pink washing: the deceptive marketing practice of promoting association with a cancer charity (often using pink ribbon symbol) in order to suggest a company's commitment to battling cancer, when according to independent scientific testing, a marketed product has potential to cause cancer.
Pink Washing Sparkletts' BPA Plastic Bottles
Sparkletts' water delivery trucks, previously known for their flashy sequins, have been pink washed. They are decorated with a big pink bow for breast cancer research and a large advertisement heralding a partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity.
Perhaps Sparkletts is promoting an alliance with a cancer charity as a public relations strategy to distract consumers from Sparkletts' more significant association with polycarbonate plastic bottles used to deliver the Sparkletts water. Sparkletts' bottles are made with a known hormone disrupter, Bishenol-A (BPA), that is suspected to cause breast cancer and prostate cancer, among other diseases. A recent study -- partially funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure -- even finds that BPA interferes with chemotherapy used to treat breast cancer.
Perhaps in the spirit of partnership with a bottled water company, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website includes a section entitled "Plastics," which reports:
Links between plastics and cancer are often reported by the media and in e-mail hoaxes (one e-mail hoax falsely claims to be a study from Johns Hopkins University). However, there is no scientific research to support a link between using plastic items, such as drinking water from a plastic bottle, and the risk of breast cancer.
The Sparkletts website specifically defends BPA and refers to the American Chemistry Council, chief lobbyist for BPA, for more information.
Link Between Cancer and BPA, a Synthetic Estrogen
BPA was originally synthesized in 1936 as an estrogen replacement therapy, but since the 1940s it has been used primarily as a hardening agent in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic. BPA can be found in plastic baby bottles, children's "sippy" cups, in the epoxy resin coating in the interior of modern metal food and aluminum soda cans, and in many other products, including the large polycarbonate water bottles Sparkletts and other water services deliver to homes and offices.
The link between excess estrogen and cancer has been long established in medical research. Hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women has become disfavored for this reason.
"We know a women's lifetime risk of breast cancer is directly linked to her lifetime exposure to estrogen -- both natural and synthetic estrogen. It's outrageous that manufacturers of some baby bottles are exposing little girls to BPA, a synthetic plasticizer that mimics estrogen, and possibly increasing that little girl's risk of breast cancer later in life, especially when safe alternatives are available," observes Janet Nudelman, Director, Program and Policy for the Breast Cancer Fund.
Because their reproductive organs are still developing, fetuses, infants, and children are especially vulnerable to the synthetic estrogen BPA. This means pregnant women and children should reduce exposure to BPA. Reproductive-aged women should also be wary of BPA. "From animal models, it appears that the period right after fertilization and before a woman even knows she's pregnant, is the most sensitive time in development," says Professor Randy Jirtle, Department of Radiation Oncology, Duke University Medical Center, "so if women are even thinking of becoming pregnant, they should consider limiting their exposure to BPA."
Dr. Frederick vom Saal reports "There are now clear molecular mechanisms that explain how bisphenol A alters human and animal cells at concentrations at and below one part per trillion. And that's over 1000 times below the levels that you virtually are certain to have in your body, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So if that doesn't get you a little nervous, nothing should."
BPA Exposure from Plastic Bottles
Despite the assurances to the contrary made by Sparkletts and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, there is indeed compelling scientific research linking plastic bottles to BPA exposure, and BPA exposure to breast cancer and many other diseases. Polycarbonate is made from BPA, and that small amounts of BPA can leach out of polycarbonate containers and plastic linings of cans into our food and drink. "Close to 100 percent of our exposure occurs this way," says Michael Selby of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
BPA has been under surveillance for years, but the charges against it grew in May 2009 when a U.S. study made a link between drinking water from polycarbonate bottles and BPA exposure. The report revealed that the average BPA level of those drinking from polycarbonate bottles was 69% higher than those drinking from stainless steel bottles.
U.S. Congress, FDA and EPA Target BPA
U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Edward Markey (D-Mass) recently proposed legislation to establish a federal ban on BPA in all food and beverage containers. "Americans should not be used as guinea pigs by chemical companies while we wait, potentially for several years, for more scientific evidence to show this chemical is harmful to our health. The time has come to take action," says Senator Feinstein.
Reversing its earlier position, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just admitted having "some concern" that BPA may cause developmental problems in the brains and hormonal systems of fetuses and children and is spending $30 million on BPA research to formulate its formal conclusions.
BPA has also attracted the attention of Lisa P. Jackson, President Obama's appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who recently announced historic plans to overhaul federal toxic chemicals controls, with more rigorous testing and safety standards and greater EPA authority to protect the public.
Pink Washing Smartwater's PET Plastic Bottles
DS Waters and Sparkletts are not alone is the pink-washing business. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is also accepting donations from Smartwater despite evidence that the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles used by Smartwater may be just as harmful as its harder cousin polycarbonate. Recently, scientists at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany discovered that chemicals in PET plastics have the potential to interfere with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, just as BPA and phthalates--already banned in the U.S. from infant products--do. Lead researcher Professor Martin Wagner says: "If you drink water from plastic bottles, you have a high probability of drinking estrogenic compounds." Overall, Professor Wagner says, levels of these compounds in the water were surprisingly high and "having done all of these experiments, I started drinking tap water."
Carcinogenic Chemicals from Contaminating Your Food and Water
1. Write to your U.S. Senator now. Through this easy link, email your U.S. Senator to voice support for the proposed federal ban on BPA in food and drink containers.
2. Donate to the Breast Cancer Fund.
3. Skip bottled water and use your own unlined stainless steel water bottles. Carefully choose a stainless steel water bottle, and make sure it's unlined -- some metal water bottles contain a plastic liner that may contain BPA.
4. Limit canned foods and beverages. The epoxy liners of metal food and beverage cans most likely contain BPA. Especially avoid canned foods that are acidic (e.g., tomatoes, citrus products, and acidic beverages, like colas) and canned alcoholic beverages, since acids and alcohols can exacerbate the leaching of BPA.
5. Skip the water cooler. Those hard plastic jugs that many companies use to provide their employees and customers with "pure" water are usually made with BPA. Drink filtered tap water instead.
6. Store foods in glass. Just be sure to wash the lids, if made of plastic, by hand and not in the dishwasher.
7. Use your own unlined stainless steel travel mug. Heat helps toxins from leach into your beverage. Instead of accepting a polystyrene "to-go" cup for your hot beverage purchases, use a unlined stainless steel travel mug.
8. Avoid Cooking in Non-Stick Pans and Eating Foods Packaged with Non-Stick Plastics. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are carcinogenic chemicals that make materials stain and stick resistant and persist in our bodies long after the packaging from such products like microwave popcorn or pizza is disposed or the non-stick pan is put away.
9. Minimize hard plastics in your kitchen. Hard plastic stirring spoons, pancake flippers, blenders, plastic cutting boards, measuring cups, and colanders regularly come into contact with both food and heat. Replace these items with wooden, metal, or glass alternatives.