Children May Be Exposed to Unsafe Levels of BPA in School Meals


School meals may contain unsafe levels of bisphenol A (BPA), according to a study led by Jennifer Hartle, DrPh, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center and a Center for a Livable Future-Lerner Fellow (2013). BPA – a chemical commonly found in canned goods and plastic packaging – can disrupt human hormones and has been linked to adverse health effects including cancer. Current federal standards for school meals focus on nutrition and overlook exposure to toxic chemicals. Researchers say this exposure is of serious concern for low-income children since they are more likely to eat federally funded meals instead of bringing lunch from home.    

“During school site visits, I was shocked to see that virtually everything in school meals came from a can or plastic packaging,” Hartle said. “Meat came frozen, pre-packaged, pre-cooked and pre-seasoned. Salads were pre-cut and pre-bagged. Corn, peaches and green beans came in cans. The only items not packaged in plastic were oranges, apples and bananas.” The uptick in packaging is a result of schools’ efforts to streamline food preparation and meet federal nutrition standards while keeping costs low.

To better assess BPA exposure through school meals, Hartle, along with researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), interviewed school food service personnel, visited school kitchens and cafeterias in the San Francisco Bay Area and analyzed studies on BPA food concentration values. They found that BPA exposure varies depending on what students eat, but a student consuming pizza and milk with canned fruits and vegetables could take in anywhere from minimal levels to 1.19 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day. While most students would not consume the maximum amount, those who do would take in more than half the dose shown to be toxic in animal studies in just one meal.

“With endocrine-disrupting chemicals particularly, there is so much uncertainty,” said Robert Lawrence, MD, co-author of the study and director of the CLF. “We can’t tie a specific dose to a specific response like we can with lead. But we know BPA is impacting human health. Animal models are showing there can be a wide range of health effects. This research shows we should take a precautionary approach and limit school meal exposure to BPA by serving students more fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Probabilistic modeling of school meals for potential bisphenol A (BPA) exposure,” was written by Jennifer C. Hartle, Mary A. Fox, and Robert S. Lawrence.


Which brands use BPA?


You’ve probably heard of bisphenol A, or BPA, a synthetic estrogen found in the linings of many food cans. One of the nastiest endocrine disruptors on the market, BPA has been linked to a variety of serious disorders, including cancer, reproductive damage and heart disease.

But I bet you haven’t heard this: Consumers have NO reliable way of knowing which canned foods use BPA-based epoxy in their linings. Crazy, right?

At EWG, we thought so too, which is why we’re proud to release our latest analysis, BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain. We developed this report to help consumers like you determine which products contain BPA and which brands you can count on for BPA-free products.

Click here to check out the full report and get the facts on which canned food products still contain BPA.


After scrutinizing more than 250 brands of canned food, EWG analysts found that while many companies have publicly pledged to stop using BPA in their cans, more than 110 brands still line all or some of their metal cans with an epoxy resin containing BPA.

EWG divides the brands into four categories: those using cans with BPA, those using BPA-free cans for some products, those always using BPA-free cans and those that are unclear. That way, you can tell exactly which products to seek out and which to avoid.

Federal regulations don’t require manufacturers to label their products so you can identify cans with BPA-based linings. That’s why EWG stepped up to do this research — so you have the resources you need to avoid BPA and shop smarter.

Click here to learn more and see which canned food brands you should avoid and which ones you can count on for BPA-free products.

While you can’t yet rely on federal regulations to safeguard you and your family from toxic chemicals like BPA, you can always depend on EWG.

Thanks for making this work possible.


Waterways May be Contaminated with High Levels of BPA Released into the Atmosphere


Our water may be contaminated by hormone-disrupting pollutants. Scientists have discovered that harmful concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA) may have been deposited directly into rivers and streams by municipal or industrial wastewater.

“There is a growing concern that hormone disruptors such as BPA not only threaten wildlife but also humans,” said Chris Kassotis, one of the researchers, in a news release. “Recent studies have documented widespread atmospheric releases of BPA from industrial sources across the United States. The results from our study provide evidence that these atmospheric discharges can dramatically elevate BPA in nearby environments.”

Read more.


State agency puts BPA on Prop. 65 list, says it harms reproductive health


Metal can liners are made from plastic that contains BPA. The Can Manufacturers Institute opposes the listing of Bisphenol-A on the Prop. 65 list as a female reproductive toxicant, or as harmful to women's reproductive health. Once listed the manufacturers and retailers will have 12 months to institute warning labels based on what level is considered safe to consume.Metal can liners are made from plastic that contains BPA. The Can Manufacturers Institute opposes the listing of Bisphenol-A on the Prop. 65 list as a female reproductive toxicant, or as harmful to women’s reproductive health. Once listed the manufacturers and retailers will have 12 months to institute warning labels based on what level is considered safe to consume.NEO VISION/GETTY IMAGES/AMANA IMAGES RM

The chemical Bisphenol-A goes on the Proposition 65 list this week after a unanimous vote by a state scientific panel concluded the element is harmful to women’s reproductive health, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Read More

Chemical Exposures and Health Care Costs


A new economic analysis has concluded that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely costs the European Union €157 billion ($209 billion U.S.) a year in actual health care expenses and lost earning potential, according to a new series of studies published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

A total of four papers were published (overview, neurobehavioralmale reproduction and obesity & diabetes) that focused on specific health conditions that can partly be attributed to endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) exposure. These included infertility and male reproductive dysfunction, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurobehavioural and learning disorders. A team of eighteen researchers from eight countries led by Leonardo Trasande, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Population Health at NYU Medical Center, were involved in this landmark initiative.

EDCs interfere with numerous hormone functions and are commonly found in thousands of household products including plastics made with vinyl, electronics, pesticides, and cosmetics.

The overview paper concluded that “EDC exposures in the EU are likely to contribute substantially to disease and dysfunction across the life course with costs in the hundreds of billions per year. These estimates represent only those EDCs with the highest probability of causation; a broader analysis would have produced greater estimates of burden of disease and costs.”

The papers were prepared in conjunction with an evaluation being done by the EU Commission of the economic impact to industry of regulating EDCs in Europe. According to the authors, “Our goal here is to estimate the health and economic benefit of regulating EDCs in Europe, based on current evidence.”

The expert panels put together for this analysis “achieved consensus for probable (20%) EDC causation for IQ loss and associated intellectual disability, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood obesity, adult obesity, adult diabetes, cryptorchidism, male infertility, and mortality associated with reduced T.”

“The analysis demonstrates just how staggering the cost of widespread endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure is to society,” said Leonardo Trasande, the lead author in a press statement released by the Endocrine Society. “This research crystalizes more than three decades of lab and population-based studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the EU.”

The press release goes on to say:

In the EU, researchers found the biggest cost driver was loss of IQ and intellectual disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to pesticides containing organophosphates. The study estimated the harm done to unborn children costs society between €46.8 billion and €195 billion a year. About 13 million lost IQ points and 59,300 additional cases of intellectual disability per year can be attributed to organophosphate exposure.

“Adult obesity linked to phthalate exposure generated the second-highest total, with estimated costs of €15.6 billion a year.

“Our findings show that limiting exposure to the most common and hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals is likely to yield significant economic benefits,” said one of the study’s authors, Philippe Grandjean, MD, PhD, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and Adjunct Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “This approach has the potential to inform decision-making in the environmental health arena. We are hoping to bring the latest endocrine science to the attention of policymakers as they weigh how to regulate these toxic chemicals.”

The impact of this paper is staggering. It should be a “wake up call” said Linda Birnbaum, Director of the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences when asked about the results. It also provides more evidence that low level exposure to chemicals found in everyday household products is affecting the health of many people not just in the Europe, but worldwide.


BPA exposure linked to autism spectrum disorder, study reports


A newly published study is the first to report an association between bisphenol-A (BPA), a common plasticizer used in a variety of consumer food and beverage containers, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. The study, by researchers at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), shows that BPA is not metabolized well in children with ASD.


Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats


New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does.


Read the story at National Geographic

Both hazard and exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.

Staying Safe (Probably): Risk, Hazard and Chemical Regulation


Risk’ and ‘hazard.’

These two words are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings in the context of chemical safety assessment. When we say a particular chemical is ‘hazardous,’ we are noting its mere potential to cause negative health or environmental effects. On the other hand, ‘risk’ describes the probability that these negative effects will actually occur under specific circumstances. In order to generate a measurable risk, some exposure to the hazard in question must occur.

Both a hazard and an exposure are necessary for a risk to exist.

If you have followed my last several posts, you’ve probably caught on to the idea that attempting to declare a chemical ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ is an exercise in futility. To comprehensively determine risk, we must know not only the detailed structure and function of a chemical, but also understand the intricacies of its interactions with the environment and the human body. Current chemical regulation in the United States operates within a risk-based framework. We establish standards and criteria for acceptable levels of hazardous compounds in products, in the environment and in our bodies; we enact bans and restrictions on chemicals in order to limit our exposures. These regulations are the product of risk assessments, which report not only the hazardous properties of chemicals but also the likelihood of human exposure.

My recent post on BPA illustrates the complexity of risk assessment. Though BPA has demonstrated hazardous potential, the levels to which humans are exposed to the compound, and therefore the actual risks of its use, are uncertain. Exposure may seem like a simple factor to evaluate, but our understanding of exposure is continually evolving, particularly with consideration for the special vulnerability of developing babies and children.  The ban on BPA in baby bottles reflects this emerging awareness of long-term effects of chemical exposures. However, the replacement of BPA with BPS illustrates the shortcomings of an approach that controls risk by limiting exposure to specific high-profile hazardous compounds.

The replacement of BPA, a known hazard, with BPS – an untested and unregulated compound with a nearly identical structure – may be considered an example of what scientists and regulators refer to as “regrettable substitution.” Regrettable substitution occurs when we eliminate one hazardous chemical from consumer products, only to replace it with a similar or even more hazardous alternative. Our risk-based chemical regulation enables us to remove demonstrably dangerous chemicals from consumer products, but also leaves profound loopholes for new chemicals, untested and unregulated, to enter the market in their stead, as long as risk assessments have not proven them dangerous. In a 2010 post on his Environmental Defense Fund blog, Dr. Richard Denison refers to this process as playing “whack-a-mole” with chemicals. No sooner have we knocked one hazardous chemical back into its hole, than a replacement rears its likely-hazardous head…until we generate evidence of its actual risk and seek to replace it with another unknown quantity.

Is this game of “whack-a-chemical” inevitable, or do more precautionary approaches exist? In Europe, regulators are striving for a balance between risk assessment and the more protective approach of hazard classification. While risk assessment relies on scientific studies to determine the risks of chemicals under different exposure scenarios, hazard classification groups chemicals based on their inherent hazard potential. It is this potential to cause harm that guides regulation, not demonstrated adverse effects.  A hazard classification regulatory scheme might have prevented BPS from entering the market, since its structural similarities to BPA make it a likely health hazard.

Hazard classification is essentially a more precautionary approach to chemical regulations. And when we operate in a framework of precaution rather than risk, the regulatory question itself changes. “A precautionary approach asks how much harm can be avoided rather than asking how much is acceptable,” write Dr. Ted Schettler and coauthors in a 2002 essay on the role of the Precautionary Principle in regulation and policymaking.

How can we better incorporate the Precautionary Principle into the chemical regulation process in the US? This question has been at the epicenter of the debate on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which I will cover next time on Backyard Talk.


When ‘Safer’ isn’t Safe: BPA and BPS


Two weeks ago on Backyard Talk, I wrote about BPA, a major plastic component that has been linked to number of health impacts, particularly endocrine disruption. The jury is still out on BPA; the European Food Safety Authority has declared that BPA does not pose a health risk at normal exposure levels, while recent studies have emerged showing that BPA affects stem cells and may impact reproductive health later in life. In the face of all this scientific uncertainty, it’s lucky that we have access to BPA-free products. Or is it?

I have a few new water bottles from Christmas sitting in my cabinet, stamped with a leaf design and a guarantee that their plastic is BPA-free. Our eco- and health-conscious readers probably have similar items in their homes. BPA-free products have proliferated since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of baby bottles containing BPA in 2012. Unfortunately, studies over the past few years have shown that even BPA-free products release estrogenic compounds, some of which can even be more potent than those released by BPA-containing products.

One common replacement for BPA, or bisphenol A, is BPS, or bisphenol S, which has been shown to disrupt cell functioning at very tiny concentrations. It’s no surprise that the compounds might have similar effects, because they are close in structure as well as in name. A brief organic chemistry interlude:

Image from the blog ‘Science Minus Details.

To the right is an image of BPA side-by-side with a particular estrogen, estradiol.

This image highlights the structural similarities between BPA and estradiol, which enable BPA to mimic the hormone and cause disruptions to the endocrine system.

Below is the structure of BPS:

BPS molecule

Though the two molecules are not identical, BPS contains the essential ring structure, called a ‘phenol’ group, which is highlighted in both BPA and estradiol. Structural similarity between BPA and BPS is what enables them to play a similar role in conferring hardness to plastics. It also enables them to interact with cells in similar ways. According to Scientific American, BPS is thought to be more resistant than BPA to escaping from plastics when they are heated. However, studies have demonstrated that it is prevalent in human urine, and that even small amounts can cause changes to cells.

We are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to developing safe, or safer, alternatives to chemicals that have been linked to adverse health or environmental impacts. When replacing chemicals in products, we often first look to chemicals that share properties with the ones we are seeking to eliminate. As in the case of BPA, however, these similarities that preserve the function of a product can also preserve its toxic effects. When health risks are demonstrated for a given compound, is it prudent to bring in a replacement, even if this new player has not been vetted by scientific studies? Should we settle for lesser risk and continue working towards an even safer ideal? What does ‘safe’ mean, anyway? Tune in next time!


Wake Up: Your Take Out styrofoam Coffee Cup May Release Estrogenic Chemicals


Most people know that some plastics additives, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may be harmful to their health. But an upcoming study in the journal Environmental Health finds that entire classes of plastics—including the type commonly referred to as styrofoam and a type used in many baby products—may wreak havoc on your hormones regardless of what additives are in them.

The study’s authors tested 14 different BPA-free plastic resins, the raw materials used to make plastic products, and found that four of them released chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen. That’s not surprising. As Mother Jonesreported earlier this year, many BPA-free plastic goods—from baby bottles and sippy cups to food-storage containers—leach potentially harmful estrogenlike chemicals. But until now, it wasn’t clear what role the resins played. The new study suggests that sometimes the resins themselves are part of the problem, though additives such as dyes and antioxidants can make it worse.