FDA Bungles BPA Study Triggering Uproar Within Scientific Community

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Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists published a study in February finding that low-level exposure to the controversial plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA) is virtually harmless—a conclusion that stirred an uproar within academic circles.

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Standing in contrast to the FDA findings are countless studies that found BPA—an estrogenic chemical—was linked to serious health problems from asthma and breast cancer to infertility and heart disease. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The chemical industry at-large and the FDA used the research to combat persistent concerns over BPA and its severe side effects. But, according to Mother Jones, a group of leading academic scientists, who had been collaborating with the FDA on a related project, were infuriated the study was even released because they believed the agency had ​botched the experiment.

Mother Jones reports:

On a conference call the previous summer, officials from the FDA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had informed these researchers that the lab where the study was housed was contaminated. As a result, all of the animals—including the supposedly unexposed control group—had been exposed to BPA. The FDA made the case that this didn’t affect the outcome, but their academic counterparts believed it cast serious doubt on the study’s findings. “It’s basic science,” says Gail S. Prins, a professor of physiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was on the call. “If your controls are contaminated, you’ve got a failed experiment and the data should be discarded. I’m baffled that any journal would even publish this.”

Yet the FDA study glossed over this detail, which was buried near the end of the paper. Prins and her colleagues also complain that the paper omitted key information—including the fact that some of them had found dramatic effects in the same group of animals. “The way the FDA presented its findings is so disingenuous,” says one scientist, who works closely with the agency. “It borders on scientific misconduct.”

Standing in contrast to the FDA findings are countless studies that found BPA—an estrogenic chemical—was linked to serious health problems from asthma, cancer, miscarriages and low sperm count to genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

Moreover, studies also suggest that even BPA-free plastics can potentially cause harm to infants and toddlers. 

Avoiding BPA

Some easy starters for minimizing BPA exposure in your life are provided by Women’s Voices for the Earth:

Opt for fresh or frozen foods instead of canned. A 2011 study by the Breast Cancer Fund showed that people decreased the amount of BPA in their bodies by 60 percent in just three days when they eliminated canned foods and food packaged in plastics from their diet. Another study found that eating one can of soup every day for five days increased the BPA in a body by 1,200 percent.
Look for products packaged in glass or lined cardboard instead of cans.
Store food in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic.
Use stainless steel or glass water bottles instead of plastic bottles.
Refuse paper receipts when you don’t need them. BPA rubs off easily onto hands, and then gets into mouths or eyes.
Store receipts you need in an envelope separate from your wallet or purse, and wash your hands after handling them.
Avoid plastic where possible or look for plastics with the recycle symbol #5, which signifies polypropylene, a safer plastic.

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Related Content: 

Non Toxic Alternatives to BPA and BPA-Free Bottles

How to Give BPA the Boot

Research Warns BPA-Free Plastic Still Toxic to Infants and Toddlers

France Stands Up to Monsanto, Bans Seed Giant’s GMO Corn

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On Saturday, France’s agriculture ministry temporarily banned the sale, use and cultivation of Monsanto’s MON 810 genetically engineered (GE) corn—the only variety that had been authorized in the European Union (EU).

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Genetically engineered corn is facing fierce resistant from both French environmentalists and country officials. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The French government, which argues GE crops present environmental risks, kept pushing to institute the new ban even after the country’s highest court struck down similar measures in the past, according to Reuters. 

“France’s reinstatement of its previous ban of Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered crop … is another encouraging sign that the biotech industry’s iron grip on foreign government’s is slipping and that resistance to these flawed products is continuing to take hold,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!.

The decision was strategically timed to block the seasonal planting of Monsanto’s corn by French farmers before a draft law is debated on April 10, which is aimed at banning the cultivation of foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“The sale, use and cultivation of varieties of [Monsanto’s corn seed] … is banned in the country until the adoption, on the one hand, of a final decision, and secondly, of European Union community action,” a French decree stated.

The annual planting of corn in France typically gets under way in the second half of March.

The current Socialist government, like its conservative predecessor, has repeatedly opposed the growing of GMO crops in light of public suspicion and widespread protests from environmental groups. 

Ongoing differences between EU countries resurfaced in February when they failed to agree on whether to approve another type of GE corn (developed by DuPont and Dow Chemical), leaving the possibility open for the EU Commission to approve its cultivation.

France is trying to gain support to overhaul the EU rules.

“As more nations reject Monsanto’s dangerous technology, the U.S. government is finding itself increasingly alone in failing to protect cropland and farmers here,” said Michele Simon, JD, MPH, president of Eat Drink Politics. “The U.S. should follow France’s lead in placing people over profits.”

Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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National Geographic Photojournalist Captures Images of Critical Pollution Problems Worldwide

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When U.S. photojournalist Peter Essick visited India and China for the first time, he was struck by how different life there was compared with American cities. But when he returned almost two decades later, he found the changes “staggering.” Bangalore now reminds him of the Silicon Valley, and Beijing and New Delhi are smoggier than anything he had ever encountered at home.

“Development and a high standard of living—which most people around the world view as desirable—come at a cost,” he said.

An award-winning frequent contributor to National Geographic, Essick spent 25 years traveling around the world, documenting environmental threats portrayed in his book, Our Beautiful, Fragile World.

In this slideshow of photographs hand-picked for Environmental Health News, Essick portrays the wide variety of environmental health problems that have afflicted people and ecosystems from Ho Chi Minh City to Lake Erie.

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One of his biggest challenges was to find ways to illustrate health problems that are often internal: People are exposed to a variety of pollutants and chemicals that can build up in their bodies, their food and their environment.

“Overall, I believe we are going to find out that the chemicals in products that we all use every day are a factor in many of the documented increases in health problems,” he said.

Essick, who lives in a suburb of Atlanta, worked with experts and environmental groups to locate the best places to photograph lead exposure, pesticide spraying, e-waste, urban runoff and many other issues. He said he gets many of his ideas from Environmental Health News’s daily roundups of environmental news from around the world.

“The problem of lead poisoning is one environmental health problem that I believe is much larger than most people realize. It is also tragic because it most affects children,” he said.

Of all the places he’s traveled on all seven continents, Essick is most concerned about the health of people exposed to severe air and water pollution in China and India.

“I have returned to both countries recently and the changes are staggering. It seems that it is unchecked, rapid economic development that causes the most harm to the environment,” he said.

He first traveled to India in the mid 1990s, then returned recently to photograph an e-waste recycler for a National Geographic article, High Tech Trash.

“My first trip to India I went to rural area in Punjab where they play a lot of field hockey. Maybe it was because I was living in Brooklyn at the time, but the trip felt like an escape from the rat race. I really liked the villages, the people and the food,” he said.

“On the trip 20 years later I still liked the people and the food, but I felt that the pace of life had changed to almost completely the opposite from what I had fondly remembered. The smog in New Delhi was terrible and Bangalore was much like visiting a large American city. The pace of life was fast and everything was very expensive. I see why Bangalore is compared to Silicon Valley.”

Essick recently traveled to China for National Geographic’s Fertilized World, published last year. During his first trip there, in 2000, he shot photos for a piece on freshwater threats.

“When I went back it seemed that there was much more water and air pollution. Even in rural areas there was lots of construction going on. In the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai there were fewer Chinese riding bicycles, and many more American companies and western amenities available,” he said.

The pace of economic and environmental change in China is unprecedented; it recently surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, and could outgrow the United States by 2028. Its pollution reminds Essick of images he’s seen of U.S. steel mills and smelters, which arose during the Industrial Age of the mid-1800s.

“Why would anyone want to live in a city where you have to wear a mask to go outside and you can’t drink the water? It is hard for me to fathom, but the USA also went through a period of development where you grow fast and clean up later,” Essick said.

“I have seen the photos of the steel mills in Pittsburgh a hundred years ago, and I’m sure there was no pollution control on the stacks then. But the development going on now in China and India is unprecedented and I’m sure is having serious health effects on their citizens.”

Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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Duke Energy Announces Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Will Take 2+ Years; Emails Show Collusion Between Regulators and NC Utility

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Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest electric and gas supplier, announced Friday it would take the company more than two years to clean up February’s massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with 60,000 tons of toxic sludge.

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Environmental regulators in North Carolina consulted Duke Energy last year before seeking to exclude citizen activists from talks to settle charges that the utility’s coal ash ponds had polluted the state’s groundwater, newly released email exchanges among the regulators indicated on Thursday. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

The cleanup is part of an effort that includes moving three leaky coal ash dumps away from waterways near Asheville, Charlotte and Danville, VA—a town located along the North Carolina border that uses the Dan River as a drinking water source, reports The Huffington Post. 

Part of the plan calls for moving millions of tons of the toxic sludge to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Duke asked Charlotte officials on Thursday to examine plans for storing the ash in fully lined, covered areas versus the open, unlined pits that currently house the coal ash. Duke estimated the coal ash transfer would take about five years. 

Duke President Lynn Good sent Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary John Skvarla a letter with details, but Skvarla and other state regulators said Duke’s plans fall short and don’t address cleaning up the company’s nearly three dozen coal ash dumps that are scattered across the state.

“There are far too many questions left unanswered, and Duke Energy should provide the information we originally requested, including the estimated costs of cleanup, plans for the future and a detailed timeline,” said Skvarla.

However, despite the state’s criticisms, both sides have now become embroiled in another scandal involving a lawsuit over the coal ash pits.

The New York Times reports:

Environmental regulators in North Carolina consulted Duke Energy last year before seeking to exclude citizen activists from talks to settle charges that the utility’s coal ash ponds had polluted the state’s groundwater, newly released email exchanges among the regulators indicated on Thursday.

Duke officials and the state later settled the charges by proposing a fine and a requirement that Duke study the potential for further pollution before offering solutions. That agreement collapsed in February after [the Dan River coal ash spill.]

Federal prosecutors have since opened a criminal investigation into the spill and the relationship between Duke and the state’s environmental bureaucracy. Critics charge that environmental regulation has been hobbled by political interference since Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, a former mayor of Charlotte and a Duke Energy employee for 29 years, took office last year.

The scandal stems from a North Carolina judge ruling last week that Duke Energy had to take immediate action to eliminate the source of groundwater pollution at all of the company’s coal ash dumps.

The ruling, made by Wake County Judge Paul Ridgeway, stems from legal action taken by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) in 2012, according to Waterkeeper Alliance. 

The nonprofit advocacy organization asked the Environmental Management Commission to force Duke to take immediate corrective action when groundwater problems were discovered at the state’s 32 ash dumps.

Yet the commission ruled against the environmental group in December 2012, leading the law center to file an appeal. 

While delivering his decision, Ridgeway called out state regulators, saying they had failed to properly apply the law.

The ruling clarifies North Carolina’s authority under the North Carolina groundwater protection law to require Duke to stop the ponds from further contaminating groundwater, before it tackles the long term challenge of cleaning up the groundwater it has already polluted.

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Check out these three slideshows from the Duke Energy coal ash spill:

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Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

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Waterkeeper Alliance: Factory Farm Swine Operation Violates Clean Water Act

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The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a notice of intent on Friday to sue an industrial swine feeding operation in order to stop illegal discharges of swine waste into groundwater, wetlands and streams that flow to North Carolina’s Contentnea Creek and Neuse River watersheds.

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People living near the Stantonsburg Facility have tried unsuccessfully to get the company and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help them deal with toxic algae,, foul odors, fly swarms, swine waste discharges and impacts to their water wells since the facility began operations in the 1990s.

The groups will file suit under the federal Clean Water Act if action is not taken to stop the swine waste discharges and clean up the Stantonsburg Farm Swine Facility within 60 days.

The Stantonsburg facility has a long history of illegal discharges and waste management problems, including a major discharge of raw swine waste to a tributary of Contentnea Creek on March 15, 2013, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance. 

Wendell H. Murphy, Jr. owns and operates the factory swine farm, which confines more than 4,800 swine in Stantonsburg, NC for a Smithfield Foods subsidiary that was recently acquired by Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings.

People living near the Stantonsburg Facility have tried unsuccessfully to get the company and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) to help them deal with the odor, fly swarms, swine waste discharges and impacts to their water wells since the facility opened in the 1990s.

“Many of us grew up around here, and have deep connections to the land and waters. We caught crawdads, fished and swam in these waters and purchased land to maintain our connections to the area or have a place of our own that provided a good quality of life,” said Don Webb, a neighboring landowner who acquired property in the late 1980’s, which is adjacent to the swine facility.

“The smell, the flies and the pollution from this facility have destroyed our quality of life and causes constant stress. How would you feel if you couldn’t drink the water from your own well, go to church without the smell of hog waste permeating your clothing or even have a barbeque with friends on your own property?”

Swine waste contains pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants that can cause fish kills, endanger swimmers, promote blooms of toxic algae and contaminates drinking water when discharged into public waters. 

“Discharges of swine waste from the Stantonsburg facility are illegal under the Clean Water Act and have obvious impacts on neighboring landowners that should have merited immediate action from the NCDENR [North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources ],” said Larry Baldwin, CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Unfortunately, this is not a unique or isolated problem, but one we see across eastern NC. We will continue to document these discharges and take action to stop the most egregious violations, but NCDENR must start enforcing the Clean Water Act prohibitions on discharges of swine waste to NC waterways.” 

This is the second Clean Water Act enforcement notice that the groups have had to issue this year to stop swine waste discharges from an industrial swine facility in the Neuse watershed. 

There are approximately 500 industrial swine facilities housing roughly 1.8 million animals in the Neuse River watershed. NCDENR often claims that these animal feeding operations in the Neuse operate under state issued “no-discharge” permits, but also admits that swine waste is commonly and directly discharged to public waters from these operations through ditches—a violation of both state and federal law. 

Industrialized swine production facilities that discharge pollutants are required to obtain Clean Water Act permits to prevent these discharges, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 14 Clean Water Act permits have been issued to the roughly 1,200 facilities in North Carolina by the NCDENR.

These waterways drive the local economy in the region, however, the Neuse Estuary regularly experiences algal blooms, fish kills and depletion of oxygen necessary to sustain the fishery as a result of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.

The NCDENR acknowledges that its efforts to reduce pollution over the last two decades in the Neuse have failed to achieve “any significant decrease in actual nutrient loading to the estuary,” and that phosphorus pollution in these waterways has actually increased.

“The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation would like to work with the owners and operators of the Stantonsburg facility to address these serious issues and protect the community and Neuse watershed from illegal swine waste discharges,” said Jim Kellenberger, president of the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation.

“However, we must take action to address the mismanagement of swine waste and pollution discharges at this facility, and if the facility is unwilling to implement sound swine waste management practices, we will then be forced to file suit to enforce the law and protect the citizens of North Carolina.”

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In January, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of the Stilley swine feeding operation this week to stop illegal discharges of swine waste into groundwater, wetlands and streams that flow to the Trent River. Check out this slideshow for images of the Stilley Swine facility:

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Feb. 27, Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers called on the North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, to protect public and environmental health against the swine industry’s handling of the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in the state. Check out these graphic and disturbing images of the PED epidemic:

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Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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