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Precautionary Principle - Applications
Number 188
Endocrine Disruptors in the News
November 2009

I. Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies
by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

For several days, this November 7 column on bisphenol A was one of the most-emailed articles in the Times. The column drew hundreds of comments. Here we present the original column, Kristofís blog, one of the comments, and SEHN Science Director Ted Schettlerís response to the comment. Ted was one of Kristofís sources.

II. AMA Adopts Endocrine Society Resolution Calling for New Policies to Decrease Public Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
by Mercury Policy Press release of Endocrine Society

As we reported in the August RPR, the Endocrine Society has advised people to take a precautionary approach to exposure to bisphenol A and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Now the American Medical Society has endorsed that position.

III. New Court Ruling: Baby Bottle Manufacturers That Sold Products Containing BPA Can Be Held Accountable to Consumers

A federal district court has held that manufacturers of baby bottles, "sippy" cups, and other similar products may not escape liability to consumers who purchased their products that contained Bisphenol-A, merely because the Food and Drug Administration had approved of the use of BPA in these products.

I. Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies
by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

For several days this November 7 column on bisphenol A was one of the most-emailed articles in the Times. The column drew hundreds of comments. Here we present the original column, Kristofís blog, one of the comments, and SEHN Science Director Ted Schettlerís response to the comment. Ted was one of Kristofís sources.

For more about the Kristof BPA column see Ted Schettlerís essay on the SEHN blog, a Grist essay, and comments by NRDC staffer Daniel Rosenberg.

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Published: November 7, 2009

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. Itís a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies ó to the tune of six pounds per American per year. Thatís a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it ó though not conclusively ó to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out itís in our food.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbellís condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlť Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

Should we be alarmed?

The chemical industry doesnít think so. Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council dismissed the testing, noting that Americans absorb quantities of BPA at levels that government regulators have found to be safe. Mr. Hentges also pointed to a new study indicating that BPA exposure did not cause abnormalities in the reproductive health of rats.

But more than 200 other studies have shown links between low doses of BPA and adverse health effects, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, which is trying to ban the chemical from food and beverage containers.

"The vast majority of independent scientists ó those not working for industry ó are concerned about early-life low-dose exposures to BPA," said Janet Gray, a Vassar College professor who is science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Published journal articles have found that BPA given to pregnant rats or mice can cause malformed genitals in their offspring, as well as reduced sperm count among males. For example, a European journal found that male mice exposed to BPA were less likely to make females pregnant, and the Journal of Occupational Health found that male rats administered BPA had less sperm production and lower testicular weight.

This year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that pregnant mice exposed to BPA had babies with abnormalities in the cervix, uterus and vagina. Reproductive Toxicology found that even low-level exposure to BPA led to the mouse equivalent of early puberty for females. And an array of animal studies link prenatal BPA exposure to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

While most of the studies are on animals, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported last year that humans with higher levels of BPA in their blood have "an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities." Another published study found that women with higher levels of BPA in their blood had more miscarriages.

Scholars have noted some increasing reports of boys born with malformed genitals, girls who begin puberty at age 6 or 8 or even earlier, breast cancer in women and men alike, and declining sperm counts among men. The Endocrine Society, an association of endocrinologists, warned this year that these kinds of abnormalities may be a consequence of the rise of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and it specifically called on regulators to re-evaluate BPA.

Last year, Canada became the first country to conclude that BPA can be hazardous to humans, and Massachusetts issued a public health advisory in August warning against any exposure to BPA by pregnant or breast-feeding women or by children under the age of 2.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in the past has relied largely on industry studies ó and has generally been asleep at the wheel ó is studying the issue again. Bills are also pending in Congress to ban BPA from food and beverage containers.

"When you have 92 percent of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong," said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. "Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?" [emphasis ours]

While the evidence isnít conclusive, it justifies precautions. In my family, weíre cutting down on the use of those plastic containers that contain BPA to store or microwave food, and Iím drinking water out of a metal bottle now. In my reporting around the world, Iíve come to terms with the threats from warlords, bandits and tarantulas. But endocrine disrupting chemicals ó they give me the willies.

[See the Times edition for further links]


From Kristofís blog ďOn the Ground,Ē
found here:
November 7, 2009, 9:22 pm

Is That a Plastic Bottle Youíre Drinking From?
By Nicholas Kristof

My Sunday column looks at chemicals that the government has been slow to regulate, even though they are suspected of pernicious effects on our bodies by disrupting the endocrine system. The results appear to range from malformed genitalia to premature puberty to obesity and diabetes. I focus on BPA, a chemical variant of estrogen that is often used in plastics and other consumer products. Two billion pounds are manufactured in the US each year ó and as a result it is found in 92 percent of us. Itís one of a number of endocrine disruptors that appear to have adverse effects on the bodyís hormone system.

As I note in the column, the evidence is not conclusive ó itís a bit like tobacco in the 1970ís, for there are hundreds of studies showing linkages with adverse health effects, and scientists understand the mechanisms for those harms, but there is still much that is not understood about what dose of BPA causes what harm at what age. For example, the chemical industry cites one recent study in which BPA did not cause harm to the reproductive health of Long-Evans rats. But that strain of rats has been found to be less susceptible to endocrine disruptors, while CD-1 mice (also used in many experiments) are more vulnerable. Are humans more like Long-Evans rats or like CD-1 mice? We donít know. But there are so many studies showing low-dose effects on animals and humans that the precautionary principle should apply: letís try to cut back on exposures.

For the effects on reproductive health, the most crucial period may be the first trimester of pregnancy (when sex differentiation occurs) and to a lesser extent the rest of pregnancy and childhood up through adolescence. These are times in the life cycle when the body has few hormones, and so some extra estrogen may fool the body into triggering changes (such as early puberty or feminization of male genitalia). After adolescence, the body already has so many hormones that a modest increase in estrogen may make much less difference.

Still, itís troubling to see the recent studies showing that higher levels of BPA in the blood correlate to obesity, diabetes, miscarriages and cardiovascular problems ó even in adults who have plenty of hormones in their bodies. For safetyís sake, Iím steering clear of BPA to the extent I can. The FDA has generally dropped the ball on regulation of chemicals over the years, particularly in the Bush years, but it is now reviewing BPA again and I have a bit more confidence that it will follow science today in a way that it didnít.

The mental concept we have of environmental damage tends to be on dirty air or filthy water ó things we can see. But it may be that today the most insidious damage is hormones in the environment that have profound effects on our bodies, even though they are invisible. Your thoughts?


From comments to the blog

Mr. Kristof,
Although well-intentioned, your column shows that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. People are afraid of BPA because of its estrogenic activity. The most important fact about BPA is that at concentrations to which we are exposed to BPA in the diet, all of BPA is metabolized to the BPA-glucuronide (Chem. Res. Toxicol., 2002, 15(10):1281-1287). Further studies have shown that this metabolism occurs in the intestine, so humans are essentially not exposed to BPA. This metabolite has ZERO estrogenic activity, or any other known biological activity. Because of this, high dose animal studies are not relevant to humans. I am a toxicologist and although I work for industry, my company neither produces or uses BPA. If you want to talk to a non-industry toxicologist, consider speaking with Calvin C. Willhite, a toxicologist working for the State of California (Dept. of Toxic Substances Control, Berkeley, CA) who just presented on the safety of BPA at the annual meeting of the American College of Toxicology.

You also reference a study that shows 92% of persons measured showed BPA in the blood. If you read the article, it states that total BPA (free plus metabolized) is measured. If you were to look at just free BPA, I bet you wouldnít find any.

This is another example of time and energy being spend on what is more than likely a phantom toxin. If only 10% of the energy now spent on low dose exposure to chemicals was diverted to truly critical issues, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc. you would vastly improve the human condition.
ó Steve S


One commenter raises the important issue of BPA metabolism, claiming that all BPA is glucuronidated (an enzyme-linked metabolic process that facilitates excretion of BPA and various other chemicals) in the intestine and that people are therefore not exposed to ANY free (active BPA). He notes that glucuronidated BPA has zero estrogenic activity.

This has been studied. In 6 adults given 25 micrograms of BPA, low levels of free (active) BPA were identified in the urine of 2 of them. (Volkel, Drug Metab and Deposition; 33(11); 2005)

Of greater concern, free (active) BPA has been measured in amniotic fluid. The developing fetus is exposed to higher concentrations of free (active) BPA than adultsÖ..not surprising since a fetus has not yet developed mature enzymatic detoxifying capabilities. (Ikezuki; Human Reprod; 17(11); 2002)

Another study showed similar levels of free BPA in the blood of neonatal rodents, whether given BPA by injection or by mouth. (Taylor; Reprod Toxicol; 25; 2008) The combination of increased vulnerability during fetal/infant development and reduced capacity to metabolize BPA into its inactive form is a primary reason for concern.
ó Ted Schettler

II. AMA Adopts Endocrine Society Resolution Calling for New Policies to Decrease Public Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Press release of Endocrine Society, November 10, 2009

The American Medical Associationís (AMA) House of Delegates adopted a resolution calling on the AMA to work with the federal government to enact new federal policies to decrease the publicís exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

The resolution, introduced by The Endocrine Society, reflects the findings and recommendations of The Endocrine Societyís peer-reviewed Scientific Statement on EDCs released by the Society this past June. Adoption of this resolution means that it is now AMA policy and is wholly supported by the House of Medicine.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are substances in the environment that interfere with hormone biosynthesis, metabolism or action resulting in adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. These chemicals are designed, produced and marketed largely for specific industrial purposes. They are also found in some natural foods and may become further concentrated as foods are processed.

"The science demonstrates that there is cause for concern regarding the health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals," said Robert Vigersky, MD, president of The Endocrine Society. "The Endocrine Society applauds the AMA's effort to pursue informed policies that regulate the production of endocrine-disrupting chemicals and limit the publicís exposure to these substances and their associated potential health hazards."

The resolution states that the AMA will work with the federal government to pursue the following tenets:
  • Regulatory oversight of endocrine-disrupting chemicals should be centralized so that regulations pass through a single office to ensure coordination among agencies with the exception of pharmaceutical agents that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are used for medicinal purposes;
  • Policy should be based on comprehensive data covering both low-level and high-level exposures; and
  • Policy should be developed and revised under the direction of a collaborative group comprising endocrinologists, toxicologists, occupational/environmental medicine specialists, epidemiologists and policymakers.

"The Endocrine Society is concerned that the public may be placed at risk because critical information about the potential health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is being overlooked in the development of federal guidelines and regulations," said Vigersky. "This new resolution marks an important step in engaging policymakers to enact policies that decrease public exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals."

III. New Court Ruling: Baby Bottle Manufacturers That Sold Products Containing BPA Can Be Held Accountable to Consumers
PRNewswire, November 10, 2009

NEW YORK, Nov. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- Whatley Drake & Kallas, LLC announces that a federal district court has held that manufacturers of baby bottles, "sippy" cups, and other similar products may not escape liability to consumers who purchased their products that contained Bisphenol-A ("BPA"), merely because the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") had approved of the use of BPA in these products.

Judge Ortrie D. Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, who is overseeing this multidistrict litigation, denied the request of Evenflo, Gerber, Nalge Nunc, Avent America, Philips Electronics, RC2, Playtex, and Handi-Craft to dismiss the class action complaints against them on the grounds of primary jurisdiction and federal preemption based on their argument that the Court's consideration of plaintiffs' claims invades the province of the FDA. The Court held that the FDA cannot resolve the ultimate issues in these cases regarding whether these defendants failed to disclose material facts to plaintiffs regarding the presence of BPA in their products and whether the defendants breached the implied warranty of merchantability through the sale of products containing BPA.

The Court also rejected the companies' arguments that the complaints should be dismissed because they had no duty to disclose information about BPA to consumers. The Court held that "a jury could conclude information about the safety risks associated with allowing infants and toddlers to put cups, bottles and similar products in their mouths is material to a consumer's buying decision."

"Overall we are pleased with the Court's ruling and believe it advances the rights of consumers in connection with the products they purchase," said Edith M. Kallas, of Whatley Drake & Kallas, LLC, the law firm that serves as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs and the Class along with the law firm of Walters Bender Strohbehn & Vaughan, PC.

Plaintiffs filed these lawsuits on behalf of the millions of children and families who purchased polycarbonate bottles and containers that contained BPA, a dangerous chemical which poses serious risks to an individual's health due to the fact that it leaches into food and beverages in the course of normal, everyday use. The complaints allege that these companies failed to disclose or adequately disclose to consumers that their products contained BPA, that the BPA in its products can leach into food, and that the leaching process is accelerated by heat. The Court's decision allows injured consumers to proceed with their claims against bottle manufacturers for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, fraudulent and negligent omissions of material fact, and unjust enrichment.

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