Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Dangerous" chemical found in three leading brands of bottled water

This is just the old Greenie pthalate scare again. Too bad that it has been thoroughly debunked. Greenies work on emotion, not reason. See a previous post here on January 16, 2008

Chemicals linked to genital abnormalities in babies have been found in three of Britain's leading bottled water brands. Scientists tested the 10 best-selling types of mineral water that use plastic seals inside aluminium caps on glass bottles. Six were revealed to contain PVC and of those, three - Highland Spring, Hildon and Strathmore - had leached chemicals in PVC known as phthalates into the water.

Phthalates, which are used to soften plastics to make them bendy, have been banned in the EU for toys that children can put in their mouths. Studies have shown a strong correlation between mothers exposed to high levels of phthalates during pregnancy and genital abnormalities known as hypospadias in young boys.

However, there is no legislation in Britain banning the use of phthalates in food or drink packaging. In America the Toy Manufacturers Association has voluntarily stopped the use of phthalates in toys for children under three.

David Santillo, senior scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratory [Is that a joke?], said: 'On its own you are not going to get a serious dose from bottled water but it is part of the drip, drip of exposure. 'The fact that it can be detected in water at all is remarkable and suggests that very high levels of phthalates are being used in the caps.'

A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said the levels of phthalates found did not exceed EU safety levels. Brands such as San Pellegrino and Evian do not use PVC in packaging.

A Highland Spring spokesperson said water quality was the company's top priority and all their water was 'perfectly safe to drink'. The company said the caps tested were manufactured under the previous industry standard, but it no longer used PVC.

'Phthalates occur naturally in the environment and are commonly found in food and drink products, household items, medical devices and tap water,' the spokesperson said. 'Trace elements were found in Highland Spring but the miniscule 0.005 mg/l sample was 99.7 per cent lower than the EU safe limit of 1.5 mg/l.'


Not all television is bad for children, study finds

TELEVISION can be good for kids. Even crime-filled shows such as The Sopranos might help some children perform better in the classroom. But not all TV shows are created equal and not all will be good for all children. Some once considered suitable viewing for youngsters might actually not be as helpful as others. A study from the University of Chicago is overturning some common beliefs about the way children learn and the effects of popular culture on learning.

In some ways the study has generated more questions than answers but it does provide some evidence that the way children interact with technology such as computer games and TV shows differs according to their family backgrounds. The complicated, sometimes almost contradictory results, show one thing clearly - TV is not all bad.

Parents trying to teach children to read can still use methods such as flash cards and alphabet books. But they may also want to consider what sort of TV shows might benefit their child. Children from disadvantaged homes, in particular, can gain improvements in their language skills when exposed to the right kind of TV.

Even as it babysits electronically, the TV can be teaching both modes of learning and facts, other studies suggest, and keeping those who watch it from engaging in more destructive behaviours. "We find strong evidence against the view that childhood television viewing harms the cognitive or educational development of preschoolers," write Jesse Shapiro and Matthew Gentzkow in the paper, published this year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

That's the good news about the tube. There's certainly bad, including the warning that "there's no two-dimensional screen that can equal a three-dimensional caregiver," said Dr Donald Shifrin, the American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman on the impact of media on children.

Some previous studies have suggested that children who watch more TV do less reading. But researchers now think some children learn their language skills from listening and watching rather than just reading and that those children can benefit from television. "I used to laugh and say, 'I did 25 years of research on children in television, and I can summarise it in one sentence: It's the content that matters," says Aletha Huston, a professor of child development at the University of Texas. "If used correctly, television can be a wonderful medium for kids. It can be a way of exposing them to the world. It can be a resource for kids to get to places and times they wouldn't get to," Huston says.

Yet, "it is a message that doesn't get out there somehow," she says, citing the surprisingly intense interest when "we published a study a few years ago showing the positive effects of Sesame Street on early schoolkids' performance." Sesame Street might seem like an obvious nomination as a potentially educational tool. But other shows nominated aren't likely to be the first thing an anxious parent might think of.

One of the key factors to consider is whether a show provides a simple, single-strand storyline or whether it address multiple themes, with overlapping relationship between characters. The more complex, the better. Although the experts do caution that material should be age-appropriate, they specifically name The Sopranos (for older children) and the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants as examples of shows that provide the sort of multi-dimensional structure to look for.

There is even another, highly controversial, school of thought that says watching bad stuff is better than doing bad stuff. Psychological research shows, for example, that violence in media increases aggression. But "violent crime decreases on days with larger theatre audiences for violent movies", another recent study of media effects found. The implication: However aggressive you may feel, you can't do the crime if you don't have the time.

Violent movies aren't the same as children's afternoon television shows. But Shapiro and Gentzkow also found that much of the impact of the medium they were studying seemed to be related to what activities it might be replacing. In their findings, even after controlling for parental income and education levels, TV's "effects are more positive for children from less advantaged families or from families where English isn't the first language", Shapiro says.

Another new study, presented as the popular book Everything Bad Is Good for You by Steven Berlin Johnson, contends that TV now is much better, "more complex and nuanced" than before. "The most debased forms of mass diversion - video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms - turn out to be nutritional after all," Johnson writes, largely because the storytelling and complexity of action demands much more from the viewer.

He's looking at adult TV, comparing the intricate The Sopranos to the simple Starsky & Hutch, for instance, but the argument can also be made for children's television, where the straight-ahead action-hero cartoon story has been replaced by the subtle social interactions and multiple layers of meaning as in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Shapiro's Chicago study came out of the Graduate School of Business, where economists have been looking at media and its effects. Although based on old data, it offers new confirmation of the evolving views of television. The data used came from a 1965 study still considered the best indicator about how the introduction of TV affected the classroom performance of children who watched it. Standardised testing of almost 350,000 Year 6, 9 and 12 students showed the students who had more exposure to television in early childhood did slightly better on the tests than those with less exposure.

It's an open question as to how today's different television would affect the data, says Shapiro, an assistant professor of economics at the business school. But even with more recent data, another University of Chicago economist reached a similar conclusion to that of Shapiro and Gentzkow. "Despite the conventional wisdom, watching television apparently does not turn a child's brain to mush," wrote Steven Levitt, with co-author Stephen Dubner, in the 2005 hit book Freakonomics.

They looked at a huge early childhood study by the US Department of Education in the 1990s and found "no correlation", they wrote, "between a child's test scores and the amount of television he watches".

One of the big questions for economists is not just examining an activity in isolation but considering what activity it replaces. Patricia Greenfield has looked at more contemporary data, too, and concluded television is a mixed educational blessing. It's likely responsible for a rise in verbal IQ scores. But most countries base school language tests on literary vocabulary rather than verbal ability, perhaps accounting for a perception that children's language skills are in decline.

"The real strength of television in teaching vocabulary is the visual context for teaching definitions," says Greenfield, director of the Children's Digital Media Center at UCLA and California State University in Los Angeles. Her 1998 paper, "The Cultural Evolution of IQ", also makes the case for television helping to teach "visual intelligence", the reading of signs, symbols, images so vital in today's culture.

With television and DVDs being used widely in schools and by parents, her reading is that anti-TV forces may actually be "in decline", to the point that "I'm a little bit more concerned about people not understanding the costs, only looking at the benefits".


No comments: