Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finally Universal Healthcare in the US - Drugs in our Drinking Water - What it Means and What you Can do About it

A little over a month ago, I received a frantic call from one of my relatively relaxed mom friends wondering what she should be mixing her daughter’s powdered formula and cereal with given the Associated Press investigative report that revealed evidence of trace amounts of antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones in the drinking water of at least 41 million people. Since pre-mixed formula is no longer an option due to bisphenol-A and food co-ops in Brooklyn are banning the sale of bottled water what’s a mom to do?

The 2,550 word article concludes with this quote from Dr. David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany, "We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good”. After researching the topic, I am inclined to agree. However, I think it is important to have some perspective on the issue, because while alarming and in dire need of additional research, trace levels of pharmaceutical contaminants likely pose less of a risk than the known toxic chemicals being dumped worldwide by pesticide and plastic manufacturers.

What can you do to minimize exposure?

The bad news…the AP investigation found trace pharmaceuticals in well water, ground water and surface water and they posit that even many bottled waters are contaminated. In addition, my research found spotty evidence that home filtration systems remove all contaminants.

First and foremost, if you are concerned about your water, you can have your tap water professionally tested. The EPA provides links to State certified labs.

If you find that your water is indeed not potable, according to a March 11th statement from the International Bottled Water Association, bottled water is the way to go. (Shocking, I know.) In addition, a recent investigative Chicago Tribune/RedEye report found no indication of pharmaceuticals in three top bottled water brands in Chicago.

Personally, I’m a Poland Springs fan so I checked their website and found this rather impressive diagram of their purification process. While they do not test for pharmaceuticals the process seems rigorous enough that I am willing to risk it.

However, I would be remiss to not mention that bottled water is particularly draining on the environment. Production of bottled water is widely inefficient and is said to consume 1.5 million barrels of oil annually. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that each day, more than 60 million plastic bottles are incinerated or tossed in landfills so if you do opt to trust bottled water…please recycle and remember to take the cap off.

Home based combination carbon reverse osmosis systems are also inefficient but if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, mixing powdered infant formula or cereal and know your water is contaminated you should consider purchasing a home filtration system just be sure it removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Consumer Reports recommends:

Aqua Pure by Cuno, AP-DWS1000

Kenmore (Sears) 34551

In addition you can compare ten different filter options at:

Water Filter Comparisons
The Green Guide

What can you do to stop making the problem worse?

  • Stop taking drugs…and if you absolutely have to, metabolize them for Pete’s sake.
  • Use all antibiotics and medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Buy only as much as can reasonably be used before the expiration date.
  • Whenever possible, take your unused pharmaceuticals to a pharmaceutical collection program or event.
  • If a drug collection program does not exist in your area, encourage your health care provider, local governments and local law enforcement to develop one.
  • Keep waste pharmaceuticals in their original containers with their labels and put them in a second container or small plastic bag and hide them in your trash. (Remove, or conceal with marker, any patient information if you have privacy concerns.)
  • Render pills unattractive to children and thieves by dissolving them in a small amount of water or alcohol, or by grinding them up and mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  • Do not dispose of pharmaceuticals down a drain or toilet.
  • Do not burn household waste containing pharmaceuticals.

What is the Government doing about the problem?

The day after the report was released to the public, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Minority ranking member of the US Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works wrote a letter to Stephen Johnson the Administrator of the EPA calling for assurances to the public to rebuild consumer confidence and the establishment of a working group to “establish reasonable and workable measures to reduce public health risk from pharmaceutical disposal into water supplies.

On April 4th, Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water sent a response where he assured the Senator that the EPA along with other Federal agencies are actively looking into “the emergence of pharmaceuticals and other personal care products that are detected in our waters”. He also explained that the current body of evidence does not justify a movement that would “require monitoring and/ or treatment that carry significant cost, particularly when the Agency must carry out programs for contaminants with known risks.” (read we have not figured out a way to monetize this effort, when we do, we’ll get back to you.)

Then on April 15th, Alan Goldhammer, PhD, the Deputy Vice President for Regulatory Affairs for the pharmaceutical trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) provided a statement to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality. In it he places the blame on the highly sensitive detection tools versus the vast quantities of pharmaceuticals his industry provides. However, in his statement he dos make an interesting point in that he argues that “dietary exposure to hormones such as the estrogen that naturally occurs in milk and soy products is much higher than exposure to residues of any estrogen-like pharmaceutical in water.” Not sure if it is comforting or not but an interesting point none the less.

So that is the state of affairs. It seems to me unlikely that the government will push much harder on this although in an April 18th press release, it should be noted that New York State legislators are pressing pharmaceutical companies to take a more active role in helping consumer dispose of pharmaceuticals by paying for their own collection programs. Perhaps they’ll get to this once they’ve finished pulling the BPA bottles from the shelves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sustainable Motherhood’s Top Ten Sustainable Parenting Activities

Unless you live under a rock, you know today is Earth Day. In honor of Earth Day, I will provide a formal definition of Sustainable Motherhood and share the Sustainable Motherhood Top Ten Low-Impact High-Return Activities.

Sustainable Motherhood is a lifestyle that can be maintained without copious amounts of Prozac, alcohol and/or Ben & Jerry’s indefinitely without the exhaustion of individual happiness and energy. It is the pursuit of environment- and family-friendly activities that benefit you, your family, your community and your world. True believers often make lifestyle tradeoffs, such as quitting thankless day jobs to focus on improving the lives and communities of those around them. While the term sustainable originated as an environmental term, with respect to parenthood, it refers to the positive impacts that can be made through informed choices regarding nutrition, fitness, education, work, money, entertainment and the environment.

To further clarify, I compiled the Sustainable Motherhood Top Ten which details my favorite low-impact high-return family activities.
  • Making organic smoothies together.
  • Baking organic cookies while the freen eats the chips out of the bowl.
  • Driving to school together in the CRV with the sun roof open singing Jack Johnson’s song 3R's - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. (ok driving is not exactly sustainable but it is the singing that counts)
  • Reading I am the Peach by Luisa de Noriega.
  • Pushing the stroller up the mountain on a cool crisp spring morning.
  • Walking down to the beach to throw rocks in the lake at sunset.
  • Joining community clean-up day with the whole family.
  • Going to the grocery store together - checking labels for corn syrup and plastic containers for BPA the whole way.
  • Watching American Idol. (ok I’m sure it is bad for the environment, but it is exceptionally family friendly.)
  • Working in the garden with the Freen - We’ve converted to all organic seeds and soils this year - generally the Freen throws dirt and I chase him around trying to keep him from stomping on the newly sprouted flowers. Good for me, good for the Freen, good for the environment.
Please comment to share your favorite Low Impact High Return Family Activities. Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Enough about BPA in plastic bottles - What about BPA in infant formula?

It has been quite a week for BPA. In the five days since the release of the National Toxicology Program report:

Health Canada, the Canadian Health agency announced a move to ban the import and sale of infant bottles made with BPA that will take effect after a 60-day discussion period.

Wal-Mart Canada announced that they will stop selling baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, food containers and water bottles made with BPA immediately.

Wal-Mart announced that they will stop selling baby bottles made with BPA in the US as early as next year.

Nalgene a leading maker of sport water bottles announced that they would phase out the production of bottles containing BPA over the next several months.

Playtex announced that they will convert to BPA-free material by the end of the year, immediately suspend distribution of products made with BPA to all Canadian retail partners and distribute 1 million samples of their BPA-free Drop-Ins Original Nurser System.

In addition, the major networks ran several stories this week, including this ABC News segment.

While all of this is great news for consumers, with the focus primarily on plastic bottles, which are relatively easy to identify and avoid, many people remain unaware of potential exposure from food containers lined with BPA, which have been found by the Environmental Working Group to release the chemical in even higher concentrations. Watching the coverage unfold this week, it was hard not to think that this media blitz is just a diversion from the bigger issue of BPA exposure resulting from canned foods and the current Congressional investigation into the FDA's recommendations on the use of BPA.

But it's Sunday so let's set aside the conspiracy theories and focus on what you can do to minimize exposure to BPA.

Simple Sustainable Strategies to Minimize BPA Exposure

  • Don’t feed your child canned liquid formula. (powder is cheaper anyway)

  • Don’t eat or serve canned foods. (fresh fruit and vegetables are better for you anyway)

  • Don't use bottles with the numbers 3 or 7 in the recycling symbol on the bottom, although not all contain BPA. (number 1, 2 and 4 plastics do not have BPA)

  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers. (even if they are BPA free other chemicals leach into food when microwaved)

  • Don't use old or scratched plastic bottles.

  • Don't wash plastics in the dishwasher.

  • Use glass bottles and containers for storage and long trips.

  • Use BPA free baby bottles to feed your child.
Interesting Facts About BPA
  • Usage of BPA is regulated by the FDA and International Safety Regulations. (Ref)

  • In the U.S. more than 2.3 billion pounds of BPA is manufactured annually. (Ref)

  • Nearly half of the BPA produced in the US is produced in Texas in plants owned by Dow, Bayer and Hexion Specialty Chemicals. (Ref)

  • The plastics industry in the United States accounts for more than $379 billion dollars in annual shipments and directly employs 1.1 million people. (Ref)

  • The business of chemistry is a $635 billion enterprise. It is one of the nation’s largest exporters, accounting for ten cents out of every dollar in U.S. exports. (Ref)

  • The EPA sets the safe level of BPA exposure to 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day (µg/kg/day). (Ref)

  • BPA has been found to have hormone disrupting effects in studies on animals and human cancer cells at levels as low as 2-5µg/kg. (Ref)

  • Infants fed canned formula with bottles containing BPA can consume quantities up to 13 µg/kg/day. (Ref)

  • BPA was found in 93% of the 2,517 participants in a CDC study. The participants registered BPA levels between 0.4 µg/L and 149 µg/L with 57.4% of the participants with levels falling between 0.2 µg/L–20.6 µg/L. (Ref)
After conducting the research there are several questions that I still am seeking answers to including:
  1. When mothers are breast feeding is BPA passed through to breast milk?
  2. Is it possible that the epidemic of childhood obesity is caused by BPA exposure?
  3. Is melamine really safe?
  4. What about the lining in milk, juice cartons?
  5. What about humidifiers?
  6. Is there anything you can do once you have already been exposed?
If you find or know the answers, please comment. Also please provide any additional BPA facts or sustainable strategies to reduce exposure to BPA.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Options in Eco-Friendly Toys Growing but Not Great

Yesterday was the first bike day of the season at the Freen's daycare. For those of you who haven't met my son and were confused by my previous references to “the Freen” and my mother…we call our son Freen, sometimes Freeny, occasionally Mr. Green Freen and less frequently but with some regularity McFreeny. The name evolved from Peak Freen – because he is indeed a serious little cookie. For purposes of this blog, I will call him the Freen.

So anyway, bike day….last year each and every bike day was met with great joy and excitement (which meant getting ready for school was not the usual daily battle of wills), however, yesterday the Freen chose to remind me that he is my child.

Me: Morning Freen! Guess what…today is bike day!!!

The Freen: Frown, grumble, incoherent whine

Me: Whaaat’s the matter?

The Freen: I want a super fast motor bike with music.

Me: Whaaat? Oh like the Andrew and Alex's bikes but those are baby bikes…frown, grumble, incoherent whine under my breath...big ugly noisy plastic things.

The Freen: Loudly but coherently... I waaant a new bike.

Me: But your bike cost a fortune and took forever to put together and was supposed to last until you were five…. frown, grumble, incoherent whine under my breath...damn German engineering I can’t even figure out how to move the seat.

The Freen: Pushing his bike awayloud and quite clear... I want a motorcycle.

Me: knowing glare to husband that says we have to get out of this one horse, three motorbike town… Well I can’t get one now so you either go to school bikeless on bike day or you take this bike and we can look online for a new bike tonight...Regretting them immediately as the words leave my mouth.

The Freen: Ok. Can I have some cheerios?

So the day goes by. No calls from school saying that the Freen refused to participate in bike day so all seems to be well in the world. I pick him up, bring him home, we walk in the door and…

The Freen: Where is my new bike?

Me: Whaaat? Oh Freeney, I didn’t buy one today. We can look online. Didn’t you have fun at bike day?

The Freen: Yes. Computer. Up peese!

Feeling defeated by both my son and the damn German engineering, I pulled him on my lap and went to the Toys ‘R’ Us website and we looked for bikes together. We agreed on a mildly offensive Thomas bicycle which should last at least the summer.

Made in China? – Definitely.

Risk of lead paint? – Possibly.

Does he care? – No.

Is there a good alternative? -- Not yet…not unless I want to spend almost $300 on something LikeaBike that while very cool, I am just not sure would measure up.

I haven’t ordered the new bike yet. I figure I have until the next bike day and he seems happy enough for now just knowing there are cooler bikes out there. Perhaps someone will come out with a $60 eco-friendly bike with a horn that plays the Thomas song and has Spider Man painted in soy ink on the seat in the next two weeks.

Unlikely, but while on the Toys ‘R’ Us website, I did notice that they are launching a natural toys product line. It seems some became available today, however according to In Store Marketer the complete line is due out by Earth Day and will include natural wooden toys, cotton plush animals and organic cotton dolls. It will use recycled packaging and carry the tag line “Recycle, Renew, Reuse, Re-think.” Stay tuned for more on their new line and other natural toys as I continue to explore.

If you know of any other good resources for eco-friendly toys (besides organic cotton stuffed dolls) because the Freen just isn’t interested, please share.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Attention Shoppers! Special on BPA Bottles in Aisle 7

These were on special at my local grocer today. Perhaps they saw today's article in The Wall Street Journal titled "Plastics Chemical Spurs Concern - Government Study, In Reversal, Links BPA, Cancer Risk". In other news, it is anticipated that Health Canada, the government agency that oversees Canada's health care system will classify BPA as a dangerous substance before the end of May. This would make them the first regulatory body to officially rule that BPA is harmful to people and the environment. Read more about this in the article in today's New York Times.

Friday, April 11, 2008

BPA the Next DDT - Says Who?

It was around a year ago that I received the first e-mail about toxic baby bottles. I read it and immediately went to the cupboards to check for sippy cups with the number 7 on the bottom. I only found one. Not surprisingly it was a tacky glittery Mickey Mouse cup I had bought at Disney World. It was very easy to part with it as I had always known it had insidious effects far worse than BPA.

I continued to receive a steady stream of e-mails about Bisphenol A (BPA) , detailing how it is a carcinogenic hormone disruptor, linked to breast cancer, male infertility, obesity and schizophrenia. I soon stopped microwaving and storing food in plastic containers. Eventually, I found myself checking the bottoms of all bottles, in the shower, the fridge and the grocery store. Then I learned that BPA isn’t just used in plastics, but they line cans and canned food with it. In fact, of all things liquid infant formula is a leading offender. Crap!

We used cans of Enfamil for the Freen when we went on road trips. I never thought I would actually be grateful for all the times he puked in the car…the more I thought about it the more I realized we used canned formula quite a bit. They were very convenient.

Plagued with guilt, wondering what kind of irreparable damage I had done to my son’s endocrine system, it occurred to me…where the hell is all of this information coming from? I’ve never been one to accept anything at face value, so why was I cleaning out my cupboards and beating myself up over product choices without doing any due diligence. Eventually like thousands of other moms out there, I took it into my own hands and scoured the Internet researching the origins and effects of BPA.

Generally when I look online for health information I do not (or at least did not used to) go to the Environmental Working Group for information. Working in health care for many years, I generally went straight to the ivory towers, the supposed pillars, proponents and practitioners of evidence based medicine. So the first thing I did was conduct a PubMed Medline search for BPA which returned 4,567 results.

Then a search of American Medical Association (AMA) website returned nothing except two links to articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that are not accessible without a subscription.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website had no statement or advice but did have two links to articles with brief mention of BPA in dental sealants (yep it’s in them too).

Then a check of the American Academy of Family Physician (AAFP) website yielded a big nothing. Maybe I was looking at the wrong medical specialties.

A search of the Endocrine Society website generated a link to an abstract for a research report presented at their annual meeting in 2007 and a brief reference to The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction’s (CERHR) expert panel report.

Perhaps the nation’s leading hospital? A search of Mayo Clinic’s Health Information site offered nothing, not even in the Baby's Health section where they advise parents on which formula is right for your baby.

It would seem that either the US medical establishment is asleep at the wheel or the 4,567 papers listed in PubMed are all flawed. What about the government agencies that regulate food and protect public health?

A search of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website yielded 124 results but no official statement or position. However a statement from the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety by biologist Julie N. Mayer, M.F.S. on FDA’s most current position on BPA use is available on Fit Pregnancy's website.

While a search of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website yields 318 results they provide no official statement or advice. However, you will find the summary result of the study which found BPA present in 93% of the 2,517 participants.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has several references to BPA and is home to the The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) who has published research findings of their expert panel and most recently published the NTP Draft Brief for comment on April 14th, 2008.

Finally, a search of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website yields 894 results against their entire collection and 53 if you limit by Health Risks.

So it would seem that despite 894 environmental and 4,553 medical references to the topic neither respected medical institutions nor government agencies are prepared to make a coherent statement about BPA. Of course there are several groups and companies who have published and promoted clear albeit disparate conclusions about BPA and some even provide entire sites devoted to the subject.

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) website provides a detailed and comprehensive statement on the safety of polycarbonate packaging in the aptly titled plastic and health section.

The American Chemistry Council/American Plastics Council (ACC) has numerous references including several timely press releases and they also provide this detailed information site which comes up right at the top when you google BPA.

In addition, Playtex Bottles, Inc. (Energizer Battery Holdings) has a statement on BPA. AVENT (Phillips) addresses BPA in their FAQ section. Even the pillars of product safety that have no trouble telling you to buy new products at the drop of a dime, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) touts the safety of baby bottles in a published statement.

Lucky for us there are numerous bloggers, media outlets and environmental action groups willing to sift through the research and provide some comprehensive and seemingly objective information. The best BPA resource online is the Environmental Working Group. I also found The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal’s review of 258 studies interesting albeit probably not scientifically valid and WebMD has a nice quick and dirty summary.

When I started this post, I began with the intention of understanding the real consequences of BPA exposure and how to avoid it, however, when it comes to BPA the real story is in the information and where it is, and isn’t, coming from. After collecting and analyzing the information, there is no question that I will do everything I can to minimize exposure to BPA for my son and my family, but what I think is more important is what we do as citizen scientists to tell the government and the medical establishment that they need to stop looking out for the interest of big business and do everything they can to look out for the interest of our children.

The good news is that on April 4th Congress sent a letter to the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach requesting additional information surrounding the FDA’s selection of two industry studies as the basis of their recommendations on infant formula liners. I think this will mark a turning point in a very long, very confusing and very heated debate and I hope that the government will respond with a comprehensive and unbiased analysis of the current body of research and plans to commission additional research where needed.

I am in the process of compiling a list of recommendations, facts, resources and a BPA timeline which I will post soon. Please submit comments, questions and any other sources of objective information on BPA you find.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sustainable Playtime

Sustainable Playtime
Originally uploaded by Sustainable Mom
When I think about reducing my carbon footprint, two things generally come to mind... using fewer paper towels and finding an alternative to bottled water. This morning after breakfast I found the Freen playing smash up race cars with the recyclables and it made me feel a little better about myself.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The New Mother's Dilemma

“What’s for dinner, honey?”

“Oh corn dipped in trans fats with a side of high fructose corn syrup and a glass of Prozac”.

Recently, I am finding that simple questions have increasingly complex answers.

When I had my son three and a half years ago, I never second guessed basic decisions like what bottles to use or whether or not to get him vaccinated.

I used BPA laden plastic bottles and filled them with formula mixed with Prozac-riddled tap water and didn’t bat an eye.

However, over the past year there has been a baby boom (explosion really) among my circle of friends and I have found myself an old mom surrounded by newbies, fielding a steady stream of questions that I had never confronted.

In "The Omnivores Dilemma", Michael Pollan uses the question “What's for dinner?” to explore the impact of the choices we make as we put food on the table for our families. After reading OD, it struck me that we mothers have a dilemma of our own.

Much like the challenge everyone faces when trying to put a healthy meal on the table, we must weed through tons of conflicting information, alarming headlines and marketing jargon to make decisions about the products we buy for our children. The information overload coupled with a healthy questioning of the intentions of big business and big medicine leaves us confused and concerned. In the next few entries, I will take a closer look at “The New Mother's Dilemma”, how we get our information, evaluate it and ultimately make a decision about what to do or buy.

Here are the questions my friends have been asking lately. I invite you to submit others and we can explore them together.

Which bottles did you use?

What did you use to mix the formula?

What diapers did you use?

What baby lotion did you buy?

When did you get him vaccinated?