In America: When plastic containers are the enemy

In America: When plastic containers are the enemy
By Miryam Wiley
MetroWest Daily News

Saturday, March 18, 2006 – Updated: Mar 22, 2006 08:15 AM EST

It’s one thing to get an e-mail that warns us about the dangers of warming up foods in plastic containers in Generic Viagra Online Pharmacy the microwave.

It’s a completely different thing to see up close two respected scientists from Tufts University and hear them say there is nothing one can do overnight to avoid the toxic effects of plastics, because they are everywhere!

Like me, Sara Azzam, the director of the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, received the e-mail warning about plastics in microwaves and the leak of dioxins — a name given to very toxic chemicals created by industries that use chlorine. But upon re-distribution to her friends, she was e-mailed back information that nothing was conclusive and that she should check urbanlegends.com.

She did. She also brought the results to the board meeting of WCPP, and learned that someone on the board could connect her to the scientists behind the research linking plastics and toxics. WCPP’s mission is to educate the public about the connection between cancer and the environment.

It was so that Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein, a professor of anatomy and cellular biology, and Dr. Ana Soto, a professor of cell biology, spoke to a group of about 60 people gathered this past Tuesday in Pendleton Hall at Wellesley College. The event was co-sponsored by WCPP and the college’s Department of Environmental Studies.

Listening to them was gut-wrenching. They know from their experiments what we all wonder about and would like to believe is not true. The whole population of the country (and planet) is being exposed to chemicals that have not been carefully tested for safety.

Dr. Soto talked about environmental estrogens (or xenoestrogens) and how these chemicals, present in several of the plastics used for food packaging or lining of food cans, may actually be leaking estrogens into the food we eat. Estrogens are linked to cancer and birth defects.

She showed slides of the mammary glands of laboratory mice that were exposed to small amounts of bisphenol A ( a component in plastics)and explained that the chemical induced cell proliferation. While cancer has not yet been observed in those animals, she explained that the risk is real and it may indicate what is already happening among us.

“Mammographic density is one of the (breast cancer) risk factors in humans,” she said.

Her original interest in the subject came from the observation of some cancer cells she was preserving in her laboratory. The container she used, she thought, was stable, and would not promote cell growth. But in fact, the cells grew. After struggling for a while to try to understand why the cells were growing, she decided to investigate the composition of the laboratory’s test tubes and had difficulty obtaining the information from the manufacturer.

She then decided to send it off to a private laboratory and discovered that there was estrogen in the plastics.

The group of people gathered that night tried in many ways to hear from the scientists that there are ways one can take precautions with small changes at home. But the scientists, whose work and expertise is sought after by European Union, where the standards are much higher, did not offer any easy solutions.

“I don’t have a ’go-out-and-buy-this’ solution,” said Dr. Sonnenschein. However, he encouraged people to organize and seek a change in policy.

“It’s the government that will have to say: ’You will not sell a product that has estrogen compounds,’” Sonnenschein said.

Dr. Soto said that while we may skip microwaving in plastic, there are so many other ways through which we are using plastics, that at the end of the day we don’t know if we have avoided it 5 percent or 95 percent.

She encouraged all to read the report “State of the Evidence” subtitled “What is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?” edited by Nancy Evans for the Breast Cancer Fund. The report states that studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that “Americans of all ages carry a body burden of 116 chemicals, some of them banned for more than two decades because of toxicity.”

The Report highlights recent research and makes a call for change, citing the steps taken by the European Union with its new policy known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) that is being implemented throughout Europe. You can download it from www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=206137.

While the news was indeed sobering, Azzam said she feels encouraged because she sees some mobilization already going on.

“I think the solution is to go home and get active,” she said. “People want to have a solution that they can go home and implement, and this is it. They just passed a bill for safer cosmetics in California. The reason why we talk about a law to regulate cosmetics is because of these plasticizers that are in cosmetics, among other things. Most nail polishes, for instance, are very dangerous. But I think we can turn the government around.”

We have to, or else. Listen to the experts: “Those of us who are here are not going to be exposed very much,” Sonnenschein said. “It’s our children and grandchildren.”

(To reach Miryam Wiley, e-mail inamericacolumn@aol.com or write to 33 New York Ave., Framingham, MA 01701.)