R-HEAL-LY? A quick look at HEALs most recent endocrine report

Last week NGO HEAL, the Health and Environment Alliance, published a report on health costs related to endocrine disruptors (EDs) – subsequently picked up by Le Monde. According to HEAL, exposure to EDs costs the European Union up to 31 billion euros per year. The basic premise behind its outlandish claims is that, based on a list of diseases and conditions “that expert scientists involved in EDC research have identified as ‘endocrine-related’”, “a proportion of the costs … can be attributed to exposure to EDs”.

Now for our regular readers, this study may ring a bell (or two); nevertheless, let’s refresh ourselves. In January, Health Affairs published a similar study which noted that health care spending in the US surged more than eightfold since the 1960s and speculated that much of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of synthetic chemicals, including Bisphenol A. This study, and subsequent coverage, (1) focused on simple economic analysis based on unverified assumptions about health consequences and (2) assumed untested alternatives pose no health risks.

Looking at HEAL’s new report today, similarities can be identified. The report is purely speculative – it does not provide any new data and its analysis is based on incorrect assumptions based on old data. Quoting the World Health Organization, the report reads “that the environmental burden of disease from chemicals

If You Can Draw It, You Can Make It

It was not so long ago that the novelty of watching a 3D movie seemed out of this world; nowadays, however, the thought of transitioning 3D images from imagination to reality no longer seems so implausible.

How is that possible? Meet 3D printing technology: a very clever robot that can make three-dimensional objects from 3D renditions or other electronic data source simply by layering material according to certain computer commands (watch this for video demonstration).

Everywhere you see 3D 3D printingprinting you’re bound to be ‘wow’-ed as there are so many impressive things it can create. From building tiny components for gadgets to colossal structures and designs in the industry world, and all the way to human tissues in future, 3D printing is becoming a part of our lives. Just to give you an idea of how cool 3D printing can be, let’s just say that selfies are so 2013…now you can make your own bobble-head and figurine for your wedding cake!

In order to make these incredibly exciting objects, the 3D printer needs to be fed with very specific plastics  …and this is where BPA gets involved. As an essential ingredient in the manufacturing of polycarbonate, BPA enables the material to become temperature and shock resistant, clear, and able to endure bending and moulding – these proved for example particularly important qualities for the recently printed polycarbonate fuel tank simulators used for satellit…

Polycarbonates, helping people see a brighter future

Though a lot of people these days wear eyeglasses as a fashion statement (we’re talking to all you hipsters out there), about 150 million people worldwide suffer from poor vision. These people could easily be helped with an ordinary pair of glasses; however, many lack access to an optician and also the money to buy them.

Enter stage left: OneDollarGlasses.

Set up in 2009, OneDollarGlasses is a non-profit organisation which aims to provide “high quality spectacles that even the poorest can afford” in developing countries. Given the high costs associated with glass lenses, which require electrical power and water to grind and polish before assembly, the material of choice to meet the project’s chosen standards became prefabricated polycarbonate lenses.

The decision to go with polycarbonate, of which BPA is an indispensable component, was made due to the unique qualities of polymers; they have greater tensile strength than glass or resin commonly used. These lenses are also cheaper to make, very light and more easily clipped into OneDollarGlasses frames – the frames are made of stainless steel spring wire, which is non-irritant, extremely lightweight, and, most importantly, can be made quickly without the need for electrical power.

At the moment, OneDollarGlasses has thirty-odd opticians operating across the world, ranging from Brazil to Burkina Faso to Rwanda. With about 150 million peopl…

Does Europe ‘Twist and Shout’ to fit its political agenda?

EurActiv published an interesting article earlier this week in which EU Chief Scientific Adviser Anne Glover (@EU_ScienceChief) detailed her views on the way Europe undertakes impact assessments. Prof. Glover, a trained biologist who holds a chair in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen, presented a number of interesting points and raised the need to disentangle the Commission’s evidence gathering processes from the ‘political imperative’ behind them.

eLet’s imagine a Commissioner over the weekend thinks, ‘Let’s ban the use of credit cards in the EU because credit cards lead to personal debt’. So that Commissioner will come in on Monday morning and say to his or her Director General, ‘Find me the evidence that demonstrates that this is the case.’” The Commissioner’s staff might resist the idea but in the end, she says, “they will do exactly what they’re asked” and “find the evidence” to show that credit card use leads to personal debt, even though this may not be the case in reality. “So you can see where this is going,” Prof. Glover said. “You’re building up an evidence base which is not really the best.”

Prof. Glover notes that the Commission often outsources evidence-gathering to external organisations, which provide ‘impact assessment studies’ or ‘research’ that are often branded as ‘independent’. However, she adds …

A Consumer’s Guide on Why You Should Be Wary of Headlines

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington DC, recently published an interesting paper: ‘A Consumer’s Guide to Chemical Risk: Deciphering the “Science” Behind Chemical Scares’. Though the name gives it away, the guide looked at news headlines linking synthetic chemicals like Bisphenol A to public health issues with the intent of “reduc[ing] both the confusion and fears” generated by “scary headlines.

If you have the time, it’s a good read – given the guide is about 70 pages long, however, we figured a helpful overview of the conclusions reached by the author would be useful:

  • Despite what headlines may suggest, not all tests are relevant to assessing human health risks. A good example is the recent study conducted by the Institute of Functional Genomics of Lyon linking BPA to the ERR-y receptor – all conclusions reached were based on zebra fish, which have no relevance when it comes to human health!
  • Many substances that are helpful or benign at low levels can have adverse health effects at high levels. Accordingly, if the study involved high exposure levels (like the 2013 University of Kansas study linking BPA to migraine) consumers should question its scientific value with regards to exposure through consumer products.
  • Good researchers strive for rigorous science, while others add “spin” to weak and meaningless “