Eartha Steward: What’s the deal with BPA?
What is the deal with bisphenol-A (BPA)? I recently heard that its in canned goods too, not just water bottles. Should I freak out about this one too? -Jeni, Breckenridge
Thanks for the question, Jeni. It seems like every other day there’s more news about something else poisoning us, and it can start to make you paranoid!
We first heard about bisphenol-A (BPA) in #7 polycarbonate water bottles, typically the brightly colored reusable water bottles made by a few large outdoor goods suppliers. After that, we started to see more stainless steel water bottles and “BPA-free” plastic ones.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the trouble. BPA is indeed in the liner of many tin (steel) cans, as well as electronics, sporting goods, baby toys, and oodles of other consumer products. In fact, American factories use so much of this particular chemical that it amounts to 6 pounds per person per year!
So what’s the big deal with this particular chemical acronym?
BPA is an endocrine disruptor and can mimic estrogen in the body. Many studies (more than 900 now) have linked this toxic chemical to breast cancer and other serious health problems. And the really scary part is that its everywhere – over 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.
And I hate to do this, but there’s more bad news. A study published in December 2009 by Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) found traces of BPA in the foods contained in almost all of the 19 name brands they tested, even in the organic varieties and in the cans labeled “BPA-free.”
As usual, the American Chemistry Council industry says its safe. Other groups, including the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and the Breast Cancer Fund, say its not. And everyone has studies to prove their point. OK, everyone has their agenda (promoting the manufacture of more unregulated chemicals or reducing breast cancer, for example).
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that people with high levels of BPA in their bodies have “an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities.” Still other studies on humans have shown that women with high levels of BPA have more miscarriages.
Over 200 studies show that low-doses of BPA have health effects on animals. More studies show this strong estrogen mimicker is so powerful that it can cross the placenta in parts per billion or parts per trillion. It’s clearly in our food and in our bodies, and the body of evidence suggests that there are no safe exposure limits. So why aren’t we rushing to eliminate the use of BPA?
While it’s not a rush, there is some movement. Massachusetts issued a public health advisory against exposure to BPA for pregnant or nursing women and children under 2. And the Food and Drug Administration has agreed to reissue the study. But who knows how long that will take, and what “science” they will rely on.
In the meantime, there is a glimmer of hope. In March, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Edward Markey introduced the “Ban Poisonous Substances Act of 2009,” which would prohibit the sale of reusable food and beverage containers that contain BPA, and ensure that any replacement for BPA is safe for humans. You can help by contacting your senators and asking them to co-sponsor the bill.
As is often the case, it’s up to you – the consumer – to do the research and protect yourself. For me, I’ve decided that this one is worth freaking out about and I’m reducing the amount of canned goods (organic or not) that my family consumes and not using plastics for water bottles or food storage.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier and Jen Santry at the High Country Conservation Center. To submit questions or column suggestions, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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