04 May, 2005

Nalgene, your carcinogenic friend

Since the LA Times story doesn't want to name names, allow me to do the honors in an eminently Googleable way: Nalgene causes cancer.

That's right, health nuts: Your crisp, clear, trendy bottle, the same one piled shoulder-high at REI and EMS, is made of bisphenol A, which has been conclusively linked to precancerous mutations in mice.

I know, you're not a mouse. But read on:
Medical experts estimate that nearly 2 million women each year in the United States and Europe who take birth control pills become pregnant, primarily because of missed doses. They often do not know they are pregnant for several weeks and pass the chemicals to their fetuses by continuing to take the pills. The dose in oral contraceptives is typically four to five times higher than the dose that harmed the mice in the experiment, according to the study, published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Small amounts of estrogenic chemicals could permanently disrupt cellular control systems and predispose the prostate to disease in adulthood," said the study authors, led by Barry G. Timms, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of South Dakota who specializes in prostate biology.

Patricia Hunt, a professor at the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University who was not involved in the study, said Monday that the new findings added to growing evidence that exposure before birth to bisphenol A and other estrogen mimics might cause cancers in reproductive tissues and organs.

"What's remarkable here is that they are seeing it at such low doses," she said. "It has the potential to explain why we have this increase in incidences of both cancers — breast and prostate."

Hunt's earlier research found that exposing lab animals to low levels of bisphenol A could lead to a condition that is the leading cause of miscarriages.

Since birth control pills and bisphenol A have been in use for only a few decades, prenatal exposure cannot explain cancers in men over 65 — the most common age for prostate cancer — but it may play a role in the increased disease rate among younger men. Also, exposure during childhood and adolescence could trigger disease, Hunt said.
This study was conducted in part by the University of Missouri at Columbia, which has a special section devoted to estrogen imitators. If you like scientific journal articles, you might check out the story by Frederick S. vom Saal from that program. He wrote, "DISRUPTION OF LABORATORY EXPERIMENTS DUE TO LEACHING OF BISPHENOL A FROM POLYCARBONATE CAGES AND BOTTLES AND UNCONTROLLED VARIABILITY IN COMPONENTS OF ANIMAL FEED." The short of it is that the lab had a problem. Their experiments were suddenly all over the place -- the control group was getting all sorts of unexpected cancer. They tried to figure out why and eventually narrowed it down to one change in the lab environment: a new cleaning person. This person apparently scrubbed the cages and water bowls, something that hadn't been done before. The cages were made of polycarbonate.

I asked vom Saal what advice he'd give. He said that wasn't really his job, but that at the very least, people should be wary of scuffed or cloudy polycarbonate plastic. That it's probably fine when it's new, as it's very stable, but that there are problems as it ages.

Thanks, Fred. Despite its ridiculous name, I think I'll stick with my Kleen Kanteen.

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