Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I do Inhale!

I'm an asthmatic, have been for years. And so like many other asthmatics, I depend on inhalers to be able to function. Of course these inhalers are encased in hard plastic coverings. Apart from the possible negative medical aspects of putting plastics into the mouth - given that many nasty chemical compounds are used in its production - they are a real threat to wildlife too. Inhalers have been found in the stomachs of dead seabirds.

I use two different types of Inhalers, one is similar to the one in the photo above. In theory, when I go to my pharmacy for a repeat prescription, I should be able to just take off the plastic covering, hand in the metal container, which holds the actual compound and receive a new container, which I could then simply fit into the old plastic covering part. But no, neither the pharmacy or the manufacturers of these medicines, are able to do that. Instead every time I need a repeat - once a month - I can only receive the full package. This is madness and a total waste of resources. I have come to an agreement with my pharmacy now where they will at least take thee whole container off me. But I expect they simply dump it in their rubbish bin, or, incinerate it.

Why cannot the manufacturers just supply the inner metal container to the pharmacy? So all asthmatics could then continue to use the same outer case, but just receive a new metal inner case.

I wrote to the two companies who supply my inhalers. I still haven't heard from one of them (after 2 months), the second company did reply, but in typical, mumbo jumbo, non committal, business speak:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding recycling of the Turbohaler.

Whilst the environmental impact of our products is very important to AstraZeneca, patient safety must always come first. Our inhalers have been designed to ensure patient safety and the delivery of the correct dose of the medicine to the patient.

To protect the medicine and to make sure that it gets to the patient safely, our inhalers are manufactured using components with different properties. This means that different plastics are used to create a single inhaler. In addition, when all the doses in the inhaler have been used, there are always small amounts of medicine remaining inside, which should be disposed in accordance with local waste management regulations. These two factors make any re-cycling difficult.

We recommend that used inhalers are returned to a pharmacy where they can be disposed according to local laws. This usually results in the inhaler being disposed of as clinical waste.

We continue to work hard to improve the sustainability of our devices and packaging materials and are committed to reducing the amount of material and the range of different plastic materials used for our medicines.

As you know, the Responsibility section of our website provides detailed information about our approach to packaging and the environment and we report on our performance each year so that all interested parties can monitor our progress.

Thank you again for your interest.
Kind regards.

So, Ive written another letter to them, and am awaiting their response:

I was surprised to read your advice to me regarding the 'safe', disposal of the Inhaler. You suggest returning the used product to the pharmacy from where it was obtained, for incineration. Are you aware that incineration releases dioxins into the environment? Dioxins are known carcinogens and suspected reproductive and immunological toxicants.

That you use different plastics in the manufacture of these products also raises alarm bells. You may be aware that there is currently a lot of controversy regarding the chemicals used in plastics.

Would you be able to supply me with a breakdown of the exact types of plastics that are used in these inhalers? You surely must know what your products are composed of!

Numerous studies of one chemical used in plastics, Bisphenol A (BPA), which is leached from Polycarbonate, have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to this chemical: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioural changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs. Its use is currently being phased out by many leading companies in Britain, who use it in their products.

Similarly, PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. It leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticiser or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP and BBzP and other dangerous pthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999.

I could go on and list the potential and proven harmful effects of many other chemicals used in plastic manufacture.

I would therefore be very grateful if you could send me a breakdown as stated, of the chemical compositions of the plastics used in your products."

I'll keep you informed

Friday, 12 November 2010

Major producers to ditch BPA from packaging

Here is some excellent news at long last? As this report from the Independent reports, many mayor food companies are removing the chemical Bisphenol A from packaging, amid growing concern it is causing a wide range of human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer. See the film for more information on this dangerous chemical and how it's used in a wide variety of food packaging and elsewhere:

Some of the world's biggest food companies are removing the chemical Bisphenol A from packaging, amid growing concern it is causing a wide range of human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer.

Nestlé, the world's biggest food manufacturer, says its will stop putting Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) into US products within three years, while tinned giant Heinz is at "an advanced stage" in removing it from UK baby food, and is funding research by one of the chemical's leading critics. General Mills, the US giant behind the Green Giant tinned brand, has already ditched BPA from its Muir Glen tomato range, while Campbell Soups says it has done "hundreds" of tests exploring alternatives. Several other firms, such as Coca-Cola, have declined to disclose a timetable for its withdrawal, saying that BPA is safe.

BPA toughens the packaging of many tins, glass jars and plastic bottles, and the casings of electronics gadgets such as TVs, mobile phones and laptop computers.

Dozens of scientists say it is an endocrine disruptor that affects hormones and could be causing breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, brain retardation, impotence and infertility.
While the US says it has "some concern" about the chemical's potential effects on the brain, on behaviour and on the prostate glands of foetuses, babies and young children, the European Food Safety Agency recent reiterated its view that the substance does not pose a risk to the public.

In a survey for a new report, Seeking Safer Packaging, the US investment fund Green Century Capital Management surveyed 26 food companies for their policy on BPA. Half said they were committed to ending use of the substance, double the 23 per cent found last year.

Emily Stone, of Green Century Capital Management, said: "Companies are actually moving faster than regulators in phasing out BPA from food and beverage packaging." Some firms, such as Del Monte and Hain Celestial, have begun warning investors of a potential risk from tougher regulation of BPA use.

However it is possible that UK subsidiaries of some firms may take weaker action in Europe than in the US – where consumer awareness is much higher. While saying it was phasing out BPA in baby food, Nestlé told The Independent: "As a global food manufacturer and marketer, Nestlé takes into consideration local needs, cultural differences and consumer preferences as well as attitudes concerning the use of certain materials. This may well result in different solutions in various regions of the world..."

More than 20 US states have introduced legislation to restrict BPA use, Canada has listed it as a toxic chemical and several European countries have refused to accept the European Food Safety Agency's latest position, released on 30 September.

Scientists are divided. While many endocrinologists, experts in hormones, believe low doses of BPA can harm humans, general toxicologists say evidence from large industry-funded studies suggests this is not the case.

Henrik Høegh, food minister in Denmark, which has has banned BPA in products for children up to three years old, said: "Our ban is based on a study which, according to Danish experts, shows uncertainty about the effects of even small doses of Bisphenol A on the learning ability in young rats."

Where BPA is Used

* Tinned Food
BPA resin sprayed on the inside of tins prevents metal from contaminating food. The Independent found this year that BPA was present in 18 of the UK's best-selling tins, including Heinz baked beans, Princes sardines, right, and Napolina tomatoes.

* Drinks cans
Some fizzy drinks, including Coca-Cola, are lined with a BPA resin. Pepsi has not said if its cans are lined with BPA.

* Glass jars
Some glass jars have BPA in the lid. Campaigners want firms such as Nestlé and Heinz to remove BPA from their baby and toddler food ranges because of fears over its impact on babies.

* Electronics
BPA is in the casings of electronics products including CDs, and DVDs, phones, TVs, laptops, personal computers, printers, cameras, shavers, hairdryers, irons, food mixers, microwaves and kettles.

* Plastic bottles
BPA is found in polycarbonate bottles designed to carry water or baby milk. Several manufacturers such as Tommee Tippee have phased out BPA.

* Sports equipment
Sports helmets, ski goggles, binocular housings and golf and tennis equipment contain the chemical.

* Till receipts
BPA is used to make ink visible on thermal till receipts. Concern arises about shoppers handling the paper and then touching their mouths or food.

* Medical equipment
BPA is found in the casings of dialysis machines, dentists' operating lamps and blood sample reservoirs. It also toughens the lenses of spectacles.

Going BPA-free...

"Heinz remains committed to moving to alternatives. Our plastic Heinz Beanz Snap Pots and Heinz Beanz Fridge Pack contain no BPA. All Heinz plastic baby food and juice containers, as well as packaging for our snacks and cereals, are BPA-free.
"Our baby food cans also contain no BPA and we are already at an advanced stage of phasing out the minute amounts of BPA used in the lids of jarred baby foods to ensure seal integrity, even though the BPA is coated and does not come into direct contact with the food at any time.

"Heinz continues to advance research into alternative coatings in response to consumer opinion but safety remains our first priority before making any changes."

...and sticking with it

"The consensus repeatedly stated among regulatory agencies is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food and beverage packaging do not pose a health risk to the general population. BPA is found in the linings of our aluminium cans. Our bottled water and plastic soft drink containers are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, which does not contain BPA.

"While we are confident about the safety of our aluminium cans, we are always looking for ways to improve our packaging. We are working closely with several suppliers who are seeking alternatives. Any new material ... also would have to meet our safety, quality and functiona