Photo: Adobe Stock

Now for a tale of corporate greed, federal regulators who run for cover, and a new threat to public health called “endocrine disrupters.” Just what are endocrine disrupters? What have they to do with us, with our daily lives, even with something as basic as our plastic water bottles?

This weekend, volunteers for the annual festival of the Hallockville Museum Farm were instructed to bring their own refillable water bottles, with several, on-site, water-refill stations provided, all in an effort to “go green” this year, and to keep plastic “out of the oceans.”

Also, this past week, San Francisco Airport has banned at their terminals all sales of water bottled in plastic — no more sales there of 10,000 water bottles per day. They will soon also ban sales of all beverages bottled in plastic. Reducing plastic in the environment is their reason. But is there another justification stirring in the shadows?

The National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, a D.C.-based, consumer safety group, has repeatedly pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test products for “inert ingredients” that contain endocrine disrupters. The EPA has ignored every plea and inquiry.

So let’s take a look at endocrine disrupters, and what they do. In a nutshell, they are chemicals that leach from various plastics into what we consume, interfering with appetite, for example, causing the body easily to gain weight. To appreciate this emerging science about endocrine disrupters, we have to take a step back and refresh our understanding about hormones in the body.

Hormones flow mostly from our different glands. Hormones are like chemical signals, and they control just about every process that happens inside us. They regulate energy levels, sleep cycles, mood, appetite, metabolism and more.

All of these different hormones are beautifully, naturally managed in the body by something in the nature of a hormone computer, called our endocrine system. The evil of endocrine disrupters is how they literally hack into the endocrine system. Endocrine disrupters actually disguise themselves as hormones. And once they hack in, these hormone imposters send out bad signals. At that point, endocrine disrupters block the good hormone signals so that the body stops receiving them.

Endocrine disrupters, with their chemical disguise, get fast to work, as all hackers do, hitting us with clouded thinking, feeling hungrier, pounding our energy levels, slowing metabolism and even attacking joints.

From sources such as the coalition, and the National Resources Defense Council website, and the Tellmewhyfacts website, we learn that endocrine disrupters, in their role as toxic hormone imposters, can be found in countless household and agricultural items: many foods, carpets, furniture, cosmetics, clothes, pesticides — even store receipts. For purposes of this column, let’s consider the plastics in our lives, and particularly water bottles.

If these endocrine disrupters are so harmful, then why are they allowed – why is their use so widespread? That is the question that has been posed to the EPA, and that is the question the EPA refuses to answer.

The National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides has issued a research report (read it here) on a number of toxic, “inert” ingredients such as those found in pesticides and plastic water bottles. Yet the EPA refuses to regulate them, or require that they even be listed as an ingredient in the labels on containers of pesticides, or in water bottles. In fact, the coalition’s marketing and public education manager, Barbara Dale, reports that the EPA has inexplicably halted all research into these and many other harmful, inert ingredients, contrary to long-standing congressional mandates for such research.

Until now, we have been assured both by chemical and plastic industry experts, and most independent scientists, that plastic water bottles are intended for liquids at room temperature. They acknowledge the health risk in placing hot liquids in them, or placing them with liquid in a freezer. Since a plastic bottle is intended to store water, then only store water in it.

We have further assurance from the plastic bottle manufacturers and water companies that the harmful type of plastic used for water bottles — known as BPA — unexpectedly turned out to have harmful leaching properties. But not to worry, as BPA was discontinued in plastics about 10 years ago. Now, they insist, the new, cutting-edge plastic ingredient, polyethylene terepthalate (PET), has solved all these leaching problems. It is the universally accepted plastic ingredient for bottled water, soda, tea, juice, etc.

Interesting, is it not, how the industry profited enormously with sales of the old-formula, BPA plastic bottles? And we were assured by a host of academic and other private researchers about the safety of BPA-based plastic. When evidence of the health risks of BPA plastic trickled out, they changed to the “safe” plastic ingredient of PET. Are we to be confident that they have it right with PET?

Definitely not, per another research article published not long after the widespread use of PET plastic in water bottles started. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, under the authority of the National Institutes of Health (see article), harmful levels of endocrine disrupters were discovered in mineral water bottled in the highly regarded PET. These endocrine disrupters had the effects of estrogen and other hormone imposters.

While that involved mineral water, research has stopped altogether on the endocrine disrupter-content in regular water bottled in plastic. And the U.S. EPA continues a resounding silence even when pressed to require something as simple as a warning label.

Let’s not overlook some compelling questions about long-accepted risks with this plastic bottle craze in our culture. If it is known that bottled water, subjected to high temperatures, renders the water unfit to drink, what hot temperatures envelope bottled water during shipment? How long do cartons of bottled water sit in parked delivery trucks or on sun-drenched, off-loading platforms, waiting to be wheeled into stores?

The ancient Romans, then the world’s most advanced civilization, not unlike the plastic bottled water industry, boasted the proud achievement of their underground distribution of water from well sites to homes and public fountains. Little did they know of the devastating health impact of lead and other metals that leached from their carefully engineered pipes and cooking ware into the public water supply and prepared foods (see Jerome Niragu, 1983 New England Journal of Medicine). Lead poisoning went undetected for generations, but the health effects were widespread, and arguably brought down an empire.

This Roman tragedy foreshadowed the current misery of the lead-poisoned drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan, where contaminated drinking water was confidently seen as impossible.

Have we reached the time to avoid plastic water bottles altogether? Have the San Francisco Airport and the Hallockville Museum Farm got the right idea for only part of the reason? And does the suspiciously unresponsive Environmental Protection Administration share too cozy a relationship with the plastics industry, as it has in past administrations?

Maybe the time is now to boycott not only water, but also any other beverage that sits in plastic bottles for unknown lengths of time and extremes of conditions before we open each one to drink. Recall the evil of the on-going scourge of opioids, so profitable for big pharma, at the peril of millions, while the Food and Drug Administration, by design or by neglect, failed us. Common sense points to the plastics and chemical industry cabal that profits from their widely used products with harmful substances that leach into so much of what we oblivious, trusting consumers drink every day.

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Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg