New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is very worried about what is in his urine, and he wants you to be too.
In his latest piece, Kristof explains that he is very fastidious about avoiding contamination from endocrine-disrupting chemicals—that is, man-made substances that supposedly mimic the hormonal effects of estrogen and testosterone. Such substances, he tells us, are "blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip." He is particularly anxious about avoiding bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in hard plastics, in the coatings of food and drink packages, and on the thermal paper used in some ATM and cash register receipts.
Well, now he's had a new urine test, and he's eager to tell us the results. Living as he does a BPA-free lifestyle, he's happy to report that he had a low level of BPA. Alas, the test also found "high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF."
In fact, Kristof reports that his Detox Me lab results from the Silent Spring Institute found that he tested "high" for four different endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including 1,4-dichlorobenzene, the effective ingredient in mothballs.* Exposure to that chemical is detected by measuring how much of its metabolite, DCP, is in your urine. A recent cohort study found that 81 percent of the U.S. population has DCP in its pee; in its biomonitoring summary, the Centers for Disease Control report that DCP averages about 5 parts per million in the urine of American adults. Kristof does not say whether his DCP level is higher than average. In any case, the Centers for Disease Control note that merely testing positive for DCP does not necessarily mean "an adverse health effect" is on the way.
On the same day that Kristof published his column, the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) released the preliminary results from a long-term study being conducted at its National Center for Toxicological Research. Their research looks at the effects of several different doses of BPA, evaluating chronic and early-life exposure in two different groups of rodents. "The doses ranged from low doses that would be comparable to typical human exposures, to doses that vastly exceed human exposures," according to the FDA statement. "A variety of endpoints were evaluated including growth, weight and tumor development. Overall, the study found 'minimal effects' for the BPA-dosed groups of rodents." The agency added, "Our initial review supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers." It similarly reaffirmed its earlier evaluation of some 300 scientific studies, which concluded that BPA is safe for consumers.
Meanwhile, even the chemophobes at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange acknowledge that BPF's potency is "in the same order of magnitude and of similar action as BPA." In addition, a new study** finds that BPF does not function as an endocrine disruptor. And what about Kristof's concern over hypospadias and undescended testicles? A 2010 review reported that "the bulk of evidence refutes claims for an increase in hypospadias rates." More recently, a population-based study in Nova Scotia found no increase in hypospadias or undescended testicles between 1988 and 2013. It's always fun to see some alarmism debunked the same day it's prominently promoted in The New York Times.
*For what it's worth, I am highly allergic to mothballs.
**Grain of salt: The study was supported by Valspar Packaging.