Warning: These baby bottles and canned goods contain a chemical known to cause reproductive harm

canned food goodsWould you buy a can of beans with a warning on it that it may contain a chemical known to the state of California to cause reproductive harm?

What about a baby bottle?

If you live in California, you are probably familiar with Proposition 65’s standard warning. Even if you don’t realize it.

You’ve probably seenproposition 65 warning sign a warning at the gas station. Or perhaps on some adhesives or similar consmer products. Or for alcoholic beverages.

A Proposition 65 warning sign is placed on consumer products or posted in areas to give warnings to consumers that using the product or being in the area can expose them to a chemical or chemicals that cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Proposition 65 requires a warning – it doesn’t prohibit the sale of the items. Just a warning.

But would you buy canned goods with such a warning?

Why do I ask? Because the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published notice that it will consider adding bisphenol A (BPA) to the list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. BPA is being proposed to be added as a development toxicant. The meeting to consider adoption is set for July 15, 2009. I don’t know whether it will be adopted or not, but I’m just wondering what will happen if it is.

You might not be very familiar with BPA, buy you probably have it in your body. Biomonitoring found that 93% of Americans have BPA in their systems.

BPA is a basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic, so it is found in polycarbonate plastic containers. Polycarbonate is used for baby bottles, many of the 5 gallon water bottles, and other similar hard plastic containers. It is also used for the lining of most canned foods and beverages.

Proposition 65 requires a warning unless the business can establish that there is no exposure from use of the product above the significant risk level (for carcinogens) or the no observable effects level (for chemicals that cause reproductive harm). However, Proposition 65 allows a business to place a warning on a product if the company based on its knowledge, or assumption, that a Proposition 65 listed chemical is present without attempting to evaluate the levels of exposure. Companies do this because it is less expensive than to undertake a risk assessment. So companies slap on labels on products based upon the presumption of listed chemicals being present in products, such as lead and phthalates in polyvinyl chloride plastic.

Putting a label on may not reduce product sales for product such as auto or hardware products, but I imagine it will give consumers pause on a canned food or baby bottle. But, if BPA is added, without the identification of a regulatory “no risk” level, then those canned goods will have to contain such a label. Otherwise, companies will be subject to Proposition 65 lawsuits. The thing about Prop 65 is that it contains a bounty hunter provision, which allows private enforcement, and allows plaintiff firms to recover attorneys’s fees. Proposition 65 also has a penalty provision of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. So, because of that, many firms just put labels on products that may contain listed chemicals that could result in exposure to protect themselves from suits.

But BPA is found in so many products. Now, a warning probably wouldn’t be required for a bike helmet, for example, made of polycarbonate plastic because there isn’t any exposure. But for food contact items, it is established that BPA leaches out of polycarbonate plastic and the linings of canned food. Which may mean that such companies are driven to found alternatives to avoid warnings.

In any event, it will be interesting to see what develops. Now, if you don’t want to be exposed to BPA, which is a hormone disruptor and is potentially harmful to fetuses and babies, you can skip polycarbonate plastic for food storage. For canned foods, go for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred instead of metal cans.

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Do lavender & tea tree essential oils cause breast growth in boys? Are they endocrine disruptors?

Lavender flower bunchAt the BlogHer’08 conference, one of the topics among green bloggers was whether it was safe to steer people to products containing lavender and tea tree essential oils.  If you are trying to steer clear of phthalates in fragrance and parabens as a preservative, you might switch to natural products containing lavender and tea tree essential oils.  And many baby personal care products contain lavender especially since it is believed to be calming.  Tea tree essential oil makes a great disinfectant spray – and can be used to clean mold.

But, you may recall that last year, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the use of certain products containing lavender and tea tree oils was associated with the breast tissue growth in boys prior to puberty.  This has led to some concern that lavender and tea tree essential oils may be endocrine disruptors, and should be avoided.

So, after the conference, I went back and looked at the research.  The report was 3 case studies – 3 boys, ages 4, 7 and 10.  The case studies all involved the topical application of products containing lavender and tea tree essential oils, and the 3 boys experienced breast tissued growth.  The enlarged breast tissue subsided once the products were discontinued.  So, it was believed that the breast tissue growth was associated with the products.  Breast tissue growth is generally attributed to interference with the hormone signaling – the endocrine system.  Subsequent laboratory studies showed weak but definite endocrine disrupting effects for lavender and tea tree oils. 

But, were the products really the cause, and did they contain lavender and tea tree essential oils?  I think that is a little unclear.  The case report does not provide detail as to whether the products at issue actually contained tea tree or lavender essential oil.  The first boy is reported using a healing balm contaning lavender oil, but there is no analysis or detail on the actual ingredient.  The second, styling gel and shampoo listing lavender oil and tea tree oil.  The third, lavender scented soap and skin lotions, but no confirmation that the lavender was synthetic as opposed to natural.    

More importantly, the case report does not seem to evaluate the boys’ exposure to any other known endocrine disrupting chemicals – PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, phthalates, parabens, or alkyl phenols.  And phthalates and parabens are commonly found in personal care products. 

As for the laboratory studies? Not unexpected.  In vitro studies have previously identified weak hormonal effects from essential oils – but these are very weak. 

My conclusion?  I think it is clear that there is not enough information.  I think using tea tree essential oil for cleaning is not a problem.  (Smart Mama Simple Tip:  A great disinfectant – 2 teaspoons tea tree essential oil in 2 cups water in a spray bottle.)  But, you may want to consider avoiding repeated skin application of personal care products intended to be left on (such as moisturizing lotions) containing lavender and tea tree essential oils.

Rubbermaid Identifies Products with Bisphenol A and those BPA-Free

Listening to the public’s growing concern about bisphenol A (BPA), Rubbermaid has published a list of its products that are BPA free and those that contain BPA.  The list contains pictures so the products are easily identifiable.  Those are pretty smart people over at Rubbermaid.  As summer approaches, and greedy entrepreneurial kids get ready to sell lemonade, you’ll be pleased to discover that the classic Rubbermaid pitchers are BPA free.Rubbermaid Classic White Pitcher





Rubbermaid Classic Blue Pitcher

Can Bisphenol A or BPA Harm Your Baby When Your Are Pregnant?

I've been working on my forthcoming book.  Right now, I'm in the midst of updating the portion of the book on Bisphenol A (BPA).  BPA is a key monomer of polycarbonate plastic, but BPA leaches out from the plastic under certain conditions.  Since polycarbonate plastic is used for, among other things, plastic baby bottles, there has been significant concern about the potential health effects from babies drinking formula or breast milk from polycarbonate plastic baby bottles.

But what is even more frightening is the health effects associated with in utero exposure to bisphenol A.  It seems that BPA exposure during pregnant, especially certain critical times, can affect the way genes are expressed.  I've had a series of email communications with Randy L. Jirtle, PhD, Director of the Jirtle Laboratory at Duke University.  His research team published study that showed pregnant  Agouti mice fed BPA had offspring that were, instead of lean and brown-haired as they normally would have been, obese and blond haired.

BPA passes across the placenta.  And fetuses (and newborns) do not metabolize BPA quickly, unlike adults.  Fetuses and newborns lack or express at low levels the liver enzyme needed to deactivate BPA.  The necessary liver enzyme is not expressed until after birth, with the full complement at 3 months, but at about 25% of the adult level.  Thus, fetal and infant exposure at critical development stages may cause significant health effects, as Dr. Jirtle's research indicates.  Other scientists have similarly found low level exposures in utero in animal studies to cause significant ill effects.

What scared me those most is that according to Dr. Jirtle, “[t]he time between fertilization and blastocyst implantation is really the most sensitive period for deregulating the epigenome by environmental factors.”  It was at this time of early development that his study determined that exposure to BPA would change the coat color of Agouti mice.  Dr. Jirtle states that “if I was a woman who was pregnant – or thinking about becoming pregnant – I would try hard to avoid exposure to BPA.”

If you are trying to get pregnant, then you might want to work to eliminate BPA exposure. 

So what can you do?  If you are trying to get pregnant, eliminate exposures to BPA.  It is important to eliminate exposures when you are trying because the window Dr. Jirtle identified is usually before we even know we are pregnant.  Do not use polycarbonate plastic.  Choose glass, stainless steel, polyethylene plastic, and ceramic over polycarbonate plastic.  Polycarbonate plastic is identified by the "7" (although this actually means "other plastic" so not all "7" plastic is polycarbonate plastic).  If you are using polycarbonate plastic, don't heat it!  Heat increases leaching significant.  Since BPA is also present in epoxy linings of metal cans, choose glass containers for "canned" goods instead.  And, Dr. Jirtle's research shows that folate shields fetuses against BPA, so make sure you are taking a supplement – just don't over do it!