A health-conscious consumer has a difficult time avoiding the ever-growing chemical cocktail of food additives and preservatives these days. One particular chemical, Bisphenol-A (or BPA, for short), has been getting quite a lot of bad press lately.
BPA is a synthesized organic compound (far different from the “organic” label you find on certain foods), which has been “suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930’s”, but has only recently gained the attention from healthy-food advocates, scientists and medical doctors that it deserves. It is synthesized from acetone (the main ingredient in nail polish remover and paint thinner) and phenol (a known antiseptic also found in Chloraseptic, whose scent is also known as the “hospital smell”), and is used in the production of certain plastics, especially polycarbonate plastics, as well as water bottles, baby bottles, medical supplies, lenses and as a plastic lining in many canned goods.
Bayer, DOW and G.E. are some of the biggest producers of BPA, producing most of the United States’ one million tons of BPA in 2004.
Bisphenol-A has been shown to have negative health effects, acting as an endocrine disruptor and hormone mimicker. Because BPA can mimic hormones such as estrogen at a very low dose, scientists are worried about the bioaccumulative and extended exposure effects of this chemical on developing adolescents. Already, some studies are drawing links between BPA and breast cancer, obesity, “fetal and infant brain development and activity”, decline in testosterone, and increase in prostate size and cancer.
A study performed by the Center for Disease Control, between 1988 and 1994, found BPA in 95% of the urine samples it tested from adults. Another study in 2003 and 2004 confirmed those results, finding BPA in 93% of the samples taken from adults and children. Studies have also shown that BPA can cross the placenta and become concentrated in the developing fetus.
Given the rise in prevalence of prostate and breast cancer, as well as behavioral and developmental issues in children in recent years, it seems prudent to call for a moratorium in the use of this chemical until more is learned regarding its safety.
In the meantime, health advocates suggest limiting your exposure to all plastics, canned soft drinks, and canned tomatoes. In my household, we own a water filtration unit to avoid purchasing bottled water, and we store the water in reused one-gallon glass apple juice jugs. We never heat foods up in plastic, and we do not ever use a microwave. We also avoid soft drinks, canned beer, and buy jarred tomatoes when available. In addition, we only rarely eat out (you never know what foods or additives restaurants use) and instead cook fresh, wholesome, organic meals at home. Finally, we changed all of our cleaning products and personal hygiene products to further reduce the chemical cocktail we are exposed to.
U.S. News & World Report, Deborah Kotz
Published September 29, 200
When it comes to household health risks, baby bottles made of hard plastic may already be on your radar screen. But how about canned tomatoes and soft drinks? These, too, contain the worrisome chemical bisphenol A–it’s found in the substance that coats the inner surfaces of metal cans. And some adults, like infants, may be in harm’s way. A landmark study of more than 1,400 adults, published in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, found that those with the most BPA in their urine had nearly three times the risk of heart disease and more than twice the risk of diabetes as those who had the lowest levels. “Even those with the highest BPA levels still had levels way below the currently established ‘safe’ level,” says study coauthor David Melzer of the University of Exeter in England.
While the report doesn’t prove that BPA causes these diseases, it adds strength to previous laboratory findings: One study found that elevated BPA levels trigger an excessive release of insulin in mice, enough to lead to prediabetes. Another, on human fat cells, found that BPA suppresses the release of a heart-protective hormone.
Babies are still thought to be more at risk than adults. Through bottles and formula, they get more BPA exposure on a per-pound basis, says Sarah Janssen, a physician and science fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council. They also can’t metabolize the chemical as quickly, so it accumulates in their bodies, which may pose problems for fragile developing organ systems. The government’s National Toxicology Program recently concluded that there’s enough evidence to express “some concern” over BPA’s detrimental effects on a child’s brain and reproductive organs.
Still in use. So why is BPA still allowed in food packaging? While consumer groups have issued calls to ban it, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to do so, declaring last month that “products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels … are below those that may cause health effects.” This decision astounded environmental health activists who accused the FDA of relying on only two studies, both funded by plastic manufacturers, out of more than 700 that have been published.
There’s talk in Congress of overriding the FDA policy by passing laws to restrict the use of BPA. Industry representatives, however, argue this isn’t the solution: “Acidic foods will corrode the metal of cans, so you have to have a coating in there,” says Steven Hentges, a chemist and BPA expert with the American Chemistry Council, a trade group. “Finding an alternative liner that works as well and is safer would not be easy.”
Some companies, though, have already responded to consumer demand. Born Free makes plastic, BPA-free baby bottles, CamelBak recently switched over its water bottles, and Eden Foods cans its beans with a plant-based liner. People can also substitute beverages, soups, and vegetables packaged in glass or cardboard containers for those packed in cans, says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. She also recommends using powdered infant formula instead of ready-to-serve liquid. A recent report from EWG found that the former contains less BPA.
Scientific American – Plastic (Not) Fantastic: Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical