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Hormone-disrupting chemical found in bottled water

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Researchers found most water bottles contained chemicals that seeped into water.

Bottled water is popular among health-conscience consumers who prefer beverages without a lot of additives, including sugar and other artificial ingredients. However, in a new study published in PLOS ONE, researchers now report they’ve found an endocrine-disrupting chemical in commercialized bottled water.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are man-made compounds that are commonly used in plastic products. Unfortunately, researchers have found that EDCs interfere with hormone levels, especially as it pertains to the reproductive cycle.

While there are numerous types of EDCs used in plastic products to store food and water, a specific EDC, known as Bisphenol A (BPA), was recently discovered in the plastic used to make baby bottles.

Accordingly, researchers launched this latest study to find out if EDCs were leaking into commercialized bottled water – and, if so, what type of EDCs were they?

For the study, the researchers reviewed data from previous studies. They also reviewed 18 bottled water products to see if they could find any evidence of EDCs that block estrogen activity (antiestrogenic), including activity that would prevent any biological effects (antiandrogenic).

As a result, the sample analysis found that 13 bottles of water showed evidence of having EDCs that blocked estrogen activity (antiestrogenic), and16 bottles demonstrated activity that would prevent any biological effects (antiandrogenic).

Additional research using mass spectrometric simulations made it possible for the researchers to uncover the chemical, di(2- ethylhexyl) fumarate (DEHF), which was present in the water. But, the researchers say, this chemical only demonstrates antiandrogenic activity; thus, there may be another type of EDC in the water that is yet to be discovered.

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"We have shown that antiestrogens and antiandrogens are present in the majority of bottled water products,” the study authors reported.

“To identify the causative chemical, we applied a novel correlation approach to integrate biological and high-resolution mass spectrometry data. Structural elucidation led to dioctyl maleate/fumarate isomers as promising candidates,” they added.

"While chemical analysis confirmed that DEHF is the putative steroid receptor antagonist, this compound was weakly antiestrogenic in the bioassays, only," the study authors said. "We conclude that we have either missed active compound(s) or that another, untested maleate/fumarate isomer causes the antagonistic activity in bottled water."

The research team also noted that it is more likely that there is a missed active compound in the water because evidence that supports this exists. For DEHF, other isomers were antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic.

"Moreover, maleates are structurally highly similar to phthalate plasticizers, well-known antiandrogens," the researchers said. "Therefore, we pose the hypothesis that dialkyl maleates and fumarates might represent a novel group of steroid receptor antagonists. This illustrates that in spite of the potentially relevant exposure and obvious resemblance to other EDCs, such chemicals have been so far disregarded by the scientific and regulatory community."

However, the researchers caution that there has yet to be any strong evidence to suggest that DEHF is harmful to people, and that further research is necessary to determine if the compound should be banned in plastics used to contain certain foods.

Still, they say they hope the findings of their study will emphasize the potential effect of EDCs in food, beverages and consumer products.

SOURCE: PLOS ONE, Identification of Putative Steroid Receptor Antagonists in Bottled Water: Combining Bioassays and High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry, Martin Wagner, Michael P. Schlüsener, Thomas A. Ternes, Jörg Oehlmann (September 10, 2013).