.”

The chemical was determined by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment [PDF] to be harmful to human health and therefore subject to listing under Proposition 65.

Proposition 65, or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, was enacted as a ballot initiative in 1986. It was designed to protect the state's residents and their drinking water from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The initiative requires the governor to publish a list every year of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report

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Experts scrutinizing safety of common plastic chemical

Experts from around the world are meeting in Ottawa, Ontario this week to evaluate the safety of a chemical commonly found in food packaging.

The World Health Organization called together dozens of academic, government and industry researchers to determine whether people’s exposure to bisphenol A is safe.

The meeting runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical that is used as a resin to line the inside of food cans and also to create hard, clear plastics, such as those used in several brands of baby bottles and reusable water bottles.

The chemical has been banned in several U.S. states and cities, declared toxic in Canada and deemed safe by the European Union.

Amidst concerns about BPA, many major canned-food manufacturers have replaced, or vowed to replace, the chemical with alternatives.

Nestle, the world's biggest food manufacturer, will stop putting BPA in US products within three years. General Mills has already removed it from its Muir Glen products while H.J. Heinz says it is close to removing the chemicals from baby food. Campbell Soup says it is actively exploring alternatives.

Some companies, however, such as Coca-Cola, aren’t budging. They say the chemical is safe.

"Companies are actually moving faster than regulators in phasing out BPA from food and beverage packaging," Emily Stone, of Green Century Capital Management, told the Independent.

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report
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