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Chemicals in my food

Teacher Professional Development presented by LENScience in conjunction with the Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury


The last 100 years has seen the development of a vast array of new chemicals that have changed the world around us – the paints for our cars, the plastics to pack our food in, the red dyes on the MacDonald’s fries packet, the batteries for our cell phones, the yellow dyes we give our hens to make sure they lay yellow-yoked eggs, and so on, and so on.The problem is that every day we are all exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of different chemicals from the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. The question is what are all these chemicals doing to us and should we be worried?

This professional development seminar will:

  1. introduce teachers to the science behind environmental pollutants
  2. discuss implications
  3. outline the potential to use this context in teaching
  4. present resources to support the use of this context in Year 7-10 Science

Presenters: Professor Ian Shaw | Jacquie Bay

Audience: Year 7 -10 Science teachers

Curriculum links: New Zealand Curriculum Science Level 3-5

  1. Nature of Science: Understanding About Science; Participating and Contributing
  2. Material World: Chemistry and Society
  3. Living World: Ecology
Chemicals in Our Food
Learning in Context Environmental Toxins - A Resource for New Zealand Schools (1.2 MB, PDF)

How does this relate to what I am teaching

Big Idea

 Teaching Ideas

  • interdependence of organisms in food webs
  • accumulation of chemicals up food chains
 Chemical structure affects function
  • chemical structures
  • chemicals with similar structures can act the same way
 Hormones act as chemical messengers
  •  role of naturally produced hormones

Learning resources

Background Research Papers

Thomson, B. M., Cressey, P. J., & Shaw, I. C. (2003). Dietary exposure to xenoestrogens in New Zealand. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 5(2), 229-235.

McLachlan, J. A., & Arnold, S. F. (1996). Environmental Estrogens. American Scientist, 84(5), 452.

Diamanti-Kandarakis, E., Bourguignon, J. P., Giudice, L. C., Hauser, R., Prins, G. S., Soto, A. M., et al. (2009). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocrine Review, 30(4), 293-342.

Vandenberg, L. N., Maffini, M. V., Sonnenschein, C., Rubin, B. S., & Soto, A. M. (2009). Bisphenol-A and the great divide: a review of controversies in the field of endocrine disruption. Endocrine Review, 30(1), 75-95.

Hotchkiss, A. K., Rider, C. V., Blystone, C. R., Wilson, V. S., Hartig, P. C., Ankley, G. T., et al. (2008). Fifteen Years after “Wingspread”—Environmental Endocrine Disrupters and Human and Wildlife Health: Where We are Today and Where We Need to Go. Toxicological Sciences, 105(2), 235-259.

Useful Web Links

Endocrine disrupters

Behavioral effects of Xenoestrogens from SciTopics

Bringing Cancer to the Dinner Table: Breast Cancer Cells Grow Under Influence of Fish Flesh Scientific American 17-04-07

The science of food packaging hazards: Podcast of presentation by Professor Gordon Robertson from University of Queensland to New Zealand Food Safety 2010 Conference 14-9-10

The Mystery of the Shrinking Alligator Penis : Professor Ian Shaw speaking at TEDx Christchurch, October 2010.

The Bisphenol-A Debate

Professor Ian Shaw talking about Bisphenol-A:

  • on Radio New Zealand, August 5, 2010 and also on July 3, 2008.
  • in a podcast for Te Papa Tongarewa: Science Express - Hard-Plastic Bottles – Are They Harming Our Health?

Crunch time in Bisphenol-A “debate” Peter Griffen SciBlogs 14-09-10

In Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final Answer New York Times 6-09-10

Plastic Chemical BPA Is Officially Toxic in Canada (Not Anywhere Else) Discover Blogs 14-10-10

Plastic not so fantastic Otago Daily Times 16-01-10

Breast cancer link to plastic.

Toxicologist warns of plastic baby‐bottle risks The Press 12‐5‐08

Greens say NZ should ban plastic baby bottles NZPA 22‐04‐08