Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BPA - Media Continues the Confusion

In the last couple of months, BPA has made several notable media headlines, perpetuating confusion at the very least. What’s notable about them is that at least two of the articles have conclusions that are about as opposite as you can get with regard to the safety of this controversial chemical – at least on the surface. Let’s take a look below the surface and find out why these reports are in such contrast.

For a quick review, BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a synthetic petroleum-based organic compound usually used in making plastics and usually added to make plastics harder. It is also used in many other applications such as in the linings of aluminum water bottles and cans, cash register receipts, and dental sealants. BPA mimics the human estrogen hormone and can sort of act like our own once inside us.

The controversy about BPA is its safety once it is inside us. BPA not only can supersede our own estrogen but can, at higher levels, seem to be too much of a good thing causing enhanced estrogen activity linked (operative word) to breast cancer, early puberty, and altered baby boy anatomy, among other things. Science has convincing animal evidence of the perils of BPA. Since we can’t do experiments on humans, the evidence for determining human safety levels becomes more difficult and can take years. A burning question becomes: at what level does BPA become not safe for human exposure as measured by the amount of BPA going into and out of the body? At least that is one way to look at safety.  Of course the industry’s position is that it is safe, even at all levels. After all, there are no immediate life threatening effects, which is how toxicologists typically analyze the safety of chemicals.So what's the problem with a little male infertility anyway, good for population control, right?

This summer, a government funded study concluded that BPA was not detected in the blood for 24 hours after “high” dietary exposure to BPA. Reporting articles in the media used the opportunity to cast doubt on the threat of BPA – you know, “It’s no big deal.” The chemical and canned food industry lauded the research with a “We told you so.”

Since then, a university based research article observed two events when breast tissue cells were exposed to BPA. The first was that high-risk non-cancerous breast cells turned cancerous when exposed to BPA. The other event occurred when breast cancer cells were exposed to BPA and then introduced to the cancer killing drug Tamoxifen. The Tamoxifen (the most commonly used breast cancer drug) appeared to be blocked by the BPA and not able to work effectively. The level of BPA exposure was consistent with what is typically found in human blood after a "typical dose". These “normal” BPA levels seemed to “flip a swtich” turning regular breast cells cancerous.

These are two very different studies. The first draws conclusions (despite many glaring flaws) and the second presents concerned evidence.

The government study by Teeguarden was his first research on BPA which may explain some of the oversight. The first major concern is that the researchers did not measure the amount of BPA actually ingested by the participants. They fed participants three cans of food during the day. Studies show that the amount of BPA in canned foods 
varies greatly possibly based on many factors such as the original can manufacturer, the type of lining, the type of food and length of time in the can, and heat exposure. What the researchers measured instead was the BPA in the urine and claimed that urine output was representative of BPA input. Seriously? Were these humans in bubbles for the last few months with no exposure to any BPA? This assumption has raised eye brows even among non-scientists – it’s so egregious. Grist did an excellent follow-up on this research article going more into detail than I will here.
The second concern is that participants were asked to drink 3.5 liters of water during the day which for many people is a lot of fluid.  Drinking excessive water may cause excessive BPA urine output but the possibility of dilution was not discussed.

The third error was concluding that there was no BPA in the blood when the level of detection used was only parts per billion. BPA research conducted by leading scientists often use parts per trillion for detecting BPA and note estrogen changes at this lower level. After all, our own hormones function in parts per trillion. That’s like saying there are no boulders in the field and then concluding there is nothing to worry about, but you didn’t bother to count all the rocks.  Drawing the conclusion that there was no BPA in the blood using a limited level of detection (LOD) is pulling a SIGG. (Drawing a conclusion on something you couldn’t/didn’t measure.)

The fourth concern is the gross over-all conclusion that BPA is effectively excreted by urine, undetected in the blood and therefore poses no risk. WOW! Is it really that simple? Not. Teeguarden also went on to say that previous studies (hundreds, maybe thousands) were flawed; this is arrogance at best and not a very ethically scientific thing to say. Omitted from discussion was the fact that BPA is actually excreted more in the feces than in the urine. Also omitted from discussion was the fact that BPA has been found to be stored in muscles, bones, mammary glands and other tissues but most notably in fat where the concern is metabolic syndrome (diabetes) and  estrogenetic changes. A recent study found that sweat had plenty of BPA in it despite the blood showing undetectable levels using parts per billion as the LOD. The BPA in the sweat is thought to mostly originate from fat cells (and linked to cancer). Scientists know BPA can be stored in several areas, the question is for how long, and does it cause “problems”.

So one study declared that BPA is safe because it was not detected in the blood and was effectively excreted in the urine. The other study shows BPA turning non-cancer cells into cancer and BPA interfering with the ability for the most common breast cancer drug to work effectively. Both of these studies, though very different, can not be correct with regard to safety. Most of the studies that minimize the affects of BPA are supported by the chemical and can industries. Most of the studies that raise concern for BPA are from independent scientists at universities, non-profits, and some governments. (No that there is any connection or anything.) Given the many glaring whoopsies in the first study, it is shocking that it even made it to print. It is disappointing to see the confusion extended to the media to the point where, given the second study, lives could be at stake.

So far six states have banned BPA to some degree, mostly for infant and children products, based on the overwhelming science. Unfortunately, BPA exposure in utero is where the greatest concern is. So banning baby bottles is after the fact. Better than nothing I suppose.

If something smells like smoke, the prudent thing to do is investigate it and tell people to get out until you are satisfied about the safety for all. Most people don’t simply ignore the smell of smoke or blow it off as no big deal. Why should concern for BPA be any different?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Recycling and Rinsing in Canada

I know. Recycling in Canada, not exactly a hot topic. But I feel my marveling needs to be shared.

I have marveled about Canada before in a post a while back. How, way out in the middle of no where, they had single stream recycling pick up... in the middle of the night. Yes they still do it, and I still find it fascinating.

On a recent return to the same "in the middle of no where" place on the very, very tip of Gaspe Peninsula, I was once again surprised by the effort the government makes to promote recycling.

I took a day trip to Forillon National Park which is not only famous for its spectacular topography, but is said to be the beginning of the Appalachian Ridge as it rises out of the ocean. And spectacular it is.

There are lots of scenic vantage points and areas to park and picnic. As an aside, it was wonderful to see so many families taking their picnicking seriously, bottle of wine and all.

So when you are finished with that bottle of wine, what does any good Canadian citizen do?  Why, recycle it of course.  And what does the good Canadian government ask the recycler to do?  Why, rinse it out of course. To top if off, you aren't left scratching your head trying to figure out just how you are going to "rinse it out". Miracles of miracles, a deep sink is provided, out in the middle of no where.

I suppose water conservationists may question this practice, asking if it is really necessary, or how much does food waste really contaminate the recycling process? Some recycling processes really don't need even sticky peanut butter removed. But the other reason might be keeping the small and big varmints at bay. (This includes bears.) Whatever the reason, I was impressed with this recycling set-up...out in the middle of no where.

Gaspe Peninsula, still part of Quebec, is a little bigger than Massachusetts with a population of less than 100,000. The biggest city is Gaspe, with a whopping population of over 14,000.  It is so spectacular that the National Geographic rated Gaspe as one of the top 20 places in the entire world to see in 2011. Not to shabby, eh?

Forillon National Park was a joy to experience. I applaud Canada for its efforts, even down to the sink to rinse out your containers. If you are looking for a unique, very remote (yes, way the heck up there), consider the Forillon area in Gaspe. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day's Founder Morton Hilbert

Cloudless morning; a little hazy.

A year ago I posted that Earth Day's original founder was Morton Shelly Hilbert. Despite much of the internet credit going to a Senator Nelson, it was Hilbert who really laid the ground word.

Confirming my assertions was a comment posted from Morton's Wife Stephanie 7 months after my blog post. You can read her kind words after the original article.

Since then, a Wikipedia Page now goes into nice detail about this passionate man who wanted us all to cherish the earth and take care of it.

So one more time folks. Earth Day is celebrating its 41st year because of the great vision by Morton Shelly Hilbert. Thanks Mort! Now don't disappoint him...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Declining Libido, Could It Be Plastic?

Cold and cloudy; more snow on the way.

A recent article about the declining sex drive (aka libido) in teens and adults in Japan got me thinking. While the article focused on the results of the study and how the country is up in arms because their extremely low birth rate is causing age imbalance and could spell economic disaster, they didn't offer much in the way of causes. They briefly mentioned people being over worked but that does not account for 1/3, yes one third, of teenage boys saying they have absolutely no interest in sex (not even same sex.) Say what? Doesn't that raise some red flags for anyone? Like, what's in the drinking water?

 The US has a declining teen birth rate, which is a good thing. Its cause though is admittedly a mystery. In fact, the experts and researchers were surprised and really can not fully explain the dramatic results. They are mostly attributing it to the recession but I don't know how that affects teens. In fact, I would think it would rise, it's cheap entertainment on a Friday night when money is tight. It might be convenient to attribute the decline to the recession and all the abstinent programs (why didn't they work 8 years ago?) but what if that is all a coincidence? What if it is more biological than that?

I could not find any stats specifically on a declining sex drive in the US. Trying to google declining sex, libido and US didn't exactly get me what I was looking for. But I did find some recent research on the affects of plastics and human sex drive, the first of its kind. Researchers found a direct correlation between urine levels of BPA and sexual drive in Chinese men. And yes, when BPA goes up, guess what goes down?

And there are countless studies of plastics (gender benders), specifically the estrogen mimickers, and the affect on feminizing male fish. And there are plenty of lab experiments too on animals to support the deleterious effects of BPA. But not so much research on humans because...we can't do experiments on humans. (sort of like climate change, you can only present the data)

So now it's time to connect the dots... I know I'm going out on a limb here, a big limb too, but it's my gut reaction. What if the not-explained-very-well decline in the Japanese libido and the (ditto) U.S. teen birth rate decline are the effects of the "all around us" gender benders in our environment, food and water? What if the plastic revolution is finally catching up with us? After all, Japan has a long reputation of plastic use, sometimes called a wrap happy culture - many products and foods come wrapped multiple times in...plastic.Not good plastic either, think vinyl. Japan also has had a long standing tradition of bentos; the small divided, usually plastic, food containers. While most of the bentos on the market are up to the stricter BPA standards that Japan now has, I question the decades of cheap plastic use prior to the relatively recent interested in the effects of plastic, plus microwaving the plastic etc. that may (remember I'm admittedly out on a limb here) be responsible for  the current generation of not-interested-in-sex Japanese. In addition,  Japan switched using BPA cash register receipt paper back in 2006, it seems to have been replaced with BP-S, which may be just as bad.

It is also interesting to note, that birth rate seems to be related to how "developed" a country is, but a close look at the chart has some interesting tweaks. I think it is safe to assume that "development" also goes with levels of pollutions and the environmental toxic exposures that have increased over the last century due to "development". This is ditto for world breast cancer rates too. Yes birth rate may be related to economics, education, culture, religion etc.but part of the equation just may be exposure to gender benders via our "modern" convenient lifestyle.

As soon as I saw the article about the lower teen sex drive in the Japanese, I immediately thought gender benders. The evidence is too overwhelming. I really do believe we are now seeing the effects of run away environmental toxic exposure. The cart was let out well ahead of the horse years ago (thank you lobbying powerhouse ACC, and our let's wait and see attitude) and I believe we are beginning to pay the price. When one third of young men are not interested in sex, and actually "despised" the thought, something is very very amiss in our society.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lead in Reusable Bags, Guess Who's Smiling?

Clear, extremely cold morning.

A lot of stores have jumped on the reusable bag band wagon. This is a good thing despite the probability that the incentive is more to make money from the current push for using reusable bags versus to not offer the option to customers.

You've probably seen the non-woven polypropylene bags folded up as a point of sale item at your local check out counter. They often are inexpensive, sometimes only a dollar, in various colors and usually carrying the store's logo on it. (And you should be asking yourself how can they make them so cheaply and pay good wages.)

It turns out that recent testing has shown dangerous levels of lead. The devil's in the colors. Color application and lead are always a concern. It is surprising that these bags got as far as they did. Yes, they are being pulled, some hands will be slapped, and a lot of bags will be wasted. And, unfortunately, reusable bags will get a bad rap. (We hope only temporarily.)

And guess who is behind the funding for this breach of consumer confidence? Why the ACC, the American Chemistry Council, aka, the plastics industry.

You see, they don't want you to reuse bags, they just want you to recycle them. The ACC hides behind the feel good campaign of recycling (they support November 15th, America Recycles Day) but is not a proponent of the entire green holy trinity - reduce, reuse, then recycle. The ACC fights every proposed bag ban with big bucks and is responsible for many bans failing. The ACC wants you to keep getting all those virgin plastic bags at the store to keep the plastics industry in business. Oh, but make sure you recycle them before you go back to the store and get another virgin plastic bag. *&$%#&@!

So what's the solution? Use a plain, canvas hemp or organic cotton, made in the USA, reusable tote bag.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cast Iron Cookware, Run to Your Nearest Thrift Store


Cast iron cookware, by any other name such as skillet, pan, or pot, is absolutely wonderful. I prefer to say pan, but most searches use cast iron skillet.

I've ditched anything Teflon,  and anything else that is suspect for that matter, which leaves me with stainless steel and cast iron. My stainless steel is a mix of old and new (think Revere Ware, it is great)

What motivated me were the alarming articles about Teflon, its toxicity etc.It is quite disturbing. DuPont mumbled something about phasing the PFOAs out (cancer causing chemical when over heated) but guess what, they haven't. (teflon lines self cleaning ovens and that yucky smell is guess what? very toxic) I threw out many pans years ago, but just recently fell back in love with iron.

The big problem is, no one makes a new good cast iron skillet. I tried the new Lodge ones and they are quite frankly...awful. The reason is they are made with a sand mold method and the surface is left rough, not silky smooth. The older ones were machine polished. So no matter how much you season it, things stick. What were/are they thinking?

The only option then is to find old cast iron skillets, obviously a limited supply. Ten years ago, you couldn't give them away, they were cheap at thrifts stores and yard sales and consider oh so...old and yesteryear. My how things have changed .If you can find one at a yard sale or thrift store, good for you, but mostly you'll find them at antique shops or Ebay. The prices may vary from $20 to $40 depending upon the size and condition. Look for a nice smooth cooking surface. Don't shy away from a little rust or some gunk. There is lots of advice on the internet for cleaning them up. The best one is putting them in an open camp fire for hours to burn everything off!

I've got a nice little collection going and have been searching for more for family and friends. Not too many bargains these days though, the dealers know what they are doing. I did have some that were in the family, a nice big #12. (numbers have nothing to do with actual size in inches) The small one shown was also a hand-me-down and makes perfect eggs. I rarely clean it, just rinse it off and leave a little grease on it.There is good advice online about seasoning old pans so they are non-stick.

The added benefit is these treasures are really green - low tech to produce, low chemical profile( the only issue is leaching iron into your food but that may be a good thing)  and they last forever. Given that these beauties are not made anymore and that their value will only continue to go up, I suggest your nearest thrift store, consignment shop, or antique dealer. Run, don't walk.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bill McKibben Gets Real

Cold, sunny.

Bill McKibben lets his hair down in Mexico (does not appear to be influenced by a Margarita) and finally says it like it is "There's no happy ending to where we prevent climate change anymore. Now the question is, is it going to a miserable century or an impossible one, and what comes after that."

Well someone has to (had to?) say it. In stark contrast to his usual upbeat monologues, Bill gets real here in this video. Perhaps his way of saying, we're past the tipping point. The train has left the station. Now it's a question of just how fast that train is going to go and if we have time to get out of the way and hold onto our hats.

 Bill's Climate Change Reality Check: