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Chemicals and your body

Page history last edited by Ian Balcom (Dr B.) 5 years, 7 months ago

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/03/150305-chemicals-endocrine-disruptors-diabetes-toxic-environment-ngfood/

 

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

 

Plane spraying pesticide on a corn field in California, USA

 


 

From: Rutgers University
Published January 29, 2015 06:57 AM

ADHD linked to pesticide exposure

A commonly used pesticide may alter the development of the brain’s dopamine system -- responsible for emotional expression and cognitive function – and increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, according to a new Rutgers study.

Mice exposed to a commonly used pesticide in utero and through lactation exhibited several features of ADHD, including dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain, hyperactivity, working memory, attention deficits and impulsive-like behavior.

The research published Wednesday in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), by Rutgers scientists and colleagues from Emory University, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Wake Forest University discovered that mice exposed to the pyrethroid pesticide deltamethrin in utero and through lactation exhibited several features of ADHD, including dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain, hyperactivity, working memory, attention deficits and impulsive-like behavior.

 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder most often affects children, with an estimated 11 percent of children between the ages of 4-17– about 6.4 million – diagnosed as of 2011. Boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. While early symptoms, including an inability to sit still, pay attention and follow directions, begin between the ages of 3 to 6, diagnosis is usually made after the child starts attending school full time.

Importantly, in this study, the male mice were affected more than the female mice, similar to what is observed in children with ADHD. The ADHD-like behaviors persisted in the mice through adulthood, even though the pesticide, considered to be less toxic and used on golf courses, in the home, and on gardens, lawns and vegetable crops, was no longer detected in their system.

Although there is strong scientific evidence that genetics plays a role in susceptibility to the disorder, no specific gene has been found that causes ADHD and scientists believe that environmental factors may also contribute to the development of the behavioral condition.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) the study analyzed health care questionnaires and urine samples of 2,123 children and adolescents.  Researchers asked parents whether a physician had ever diagnosed their child with ADHD and cross-referenced each child’s prescription drug history to determine if any of the most common ADHD medications had been prescribed. Children with higher pyrethroid pesticide metabolite levels in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

These findings provide strong evidence, using data from animal models and humans, that exposure to pyrethroid pesticides, including deltamethrin, may be a risk factor for ADHD, says lead author Jason Richardson, associate professor in the Department and Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI).

 

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BPA replacement alters hormones at low doses, study finds

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/bpa-alternative-alters-hormones

 

Just like the controversial compound it's designed to replace, a chemical used in cash register receipts and other consumer products messes with hormones, according to research published today. The study by University of Texas scientists is the first to link low concentrations of bisphenol S (BPS) -- a bisphenol A (BPA) alternative -- to disruption of estrogen, spurring concern that it might harm human health. Researchers exposed rat cells to levels of BPS that are within the range people are exposed to. And, just like BPA, the compound interfered with how cells respond to natural estrogen, which is vital for reproduction and other functions. “I think we should all stop and be very cautious about just accepting this as a substitute for BPA,” said lead author and biochemist Cheryl Watson. “And not just BPS. We should question the whole process about how we introduce chemicals into the marketplace without properly testing them first.”

  By Brian Bienkowski   Staff Writer   Environmental Health News

Jan. 17, 2013

Just like the controversial compound it's designed to replace, a chemical used in cash register receipts and other consumer products messes with hormones, according to research published today.

The study by University of Texas scientists is the first to link low concentrations of bisphenol S (BPS)  a bisphenol A (BPA) alternative  to disruption of estrogen, spurring concern that it might harm human health.

Researchers exposed rat cells to levels of BPS that are within the range people are exposed to. And, just like BPA, the compound interfered with how cells respond to natural estrogen, which is vital for reproduction and other functions.

Previous studies already have shown BPS mimics estrogen, but the new study advances that by showing it can alter the hormone at low doses people are exposed to.

“People automatically think low doses do less than high doses,” said Cheryl Watson, a University of Texas biochemistry professor and lead author of the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. “But both natural hormones and unnatural ones like [BPS] can have effects at surprisingly low doses.”

Laura Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University who studies BPA, said one limitation of the research was that it used rat cells, but she was quick to point out the method is “extremely informative about predictions for a whole animal.”

The study “ is a great first research step on BPS and, in my opinion, should be sufficient to say this is an estrogen and we don’t want it in our bodies,” Vandenberg said.

As its name would suggest, BPS has a similar structure to BPA, which has been used since the 1950s for a variety of purposes, including the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics.

The study "is a great first research step on BPS and, in my opinion, should be sufficient to say this is an estrogen and we don't want it in our bodies."-Laura Vandenberg, Tufts UniversityIn the past several years, BPS has replaced BPA in the printing of thermal paper used for cash register receipts. Every thermal receipt tested in a study published last year contained BPS.

Bill Van Den Brandt, a manager at Wisconsin-based Appleton Papers, said company representatives couldn’t comment on the Watson study because they had not fully reviewed it yet. He added that they “welcome ongoing scientific review of BPS and other potential BPA substitutes.”

The largest manufacturer of thermal papers in North America, Appleton switched to BPS after it stopped using BPA in 2006 due to health concerns.

Nearly everyone worldwide is exposed to BPS. Eighty-one percent of urine samples from eight different countries contained traces of it, according to a study published last year. In comparison, about 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.

Watson said she is worried that BPS is becoming more widespread without proper testing for health impacts.

“I think we should all stop and be very cautious about just accepting this as a substitute for BPA,” Watson said. “And not just BPS. We should question the whole process about how we introduce chemicals into the marketplace without properly testing them first.”

In addition to thermal papers, BPS is used in some hard plastics, Vandenberg said.

“A lot of consumer products say BPA-free, but they don’t say BPS, a similar compound, replaced it,” she said. She said BPS is less likely to leach into food and beverages because the bonds that hold the compounds in the plastic are stronger than those in BPA products.

A lesser-known use for thermal paper is for ultrasound and other medical machine printouts. According to a 2012 report by the EPA, these BPA-free printouts largely contain BPS.

“I think that might be the most scary use, here you have pregnant women in these ultrasound and imagery rooms handling these printouts with BPS,” said John Warner, president of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Data are not available on how much BPS is produced annually. Each year about six billion pounds of BPA are produced globally and more than one million pounds are released into the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We should question the whole process about how we introduce chemicals into the marketplace without properly testing them first." -Cheryl Watson, University of TexasThe American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, did not respond to requests for comment about BPS.

Research investigating possible health impacts from BPS is nascent.

Some studies have proven a link between BPS and estrogen mimicking, but these studies used such high doses it is unlikely people would ever ingest so much, Watson said.

BPS is only a little less potent than BPA in mimicking estrogen, according to a 2005 study in Japan. And a 2012 study in Europe found the two compounds to be equally potent in their estrogen mimicking.

Given the discovery of hormone changes spurred by BPS, some scientists say the chemical could be linked to similar health effects as BPA. Animal studies suggest that BPA exposure causes reproductive problems, obesity and cancers. In human adults, it has been linked to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers haven’t focused much on BPS because they’re still trying to get policymakers to pay attention to BPA, Vandenberg said.

The EPA and Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing BPA to determine if regulations are necessary. The EPA also mounted a program in 2010 with manufacturers and green chemists to evaluate BPS and other alternatives used in receipts.


The above work, by Environmental Health News, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Car Exhaust Pollution World’s Fastest Growing Cause Of Death (via Clean Technica)

A new study has found that, on top of all the other manner of ways our cars are trying to kill us, the pollution they emit is now one of the fastest growing causes of death in the world. The study was published in the weekly journal The Lancet and looked at a wide range of global diseases and their…


 

 


America's Real Criminal Element: Lead

 


 

Pediatricians call to keep thimerosal in vaccines

 

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/17/us-pediatricians-vaccines-idUSBRE8BG0QM20121217

 

 

 

 

 

By Genevra Pittman

Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:50am EST

 

(Reuters Health) - A mercury-containing preservative rarely used in the United States should not be banned as an ingredient in vaccines, U.S. pediatricians said Monday, in a move that may be controversial.

In its statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorsed calls from a World Health Organization (WHO) committee that the preservative, thimerosal, should not be considered a hazardous source of mercury that could be banned by the United Nations.

The AAP in 1999 asked for its removal from vaccines in the United States because of a concern that youngsters receiving multiple shots containing thimerosal might get too much mercury - and develop autism or other neurodevelopmental problems, despite the lack of hard evidence at the time.

"It was absolutely a matter of precaution because of the absence of more information," said Dr. Louis Cooper, from Columbia University in New York, who was on the organization's board of directors at the time.

"Subsequently an awful lot of effort has been put into trying to sort out whether thimerosal causes any harm to kids, and the bottom line is basically, it doesn't look as if it does," he said.

In a 2004 safety review, for example, the independent U.S. Institute of Medicine concluded there was no evidence thimerosal-containing vaccines could cause autism. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to the same conclusion in 2010.

With the exception of some types of flu shots, the compound is not used in vaccines in the United States, which are distributed in single-dose vials.

And nobody is arguing that should change, according to Dr. Walter Orenstein, a member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases and a researcher at the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta.

But in countries with fewer resources - where many children still die of vaccine-preventable diseases - it is cheaper and easier to use multi-dose vials of vaccines against diphtheria and tetanus, for example.

Thimerosal prevents the rest of a multi-dose vial from getting contaminated with bacteria or fungi each time a dose is used.

Researchers estimated it could cost anywhere from two to five times as much to manufacture vaccines for developing countries without thimerosal, and both transporting vaccines and keeping them refrigerated would also be much harder.

"We're having a hard time completing the task of getting every kid immunized now. That would add a tremendous burden," Cooper said, adding that more children would probably die as a result.

Children who can now be protected from these life-threatening diseases could become vulnerable, Orenstein told Reuters Health.

The new statement is published in the AAP's journal Pediatrics.

Thimerosal contains a type of mercury called ethyl mercury. Toxic effects have been tied to its cousin, methyl mercury, which stays in the body for much longer.

Earlier this year, the WHO said replacing thimerosal with an alternative preservative could affect vaccine safety and might cause some vaccines to become unavailable.

Mercury, however, is still on the list of global health hazards to be banned in a draft treaty from the United Nations Environment Program - which would mean a ban on thimerosal.

Reducing mercury exposure "is a wonderful thing," Orenstein said.

However, "We need this exception because thimerosal is so vital for protecting children."

For the Pediatrics document, please see: bit.ly/cxXOG

(Editing by Christine Soares, Nick Zieminski)

 


 

Zara Bows to Greenpeace, Commits to Zero Chemical Discharge

 

Environmental Leader Technology Reviews - Click Here!

 

Zara, one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, says it will eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020, following a Greenpeace campaign pressuring the brand to end use of toxic chemicals in its products.

The commitment covers Zara and seven other brands under parent company Inditex Group, including Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home and Uterqüe, Greenpeace said.

Inditex also will begin disclosing discharges of hazardous chemicals in its supply chain at the individual facility level, the company said. Inditex said it will begin by disclosing information on at least 10 Chinese suppliers and another supplier’s facilities by the end of March 2013.

The pledge follows a Greenpeace report, which named and criticized Zara and Inditex Group for the high levels of toxic chemicals found in their products. Zara came under intense pressure from the environmental activist group as well as customers since the report was released, according to Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace study “Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch Up,” released last month, found high levels of toxic phthalates, cancer-causing amines and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in clothing made by Zara, Calvin Klein, Benetton, Giorgio Armani, the Gap and 15 other global brands.

While all of the brands, which included Victoria Secret, H&M, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger, had several items containing NPEs, Zara was the only retailer with items that had both NPEs and toxic amines.

Greenpeace has called on major international clothing brands, consumers and, ultimately, regulators to ban NPEs and its broader chemical family alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) in manufacturing and products, and enforce the ban globally.

Adidas, H&M, Ralph Lauren and Nike were criticized earlier this year in a Greenpeace report on chemicals found in clothing. The report, released in March, found clothing the group tested discharged a significant amount of hazardous chemicals into water systems when washed by customers.

Greenpeace’s first report on chemicals in clothing, which was released in July 2011, focused on the Youngor Group, China’s biggest integrated textile firm, which the environmental group said was polluting rivers. Greenpeace’s investigations linked the group to a number of major international brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Converse, H&M, Lacoste, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation and Puma.

Puma was the first sportswear company to align itself with Greenpeace’s campaign pledging to eliminate all hazardous chemicals across its entire supply chain and the entire lifecycle of its products by 2020. By August, Nike followed suit, and in September Adidas become the third major sports brand to commit to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chain by 2020, under the Greenpeace pressure.

H&M, Marks & Spencer, C&A and Li-Ning have also committed to phasing out chemical use, in response to pressure from consumers, Greenpeace said.


http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Questions and Answers about Bisphenol A

 

Related Links

 

 

 

Bisphenol A

What is bisphenol A? 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.

 

Where is BPA found?

Polycarbonate plastics have many applications including use in some food and drink packaging, e.g., water and infant bottles, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices. Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Some dental sealants and composites may also contribute to BPA exposure.

 

How does BPA get into the body?

 The primary source of exposure to BPA for most people is through the diet. While air, dust, and water are other possible sources of exposure, BPA in food and beverages accounts for the majority of daily human exposure.

 

Bisphenol A can leach into food from the protective internal epoxy resin coatings of canned foods and from consumer products such as polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. The degree to which BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid may depend more on the temperature of the liquid or bottle, than the age of the container. BPA can also be found in breast milk.

 

Why are people concerned about BPA?

One reason people may be concerned about BPA is because human exposure to BPA is widespread. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. The CDC NHANES data are considered representative of exposures in the United States. Another reason for concern, especially for parents, may be because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.

Number seven recycling symbol

 

If I am concerned, what can I do to prevent exposure to BPA?

Some animal studies suggest that infants and children may be the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA. Parents and caregivers, can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA:

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures.
  • Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
  • Use baby bottles that are BPA free. 

 

Where can I go for more information?

For more information on what other federal agencies are doing related to BPA, visit the following websites and search for “bisphenol A.”


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How is NIEHS/NTP Researching the Health Effects of BPA

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP) have developed an integrated, multipronged, consortium-based approach to optimize BPA-focused research investments to more effectively address data gaps and inform decision making.

NIEHS/NTP BPA research investments made over the past four years include extramural research grants, establishment of a BPA Grantee Consortium, intramural research activities on BPA's mechanisms of action, launch of two clinical studies and an occupational study, development of a round robin experiment to validate BPA measurements in human serum, and, in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), formation of a consortium to design and execute a chronic toxicity study of BPA in rats.

NIEHS's new consortium-based approach has led to more integrated, collaborative efforts and should improve our ability to resolve controversies over the potential human health effects of exposures to low levels of endocrine active agents.

Read more about this "Consortium-Based Science: The NIEHS's Multipronged, Collaborative Approach to Assessing the Health Effects of Bisphenol A"   in Environmental Health Perspectives.

 

NIEHS Awards Recovery Act Funds to Address Bisphenol A Research Gaps

NIEHS invested approximately $30 million on BPA-related research. This includes existing grants, the Recovery Act grants and supplements, in-house research and National Toxicology Program (NTP) projects. The NTP effort is part of a larger five-year commitment to collaborate with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research to examine long-term health outcomes resulting from developmental exposures.

 

Researchers studying the health effects of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) gathered in North Carolina in 2009 to launch an integrated research initiative to produce data that will allow for a comprehensive assessment of its possible human health effects.

 

Researchers who received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to study BPA were brought together to meet with scientists from academia and government already working on the compound. The meeting was held Oct. 6, 2009 at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/releases/2009/bisphenol-research.cfm

 

Why did NIEHS use Recovery funds to support BPA research?

There is much uncertainty regarding the chemical BPA. BPA is used in certain food contact materials and was first approved by the FDA in the early 1960s. While recent assessments by authorities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan agree that current food contact uses of BPA are safe, these assessments have identified the need to address data gaps. NIEHS wants to fill many of the research gaps in this area so informed personal and public health decisions can be made. For these reasons, NIEHS prioritized BPA research as a Signature initiative in the grants program undertaken with stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Some of the disease endpoints that Recovery Act-funded researchers will be investigating include behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and transgenerational or epigenetic effects.

 

What impact will the Recovery funding focused on BPA have?

The Recovery Act money will support the development of new data in a limited number of strategic areas where there is very little data. It will also help stimulate the replication and expansion of published studies that have been deemed by NTP/CERHR to have specific deficiencies. The goal of these ARRA funded grants is to produce both the animal and human data necessary to allow for a comprehensive assessment of the human health effects of BPA. Collectively, the results of these new ARRA funded studies and ongoing studies should begin to chip away at the uncertainties and research gaps and provide a better perspective of the potential threat that exposure to bisphenol A poses to public health.

 

Since January 2010, NIEHS grantees have published more than 100 papers addressing many of these research gaps.


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National Toxicology Program Conclusions

In September 2008, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released its final report on Bisphenol A.

 

What did the NTP conclude?

NTP conclusions regarding the possibilities that human development or reproduction might be adversely affected by exposure to bisphenol A. The NTP uses a five-level scale of concern.

The NTP reached the following conclusions on the possible effects of current exposures to bisphenol A on human development and reproduction. Note that the possible levels of concern, from lowest to highest, are negligible concern, minimal concern, some concern, concern, and serious concern.

The NTP reached the following conclusions on the possible effects of current exposures to bisphenol A on human development and reproduction. Note that the possible levels of concern, from lowest to highest, are negligible concern, minimal concern, some concern, concern, and serious concern.

 

The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.

 

The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.

 

The NTP has negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.

 

The NTP has negligible concern that exposure to bisphenol A will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings.

 

Read the report: The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Brief On Bisphenol A (BPA)    .


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Listen to NTP Speak on BPA

John Bucher, Ph.D.

John Bucher, Ph.D.
Associate Director of the National Toxicology Program (NTP)

 

Dr. Bucher presents key NTP conclusions on BPA.  (541KB)

Dr. Bucher describes what "some concern" means.  (725KB)

Dr. Bucher discusses BPA metabolism.  (328KB)

Dr. Bucher discusses the need for more research.  (466KB)

 

Mike Shelby, Ph.D.

Mike Shelby, Ph.D.
NTP Senior Health Scientist

 

Dr. Shelby discusses reasons for NTP review of BPA.  (322KB)

Dr. Shelby describes how BPA gets into the body.  (540KB)

Dr. Shelby describes challenges in evaluating BPA.  (627KB)

 

Read the full transcripts.

 

 


 

Brominated battle: Soda chemical has cloudy health history

 

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2011/brominated-battle-in-sodas

 

Patented as a flame retardant for plastics, and banned in food throughout Europe and Japan, a brominated chemical called BVO has been added to sodas for decades in North America. Now some scientists have a renewed interest in this little-known ingredient, found in 10 percent of sodas in the United States. Research on its toxicity dates back to the 1970s, and some experts now urge a reassessment. After a few extreme soda binges – not too far from what many video gamers regularly consume – a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine. Other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues. In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems.

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2011-1212gamer
Brett Israel/EHN
Kyle Victers, a regular at the Battle & Brew in Conyers, Ga., chugs 'gamer fuel' for the sugar and caffeine. Unlike some citrus-flavored drinks, his Monster beverage does not contain BVO.

 

By Brett Israel

Environmental Health News

Dec. 12, 2011

MARIETTA, Ga. – It's Monday night at the Battle & Brew, a gamer hangout in this Atlanta suburb. The crowd is slumping in chairs, ears entombed in headphones, eyes locked on flat-screen monitors and minds lost in tonight’s video game of choice: "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim."

To help stay alert all night, each man has an open can of "gamer fuel" inches from his keyboard. "I've seen some of these dudes plow through six sodas in six hours," said Brian Smawley, a regular at the gamer bar.

Gamers say they chug their fuel for the sugar and caffeine, but drinkers of Mountain Dew and some other citrus-flavored drinks are also getting a dose of a synthetic chemical called brominated vegetable oil, or BVO. 

Patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant, and banned in food throughout Europe and Japan, BVO has been added to sodas for decades in North America. Now some scientists have a renewed interest in this little-known ingredient, found in 10 percent of sodas in the United States.

The FDA limit for brominated oil in sodas is based on outdated data from the 1970s, so scientists say the chemical deserves a fresh look.  Their concern is that it builds up in tissues, and may have the same effects as brominated flame retardants.After a few extreme soda binges — not too far from what many gamers regularly consume – a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine. Other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues, just like other brominated compounds such as flame retardants. In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems.

Reports from an industry group helped the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationestablish in 1977 what it considers a safe limit for BVO in sodas. But some scientists say that limit is based on thin, outdated data,  so they insist that the chemical deserves a fresh look.

"Aside from these reports, the scientific data is scarce," said Walter Vetter, a food chemist at Germany's University of Hohenheim and author of a recent, but unpublished, study on BVO in European soda imports. 

2011-1212left4dead
Flint Weiss/flickr
Mountain Dew is one of many citrus-flavored sodas that contain brominated vegetable oil, used as an emulsifier. Video game enthusiasts drink large amounts of them.

 

Flame retardant soda?

The next time you grab a Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Sunkist Pineapple, Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange, Powerade Strawberry Lemonade or Fresca Original Citrus, take a look at the drink's ingredients. In Mountain Dew, brominated vegetable oil is listed next-to-last, between disodium EDTA and Yellow 5. These are just a sampling of drinks with BVO listed in their ingredients, which is required by the FDA. The most popular sodas – Coca-Cola and Pepsi – do not contain BVO.

You don't have to be a gamer to drink these fruit-flavored sodas. In the United States, 85 percent of kids drink a beverage containing sugar or artificial sweetener at least once per week, according to a studypublished last month. Sodas are the largest source of calories for teenagers between the ages of 14 to 18, according to a National Cancer Institute study. For adults, soda, energy and sports drinks are the fourth largest source of calories, a federal study found.

Hold a bottle of Mountain Dew to a light. It's cloudy. Brominated vegetable oil creates the cloudy look by keeping the fruity flavor mixed into the drink. Without an emulsifier such as BVO, the flavoring would float to the surface. The FDA limits the use of BVO to 15 parts per million in fruit-flavored beverages.

Hold a bottle of Mountain Dew to a light. It's cloudy. Brominated vegetable oil creates the cloudy look by keeping the fruity flavor mixed into the drink.Brominated vegetable oil, which is derived from soybean or corn, contains bromine atoms, which weigh down the citrus flavoring so it mixes with sugar water, or in the case of flame retardants, slows down chemical reactions that cause a fire.

Brominated flame retardants lately are under intense scrutiny because research has shown that they are building up in people’s bodies, including breast milk, around the world. Designed to slow the spread of flames, they are added to polystyrene foam cushions used in upholstered furniture and children's products, as well as plastics used in electronics. Research in animals as well as some human studies have found links to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.

BVO may not be in use today as a flame retardant in furniture foam, but patents in Europe — granted earlier this year to Dow Global Technologies — and in the United States — granted in 1967 to Koppers Inc. — keep that possibility alive.

"There are some concerns [about BVO] because people are worried that maybe it has the behavior, [and] potential health effects similar to brominated flame retardants," said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University who specializes in studying brominated compounds.

Soda makers and industry groups say they are not concerned about the safety of brominated vegetable oil, saying their products meet all government standards.

"This is a safe ingredient approved by the FDA, which is used in some citrus-based beverages," said Christopher Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association, which represents PepsiCo, maker of Mountain Dew. "Importantly, consumers can rest assured that our products are safe and our industry adheres to all government regulations."

Chris Barnes of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, makers of Squirt and other drinks that contain BVO, echoed that response.

"All ingredients in Dr. Pepper Snapple Group products meet FDA and other regulator requirements," Barnes said.

2011-1212limited
Scott Beale/flickr
Mountain Dew has paired with game makers in a promotion that rewards gamers with bonus points for drinking more of the beverage.

 

Dated data

Some experts are unconvinced, saying that the FDA standards are based on decades-old data.

"Compounds like these that are in widespread use probably should be reexamined periodically with newer technologies to ensure that there aren't effects that would have been missed by prior methods," said Charles Vorhees, a toxicologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who studied BVO's neurological effects in the early 1980s. "I think BVO is the kind of compound that probably warrants some reexamination."

Toxicity testing has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Multiple generations of animals now can be tested for neurodevelopmental, hormonal and reproductive changes that weren't imagined in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"I am no toxicologist, but I think that the toxic evaluation of chemicals has been improved since then," Vetter added.

In 1970, scientists in England found that rats on a six-week diet containing 0.8 percent brominated maize oil had stockpiles of bromine in their fat tissue. The bromine stayed there even after the rats returned to a control diet for two weeks.

Around the same time, a study confirmed that bromine was building up in humans. Researchers measured the serum levels of people in the United Kingdom – where BVO was in use – and in their counterparts in the Netherlands and Germany, where BVO was not used.

"I am no toxicologist, but I think that the toxic evaluation of chemicals has been improved since" BVO was last tested in the 1970s and early 1980s.  – Walter Vetter, food chemist, University of Hohenheim "During this time UK citizens had higher bromine serum levels compared to the inhabitants of Germany and the Netherlands," Vetter said. The largest amounts of lipid-bound bromine were found in tissues from children in the UK, according to the study.

The study authors wrote that "it seems highly probable that the intake of brominated vegetable oil is the cause of the tissue bromine residues in children."

Data in rats show that BVO could be toxic. A 1971 study by Canadian researchers found that rats fed a diet containing 0.5 percent brominated oils grew heavy hearts and developed lesions in their heart muscle. In a later study, in 1983, rats fed the same oils had behavioral problems, and those fed 1 percent BVO had trouble conceiving. At 2 percent, they were unable to reproduce.

The diets in that study had "whopping doses" of BVO, about 100-times higher than today's allowable limit, said Vorhees, lead author of the 1983 study.

But two case studies in the past 15 years show that whopping doses also can occur in people – with unhealthy consequences.

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Steve Schroeder/Flickr
During epic Massively Multiplayer Online games, a soda an hour is not uncommon, and many gamers will pound sodas for 12 straight hours.

 

Epic binges

On MMO nights at the Battle & Brew, some gamers play 12 straight hours. In these Massively Multiplayer Online games, thousands of players from around the world compete. During these epic battles, a soda every hour is not uncommon. A gamer chugging a 20-ounce bottle of soda every hour will finish 3.5 liters in six hours.

"They're just sitting for 12 hours, just pounding sodas," Smawley said.

Virtually every teen in America plays video games, according to the Pew Research Center. The $110-billion-a-year soft drink industry and the $74-billion-a-year video game industry have noticed. Activision, the makers of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," the latest edition in this popular video game series, paired with Mountain Dew in a promotion that rewards gamers with bonus points for drinking more Mountain Dew.

In 1997, emergency room doctors at University of California, Davis reported a patient with severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day. He developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination) and memory loss.

"This is a safe ingredient approved by the FDA...Consumers can rest assured that our products are safe and our industry adheres to all government regulations." – Christopher Gindlesperger, American Beverage Association     In a 2003 case reported in Ohio, a 63-year-old man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Rudy Squirt every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. The patient quit drinking the brominated soft drink and months later recovered.

Reactions this severe may not be a concern in the general population, the study’s doctors said.

"Any normal level of consumption of BVO would not cause any health problems — except the risk of diabetes and obesity from drinking that much sugar water," said Zane Horowitz, medical director of the Oregon Poison Center and author of the 1997 case study.

But in the gamer scene, a normal level of consumption is not normal. Everyone, it seems, knows someone habitually needing a fuel fix, and consuming enough to up his or her risk.

"I've seen hard core guys, after every game they'll just grab another one," said Sean Hyatt, the assistant manager at the Battle & Brew.

And it's not just the "stinkies" – Smawley's derogatory term for the stereotypical gamer slobs – who pound gamer fuel. Vorhees, of the Cincinnati children's hospital, said his son stays up all night when playing a new game with his friends.

"They use Mountain Dew specifically as a beverage to keep them awake – and they hardly eat anything," Vorhees said.

When a person doesn't eat during one of these binges, his or her body is absorbing the entire beverage. It's even worse in kids, Vorhees said, because they have less body mass.

"In kids, the total dosage effect tends to be greater," Vorhees said. "I actually think there are people that get these high exposures."

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Brett Israel/EHN
For adults, soda and energy drinks are the fourth largest source of calories, and for kids ages 14 to 18, sodas are the largest source.

 

Banned bromine returns

Based on data from the early studies, the FDA yanked brominated vegetable oil from its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list for flavor additives in 1970, said Douglas Karas, a spokesman for the FDA. BVO bounced back after studies from an industry group from 1971 to 1974 demonstrated a level of safety.

The Flavor Extract Manufacturers’ Association petitioned the FDA to get BVO back in fruit-flavored beverages, this time as a stabilizer, which is its role today. After evaluating the petition and other data, the FDA in 1977 approved the interim use of BVO at 15 ppm in fruit-flavored beverages, pending the outcome of additional studies.

"This decision was based on the highest No Observed Effect Levels from the existing safety studies and the estimated daily intake," Karas said in an email. "Although there were doses that showed adverse effects in the animal studies, there also were lower doses in which there were no adverse effects observed."

As a condition of interim approval, the industry group submitted additional safety studies to the FDA.

The FDA determined that a 2-year feeding study in pigs established a no-effect level of 1,200 ppm. A 2-year feeding study in beagle dogs also was conducted. Although there were concerns about quality control with that particular study, Karas said, no cardiovascular effects were observed in the dogs fed BVO at levels as high as 3,600 ppm for two years. After an independent audit of the data to address the quality concerns, the FDA decided to allow BVO in fruit-flavored beverages.

In the gamer scene, a normal level of consumption is not normal. "I've seen hard core guys, after every game they'll just grab another one." – Sean Hyatt, Battle & Brew    "The findings from these studies supported the safety of BVO in beverages at a level of 15 ppm in fruit-flavored beverages," Karas said. "Its use as a flame retardant does not preclude its use as a food ingredient so long as the food use is safe."

More than 30 years later, brominated vegetable oil's approval status is still listed as interim. Changing the status would be costly and "is not a public health priority for the agency at this time," Karas said.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was involved with the petition to remove BVO from the "safe" list in 1970. He said it's time for the FDA to make a decision, one way or the other.

"Is it harmful at the amounts consumed? Probably not," Jacobson said. "But it would be nice if the FDA did a thorough review of the literature and finalized an approval or a ban."

2011-1212dakotastate
Global Game Jam/flickr
Countries in Europe and elsewhere have for years used natural alternatives to BVO. One scientist says the chemical is a "North American problem."

 

A safer switch?

BVO has seeped into Europe, mostly forbidden territory for this additive, according to an analysis of imported sodas presented at an international symposium on halogenated persistent organic pollutants in 2010.

"We found products with no label although BVO was present in the soda," said Vetter, lead author of the study.

He said soda makers in North America could easily replace BVO with alternatives such as hydrocolloids – chemicals that are used in many sodas in Europe. Natural hydrocolloids form small droplets on water into which non-water soluble compounds can be stored and stabilized for as long as necessary. They are almost exclusively natural products, Vetter said.

Barnes, of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, said that BVO and hydrocolloids "do not provide the same functionality and cannot be substituted for one another."

Vetter disagreed, saying that countries in Europe and elsewhere have used natural hydrocolloids for decades in the soda brands that rely on BVO in North America.

"There are many options to substitute BVO with safe chemicals," Vetter said. "I am not aware of significant disadvantages of BVO over hydrocolloids or vice versa."

With natural alternatives already in use in other countries, why not switch in North America too?

Wim Thielemans, a chemical engineer at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said since the alternatives are already used in Europe "their performance must be acceptable, if not comparable, to the U.S.-used brominated systems." That means "the main driver for not replacing them may be cost," he said.

"It is a North American problem," Vetter added. "In the E.U., BVO will never be permitted."

 

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