Why don’t they just ban it then?

Water: free, clean and safe - 'let's take back the tap'

One day last summer I was shopping in a camping shop. I find the product I want and go to pay. At the till I am offered a special deal – a half price product from a selected range of items which include a very attractive clear plastic drinks bottle. I express interest in it and the assistant hands it to me. You see, I’m interested in drinking bottles because I  replaced our refillable aluminium water bottles for lightweight stainless steel ones. Why did I do that?

Well, the previous bottles we used, the aluminium ones, are lined with a coating to ‘ensure a fresh, clean taste and no metallic aftertaste’. And the manufacturer of those bottles reassuringly say that the chemicals that make this coating are now ‘non toxic and fully compliant with all EU and FDA regulations.’  Although given the slow rate of legislation I wouldn’t be convinced that means they’re completely safe.

More importantly though the lining of the new bottles don’t contain the chemical BPA or Bisphenol-A. I’ve written about BPA before. It’s widely used in plastics that come into contact with food and is implicated in breast cancer and other diseases. Throughout Europe it is being banned for use in baby bottles, because of concern that the heating of the bottle makes the chemical more harmful. Amongst the campaigners I know there is a general concensus that the baby bottle ban is just the start, and that a total ban on BPA will follow. Continue reading

The alternative orthodoxy?

new normal

During the summer I was invited to take part in an event, a workshop… I’m not really quite sure what to call it. It’s described as a day to explore how a group of people can support each other as we walk the same path together. How are we connected? Well, we’ve all shared some sort of spiritual crisis that has caused us to look for support, and that’s what we have in common.

I was invited some months ago and I felt that given how isolating and lonely my ‘journey’ has been that this was something I wanted to explore. As I drive to the destination for the day I reflect on the years that have led to this. This ‘path’, although I hesitate to use words like journey and path, the analogy for something that might imply I had some choice in taking this ‘diversion’. The day after diagnosis back in February 2007 I’d fallen into a nightmare.

“I found out that a number of people refer to breast cancer as a journey. Well, yesterday certainly didn’t feel like that, it felt like a nightmare, but the sort of nightmare that would end eventually and I would emerge blinking and things would be ‘normal’ again. But I don’t think there will be normal again.”

I think, back then, that I will rejoin the main road, that this is a diversion… and I suppose I almost do, at times now, have a sense of being back on the main road. The essence of life I wrote about earlier in the summer as I finally – after four years – have a summer – greedy, wanting to ‘snatch’ it, keep it, knowing that it may be temporary. But to enjoy it. Now.

The evening before the event I talk to Ronnie and I wonder if I really want to go. I mean do I want to continue to go  to things that I would only have the opportunity to do because of breast cancer? Or do I want to leave it behind? Continue reading

What does October mean?

Extract from Being Sarah:

October is breast cancer awareness month. Yes I support awareness, of course I do. We are all familiar with that phrase, ‘Early detection saves lives’, much used to encourage us all to take some responsibility for our own health. That somehow it is up to us, that we can stop this spread of breast cancer. I’m starting to think that it’s not up to us, actually.

And in October breast cancer becomes fully pink. Maybe you see all this pink stuff, all these things you can buy and think it is a good thing. That the money that is raised goes to research, that somehow we’re just a break away from some major research that’s actually going to end this escalating statistic, the incidence of breast cancer, now increasing rapidly in younger women, women like me and even younger. It has a big mass appeal, almost sexy really in marketing terms, this pink charity stuff, it’s good business sense. Does it make me really believe that the businesses that ‘support’ breast cancer awareness month actually care about me? Am I being cynical to think it might just be good business sense? Continue reading

I want more

Nearly October. Autumn is here.

I was looking back through my recent blog posts and thinking that it actually looks like I’ve been having a good time lately. And yes, I suppose I have. But I recognise that they are good times. There’s plenty of other times when I’m worrying or being annoyed about the admin of sorting out medical appointments – yes, still. But on the whole, mostly, this summer has been good for me. And I’m glad.

And now it’s autumn. The evenings are noticeably shorter and cooler now, the curtains drawn before 8pm. The leaves are turning. And soon it will be October.

Ah, October. Breast cancer awareness month. You’d think I’d like that wouldn’t you? What with wanting us to eradicate breast cancer forever. Well, yes awareness is good. But awareness of what? That there are so many pink charities and pink events out there that if you contribute to one of them then you’re helping us, people like me. That we’re nearly there – winning the war on breast cancer. Well, actually, we’re not. Continue reading

Precautionary principle



We were out walking this weekend at the Mersey estuary at Hale. I love this place, a strange mixture of nature and industry. The Liverpool John Lennon airport is to our right, and as we walk we see the Shell refinery at Eastham, the chemical works at Rock Savage near Runcorn.

It’s nearly high tide and a few shelduck and curlews are at the water’s edge in the mud that is so important for wildlife here. I love the sound of the water lapping. I love the strangeness of this place, the remote-ness. The fluffy seedheads of the marsh grass which look so good in the winter. I love the way Easy Jet, KLM and Ryan Air planes appear seemingly only feet above us. And the occasional sound of the reverse thrust as the planes land.

The RSPB Liverpool website says that the River Mersey is now at its cleanest since the industrial revolution. Oxygen levels are now 60%, a level of 30% being enough for fish to survive. This is due to a clean up campaign started in the 1980s and now this is an internationally important estuary for several bird species, including widgeon. More fish equals more birds.
Seems strange that it is so industrial yet it is safe for wildlife. Is the balance right here? I think about the environment now so much, air and water and chemicals. I can’t help not.

Last month The Independent reported that major producers are stopping using the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) from packaging. At that time reports were showing that the chemical contributes to human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer. Since then the European Commission have voted to put a ban on the use of BPA in the use of plastic baby bottles by June 2011. This news was welcomed, and when I was in Brussels just after this, it was being seen as an important step, the beginning of other chemicals being banned. 

So what’s wrong with Bisphenol A? Well, it’s an endocrine disruptor. That means it disturbs our hormone balances, and can therefore influence cancer risk, especially hormonal cancers, like some breast cancers. It behaves like oestrogen, so is called an oestrogen mimic, and disrupts the natural balance of our hormones. Studies with rats show that low doses of BPA in even brief exposures during gestation or around the time of birth lead to changes in mammary tissue predictive of later tumour development, that means breast cancer. It’s unstable, and can leach into infant formula and other food products, especially when heated.

And it’s not just in baby bottles either. It is widely used to coat metals and also to toughen plastics. So it’s found on the inside of tins of food and drinks and also inside lids of glass jars. It’s also used in the casings of electrical goods like hairdryers and cameras, as well as kitchen appliances and also sport equipment. It’s used in medical equipment too, like dentist’s lamps and also on the coatings of spectacle lenses. And it’s also used to make ink visible on thermal till receipts, which consumers handle and sometimes put in our mouths. BPA is actually readily absorbed by the skin, so even touching it could be potentially hazardous. So, in fact, it’s pretty much everywhere, and we’re all exposed to it probably continuously at low doses.

So, when I think about the baby bottle ban I think that yes, it is a start. But how long does it take before this kind of ban is wider, where everyone, not just babies, are protected? When does there have to be enough evidence, enough people with cancer, or other illnesses, for us to start looking at this with some urgency? A short film by Breast Cancer UK states that there are 80,000 synthetic chemicals in our environment, and 500 of them are known to be hormone disruptors.

Of course there are sceptics who say there is no ‘convincing evidence’. So just how convincing does convincing have to be? Because in the law of the European Union the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement. So that means:

… a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof [or] evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations.

It would be extremely selfish to leave a future that contains high levels of illness and cancer. Especially when we have the information now to start reversing the statistics.

So here in Europe, on the issue of Bisphenol A, we are apparently doing better than the USA. In the US Senate last minute lobbying by the chemical industries stopped BPA being banned despite widespread report in both major parties. In October Canada became the first country to list  BPA as a toxic substance.

And, why am I not surprised to read this – the BBC News Europe story ends with the statement that in Canada the ban on BPA was ‘strongly opposed by the chemical industry’.

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