Battle Erupts Over Whose Plastic Consumers Should Trust

2:38 a.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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291 forum posts

Always interesting stuff. Don't trust it now, didn't trust it then, never gonna trust it again.

In 2007, Eastman Chemical began marketing a tough new BPA-free plastic called Tritan. Business was good, says Lucian Boldea, a vice president at Eastman.

"We were able to make the statement that our product is not made with BPA and would release data to consumers to support that fact," he says.

BPA, short for bisphenol A, is a chemical that can act like the hormone estrogen. While environmental groups and the government still disagree about whether BPA or any estrogen-like chemicals pose a health risk, consumers are clear that they want Sippy cups and water bottles made of plastics they consider safe.

About a year ago, a scientist named George Bittner published a study of more than 400 plastic products, including some made with Tritan. Bittner is the founder of PlastiPure and CertiChem, which tests products for chemicals that act like estrogen. PlastiPure helps manufacturers make EA-free plastic products — plastics free ofany chemical with estrogen-like activity.

Bittner's study found problems with a wide range of BPA-free products, including Tritan.

"We found that most other plastic products also released chemicals having estrogenic activity," Bittner explains. He says even products that had no estrogenic activity when they came off the shelf changed under certain conditions, "such as boiling, microwaving, dishwashing or exposing to sunlight."

Eastman responded to the study by declaring that Tritan products are not only BPA-free but EA-free, and it filed a lawsuit against CertiChem and PlastiPure.

A ban on earmarks has emerged as a key sticking point for a Senate vote on a food safety bill.

Eastman's Boldea says Bittner's study subjected products to extreme conditions not found in the home. Furthermore, he says, there's a conflict of interest with Bittner's ownership of both companies.

But Bittner says other tests confirmed the finding, and that Eastman is just trying to squelch scientific evidence that makes its products look bad.

What's interesting about the legal battle, though, is that Eastman, a major chemical company, thinks estrogen activity is important enough to fight over.

That's a big change. Just a few years ago, chemical companies, including Eastman, were still arguing that BPA was safe.

Now, many of those companies have voluntarily removed BPA from products and seem to be going even further — embracing the idea that consumers want completely EA-free plastics.

Mike Usey, the CEO of PlastiPure, says that's why he sees an upside to Eastman's suit against his company.

"It's is a validation that there is a market there," Usey says. "Consumers do want safer products. They don't want slogans."

Many endocrinologists think it's time to identify chemicals that act on any of the body's hormone systems. Biologist Tom Zoeller at the University of Massachusetts says it doesn't make sense to focus only on chemicals that act like estrogen.

"To the extent that legislators or regulatory bodies might actually think that if we take care of estrogen we're really OK — I'd be surprised if anybody actually took that seriously," he says.

Regulators are discussing ways to identify a broad range of so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. But even as agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration look to new potential threats, they still haven't reached a conclusion about some old ones — not even BPA.

1:58 p.m. on August 2, 2012 (EDT)
andrew f. @leadbelly2550
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2,380 forum posts

the chemical/plastic debate continues.

it's worth reading the study.  some interesting points:

it evaluates various kinds of plastics based on (1) placement in an autoclave, (2) exposure to UV light, and (3) placement in a microwave.  while my bottles get exposed to UV light, they have never, ever, been used in a microwave or placed in an autoclave (baby bottles with formula might be a useful point to look at re: the microwave, in contrast).  they do, in the winter, get filled with hot water in the evening.  whether a study has validity depends a lot on the levels involved - how much exposure to UV light, in what intensity? how does that compare to the real world? same for the other categories - how does the amount of exposure to an autoclave compare to a dishwashing machine, or to hand-washing with soap and water?

also, the study merely claims to determine the presence of certain chemicals - not whether that presence, in those amounts or others, can actually make people sick.  no one truly knows, even with respect to BPA.  it's interesting to debate, but i tend to relegate concerns about stuff leaching out of plastic bottles to a lower level of importance in the pantheon of outdoorsy risks.  heck, i'm guessing our good old friend DEET has a stronger track record for actually harming human beings.  besides, much more likely to get injured from a fall, an accident, an act of god (storm/avalanche), HAPE or HACE if you climb in altitude, or skin cancer. 


1:26 p.m. on August 3, 2012 (EDT)
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1,339 forum posts

We see the hormonal effects from BPA and other chemicals every day.

When 'Little Women' was written, the average age of puberty in girls was 17. By 1950, it had dropped to 13. According to a study by the American Breast Cancer Association, breast development is now common in girls as young as 7 and 8, and has been observed in children as young as 2!

Sources of contamination are not limited to just BPAs, but are found in milk and meat, and many common products. The detrimental effects of the early onset of puberty are clear.

Not a risk that effects me, personally, but still an important issue, especially for women.

8:26 p.m. on August 5, 2012 (EDT)
andrew f. @leadbelly2550
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2,380 forum posts

i suspect that a lot of factors play into early puberty, and the #1 factor is probably obesity - a function of poor diet and declining levels of activity among young people.  hormones may play a role too.  phthalates are more pervasive than BPA (do some research, they are pervasive - in all kinds of vinyl, many fragrances and cosmetics and shampoos) and may have more influence on people than BPA as a result. 

worth noting that manufacturers are aware of these chemicals.  camelbak and platypus are up-front about saying their bladders are bpa and phthalate-free.  who knows what other chemicals lurk....

July 6, 2020
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