Humans don't live in a vacuum. We encounter dozens of chemicals every day, and even though there's a ton of new research coming out about what those individual chemicals are doing to us, there's very little known about how those chemicals are interacting with each other—and what those combinations are doing to us.
A new study in the journal Environmental Health is hoping to break some ground with its research on chemical mixtures, and what the authors found is alarming.
They looked at three of the most common chemicals people are exposed to every day. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the most ubiquitous chemicals around, having been detected in the blood of 90 percent of Americans. Recently, though, in response to consumer demand for BPA-free products, BPA has been replaced by bisphenol S (BPS), a similar chemical that's turning out to be just as harmful as BPA. Nonylphenols are a class of surfactants, chemicals used in cleaners, pesticides, and other products to help active ingredients penetrate a surface, whether that's a tomato leaf or a stain on your favorite shirt. They're considered to be hormone disruptors, just as BPA and BPS are.
What Is a "Hormone Disruptor?"
The authors tested combinations of BPA, BPS, and nonylphenols on mouse cells to see what, exactly, all these multiple chemical exposures might be doing to us. They used the same doses of each chemical found in the average American. The combinations had an influence on cells the authors that the authors called much more “dramatic” than the influence of chemicals alone, triggering estrogenic responses that speed up cell growth and cell death, as well as interfering with cells' ability to manufacture other hormones.
They also found that, in some cases, lower doses of these chemical combos were more potent than higher doses, which is a finding the chemicals industry doesn't like to hear. The industry often argues that "the dose makes the poison," that is, that a low dose is much less harmful than a big dose. The same thinking is used by regulatory agencies to set "safe" levels of these chemicals in food and consumer products, which is why low levels of these chemicals exist in so many products.
EPA to Study Chemical Safety in a Way That Actually Matters
Though this study was conducted on mouse cells, it offers the first glimpse of what might be happening when all those chemicals mix together in our systems. "The increased presence of BPS in an environment already contaminated with BPA, nonylphenol, and a variety of other persistent environmental pollutants now requires increasing scrutiny of their potential hazards as chemical mixtures,” the authors write.
To take the first step in keeping these chemicals out of your system, follow some commonsense tips:
• Eliminate BPA by ditching canned food and by declining unnecessary receipts for your purchases. The chemical is used in canned-food linings and as a coating on thermal receipts like those you get from ATMs and gas-station pumps.
• Eliminate BPS by avoiding products advertised as "BPA-free." Stick with glass and stainless steel food containers, and avoid any rigid plastics. At one time BPA was used to make polycarbonate plastic, but now BPS is taking its place. BPS is also used in receipts.
• Avoid nonylphenols by eating an organic diet and making your own cleaning products.
Published on: March 25, 2013
Updated on: March 26, 2013