Big Chem, Big Harm?

NYTimes
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

NEW research is demonstrating that some common chemicals all around us may be even more harmful than previously thought. It seems that they may damage us in ways that are transmitted generation after generation, imperiling not only us but also our descendants.

Yet following the script of Big Tobacco a generation ago, Big Chem has, so far, blocked any serious regulation of these endocrine disruptors, so called because they play havoc with hormones in the body’s endocrine system.

One of the most common and alarming is bisphenol-A, better known as BPA. The failure to regulate it means that it is unavoidable. BPA is found in everything from plastics to canned food to A.T.M. receipts. More than 90 percent of Americans have it in their urine.

Even before the latest research showing multigeneration effects, studies had linked BPA to breast cancer and diabetes, as well as to hyperactivity, aggression and depression in children.

Maybe it seems surprising to read a newspaper column about chemical safety because this isn’t an issue in the presidential campaign or even firmly on the national agenda. It’s not the kind of thing that we in the news media cover much.

Yet the evidence is growing that these are significant threats of a kind that Washington continually fails to protect Americans from. The challenge is that they involve complex science and considerable uncertainty, and the chemical companies — like the tobacco companies before them — create financial incentives to encourage politicians to sit on the fence. So nothing happens.

Yet although industry has, so far, been able to block broad national curbs on BPA, new findings on transgenerational effects may finally put a dent in Big Chem’s lobbying efforts.

One good sign: In late July, a Senate committee, for the first, time passed the Safe Chemicals Act, landmark legislation sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, that would begin to regulate the safety of chemicals.

Evidence of transgenerational effects of endocrine disruptors has been growing for a half-dozen years, but it mostly involved higher doses than humans would typically encounter.

Now Endocrinology, a peer-reviewed journal, has published a study measuring the impact of low doses of BPA. The study is devastating for the chemical industry.

Pregnant mice were exposed to BPA at dosages analogous to those humans typically receive. The offspring were less sociable than control mice (using metrics often used to assess an aspect of autism in humans), and various effects were also evident for the next three generations of mice.

The BPA seemed to interfere with the way the animals processed hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin, which affect trust and warm feelings. And while mice are not humans, research on mouse behavior is a standard way to evaluate new drugs or to measure the impact of chemicals.

“It’s scary,” said Jennifer T. Wolstenholme, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia and the lead author of the report. She said that the researchers found behaviors in BPA-exposed mice and their descendants that may parallel autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder in humans.

Emilie Rissman, a co-author who is professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at University of Virginia Medical School, noted that BPA doesn’t cause mutations in DNA. Rather, the impact is “epigenetic” — one of the hot concepts in biology these days — meaning that changes are transmitted not in DNA but by affecting the way genes are turned on and off.

In effect, this is a bit like evolution through transmission of acquired characteristics — the theory of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the 19th-century scientist whom high school science classes make fun of as a foil to Charles Darwin. In epigenetics, Lamarck lives.

“These results at low doses add profoundly to concerns about endocrine disruptors,” said John Peterson Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences. “It’s going to be harder than just eliminating exposure to one generation.”

The National Institutes of Health is concerned enough that it expects to make transgenerational impacts of endocrine disruptors a priority for research funding, according to a spokeswoman, Robin Mackar.

Like a lot of Americans, I used to be skeptical of risks from chemicals like endocrine disruptors that are all around us. What could be safer than canned food? I figured that opposition came from tree-hugging Luddites prone to conspiracy theories.

Yet, a few years ago, I began to read the peer-reviewed journal articles, and it became obvious that the opposition to endocrine disruptors is led by toxicologists, endocrinologists, urologists and pediatricians. These are serious scientists, yet they don’t often have the ear of politicians or journalists.

Related: EVEN BPA-FREE PLASTIC NOT ALWAYS SAFE

LIST OF THE TOP 10 TOXIC CHEMICALS SUSPECTED TO CAUSE AUTISM AND LEARNING DISABILITIES

Science Blog

An editorial published today in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America’s children and presents a list of ten target chemicals including which are considered highly likely to contribute to these conditions.

Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a world-renowned leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, co-authored the editorial, entitled “A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities,” along with Luca Lambertini, PhD, MPH, MSc, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute OF Environmental Health Sciences.

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism. Both the editorial and the papers originated at a conference hosted by CEHC in December 2010.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3 percent of all neurobehavioral disorders in children, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25 percent are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. But the precise environmental causes are not yet known. While genetic research has demonstrated that ASD and certain other neurodevelopmental disorders have a strong hereditary component, many believe that environmental causes may also play a role – and Mount Sinai is leading an effort to understand the role of these toxins in a condition that now affects between 400,000 and 600,000 of the 4 million children born in the United States each year.

“A large number of the chemicals in widest use have not undergone even minimal assessment of potential toxicity and this is of great concern,” says Dr. Landrigan. “Knowledge of environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders is critically important because they are potentially preventable.”

CEHC developed the list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities to guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes. The top ten chemicals are:

1. Lead

2. Methylmercury
3. PCBs
4. Organophosphate pesticides
5. Organochlorine pesticides
6. Endocrine disruptors
7. Automotive exhaust
8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
9. Brominated flame retardants
10. Perfluorinated compounds

In addition to the editorial, the other four papers also call for increased research to identify the possible environmental causes of autism in America’s children. The first paper, written by a team at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, found preliminary evidence linking smoking during pregnancy to Asperger’s disorder and other forms of high-functioning autism. Two papers, written by researchers at the University of California – Davis, show that PCBs disrupt early brain development. The final paper, also by a team at UC – Davis, suggests further exploring the link between pesticide exposure and autism.

Aspartame has been Renamed and is Now Being Marketed as a Natural Sweetener

Health Freedom Alliance, Nov. 13, 2011

Artificial sweeteners especially aspartame has gotten a bad rap over the years, most likely due to studies showing they cause cancer. But not to worry Ajinomoto the company that makes Aspartame has changed the name to AminoSweet. It has the same toxic ingredients but a nice new sounding name.

And if you or your child happens to be allergic to Aspartame, well don’t take it personally it’s just business. Despite the evidence gained over the years showing that aspartame is a dangerous toxin, it has remained on the global market . In continues to gain approval for use in new types of food despite evidence showing that it causes neurological brain damage, cancerous tumors, and endocrine disruption, among other things. Most consumers are oblivious to the fact that Aspartame was invented as a drug but upon discovery of its’ sweet taste was magically transformed from a drug to a food additive. HFA wants to warn our readers to beware of a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing or in this case Aspartame dressed up as Aminosweet. Over 25 years ago, aspartame was first introduced into the European food supply. Today, it is an everyday component of most diet beverages, sugar-free desserts, and chewing gums in countries worldwide. But the tides have been turning as the general public is waking up to the truth about artificial sweeteners like aspartame and the harm they cause to health. The latest aspartame marketing scheme is a desperate effort to indoctrinate the public into accepting the chemical sweetener as natural and safe, despite evidence to the contrary.

Full story

Exposure to organochloride pesticides affects semen quality

EurekAlert, Mar. 22, 2011

According to a study conducted at the University of Granada, combined exposure to organochlorides significantly alters semen quality in young people from South East Spain. Having a low number of spermatozoa taking the levels established by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a reference can delay fertilization.

The most common means of exposure to pesticides among the general population is through food and other household products. From the 18 pesticides found in the participants’ blood, some are forbidden in Spain, as DDT, although others as the fungicide called vinclozolin –employed in vineyards and citrus groves– are legal in this country.

While exposure to certain organochlorides proved to increase total spermatic number and total sperm motility levels, other pesticides have the adverse effects and are associated to a reduction in these levels. This might be due to the fact that some pesticides are considered to be slightly estrogenic endocrine disruptors –as it is the case of endosulfan sulphate, lindane and p,p-DDT–, while others combine their clearly antiadrogenic activity to a weak estrogenic activity –as it is the case of p,p-DDE and vinclozolin.

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Something’s in the air: BPA found around the world.

Environmental Health News, Sept. 30, 2010

Add air to the growing list of places where bisphenol A (BPA) is found, say a pair of Japanese researchers who have measured and reported levels of the chemical in the world’s atmosphere. They discovered BPA in air samples from all over the world at widely varied levels – from almost nothing in remote areas near the poles to 10,000 times more than that in India and other heavily populated regions of Asia. The results show the far reaching extent of BPA contamination and identify yet another likely source of exposure for people. Exposure is possible because researchers found that BPA floats in the air attached to particles that can infiltrate lungs. Still, the amounts of this exposure and any potential health risks from breathing the contaminated air are not known. Researchers believe that BPA enters the air when plastics, electronics and other waste are burned, since the highest concentrations were measured near populated areas and coincided with high levels of other chemicals that are associated with burning plastics.

Full story
See also: Controversial chemical BPA found on paper money, SFGate, Dec. 8, 2010