Before you decide to chew on the cap of your water bottle because you're nervous, make sure the plastic you are chewing on isn't full of carcinogens and chemicals -- even though lobbyists for the plastics industry argue that any traces of the toxic substance bisphenol A are low and therefore, insubstantial.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is found most commonly in polycarbonate plastics. According to the Bisphenol-A.org website, "Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, both of which are used in countless applications that make our lives easier, healthier and safer, each and every day."
But the Environmental Working Group states, "BPA is an ingredient in plastics and the epoxy resins that line food cans. Low doses of BPA lead to a range of health problems, including birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems in laboratory animals. Despite the growing evidence of risk to human health, there are no limits on the amount of BPA allowed in canned food.
The tests found that pregnant women and infants who eat even a single serving of some canned foods are exposed to unsafe doses of BPA. Of the foods [recently tested for BPA contamination] -- which included many of the canned foods eaten most often by women of childbearing age -- BPA levels were highest in canned pasta and soup. Canned infant formula also had high levels. Just one to three servings of food with these BPA levels could expose a pregnant woman or infant to harmful doses of the chemical."
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that uses the power of information to protect public health and the environment. They recently completed a study of the toxic chemical and its presence in name-brand canned goods, finding that 50% of those canned goods contained bisphenol A. To make matters worse, the FDA states about 20 percent of the U.S. diet comes from this form of food packaging. Even so, there are no current government safety standards that regulate how much BPA is allowed in canned foods. The burden of proof lies with government and lobbyists, who say the doses found in canned goods and plastics are very low. But what dose of this toxic chemical is really safe? No one seems to know.
The toxicity of BPA
"BPA reads like a case study of how badly our chemical safety system is broken," said Jane Houlihan, Vice President for Research at EWG. "We've known it's toxic for 75 years, it's polluting the bodies of almost all Americans, but we allow it in our food at levels that leave no margin of safety for pregnant women and young children."
"Given widespread human exposure to BPA and hundreds of studies showing its adverse effects, the FDA and EPA must act quickly to revise safe levels for BPA exposure based on the latest science on the low-dose toxicity of the chemical," according to the Environmental Working Group.
Fred von Saal is a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia and speaks frequently on the lecture and seminar circuit. He is the author of a groundbreaking paper in Environmental Health Perspective on risk assessment concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A.
"The idea that this is a strong, durable product is an illusion," von Saal said. "The chemists have known that the Bisphenol A chemical is constantly leaching and coming into contact with food or water. It's going to damage your body…this evidence will ultimately convince federal regulatory agencies that BPA should be illegal for use in food and beverage containers. It's only a matter of time."
Chemical industry "scientists" disagree
Of course, there are those who disagree -- mostly people on the payroll of the plastics industry. "The evidence has been examined by governments and scientific bodies worldwide. In every case, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that bisphenol A is not a risk to human health at the extremely low levels to which people might be exposed," said Steve Hentges, spokesman for the American Plastics Council.
The American Plastics Council is a lobbyist for the U.S. plastics industry -- their main focus is to promote the benefits of plastics, including plastic products which contain the chemical bisphenol A.
According to the American Plastics Council, products that may contain the chemical bisphenol A include:
• hard, clear plastic baby bottles • hard, clear, sometimes tinted, plastic water bottles • hard, clear plastic bowls, tableware, storage containers • liners inside food and drink cans • dental sealant to prevent cavities • electronic equipment • sports safety equipment • medical devices • pet carriers • spray-on flame retardants
There's more to this story, too -- not only is it toxic, it could affect your child's metabolism.
"Certain environmental substances called endocrine-disrupting chemicals can change the functioning of a fetus's genes, altering a baby's metabolic system and predisposing him or her to obesity. This individual could eat the same thing and exercise the same amount as someone with a normal metabolic system, but he or she would become obese, while the other person remained thin. This is a serious problem because obesity puts people at risk for other problems, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension," von Saal said.
What's clear today is that BPA is a chemical of justified concern, and consumers who wish to protect themselves from the detrimental effects of BPA exposure should limit their exposure to plastics products that come into contact with their food and beverages.
• Never microwave foods in plastic containers. Heating plastics greatly increases the potential for leaching of chemicals into your food.
• Avoid drinking beverages out of plastic containers. This includes bottled water, juice drinks, and others. Drink out of glass or stainless steel.
• Greatly reduce or eliminate your consumption of canned food products. Canned foods typically contain BPA due to the lining inside the can.
• Avoid storing food in plastic containers. Instead, choose Pyrex or class containers (stainless steel is also acceptable). Also avoid using plastic sandwich bags or plastic wrap products, wherever possible.
• Remember that if you are pregnant or nursing, BPA chemicals are passed through your bloodstream directly to your baby.
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