The Dangers of Plastic near our Food
The FDA says “no” to a ban on BPA, but manufacturers are bowing to public pressure.
BPA IS A DANGEROUS XENO-OESTROGEN
Despite all the concern about the hormone-altering properties of bisphenol-A (BPA)—an industrial chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics—the FDA recently stated that they will not be banning the chemical.
At least, not yet.
Why the hold up? Agency Rejects Petition from NRDC The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was the latest in a long line of concerned organizations to try to prod the government agency into action. On October 28, 2008, the organization filed a petition asking the FDA to outlaw the use of BPA in our food supply. Specifically, they wanted it out of our food packaging, food containers, and other materials likely to come into contact with food. Since the petition, more evidence has come to light regarding the health dangers associated with BPA, yet the FDA said in its recent ruling that there still is not enough.
“The FDA denied the NRDC petition because it did not have the scientific data needed for the FDA to change current regulations, which allows the use of BPA in food packaging,” said FDA spokesman Doug Karas in a statement sent to the AFP.
The Evidence is In Let’s look at what’s been going on with this chemical.
According to the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPA was detected in over 92 percent of persons tested (urine tests). These results indicated “widespread exposure to BPA in the U.S. population.” Humans are exposed to BPA through beverage containers, linings of food cans, plastic dinnerware, and other products. “General exposure to BPA at low levels comes from eating food or drinking water stored in containers that have BPA.”
In a report released in 2008, the National Institutes of Health noted they were concerned about the effects of BPA on brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current rates of exposure.
Also in 2008, the government of Canada, after seven years of study, listed BPA as a toxic substance, and introduced regulations to ban selling, advertising, and manufacturing of baby bottles made with BPA-related plastics, as well as to minimize or eliminate BPA-based linings in plastics.
In 2009, the City Council in Chicago adopted a measure banning the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups made with BPA. Some bottle manufacturers like “Nalgene” vowed to stop using BPA in their manufacturing processes soon after.
In 2010, the FDA itself admitted that it was concerned about the same affects in children.
In animal studies, BPA has been shown to mimic the female hormone estrogen. Exposure among test animals early in life is associated with precancerous changes in mammary and prostate glands, early-onset puberty, reproductive abnormalities, and obesity with insulin resistance. The FDA, however, remains unconvinced that these effects might transfer to humans.
In a study published in Pediatrics in 2011, researchers found that gestational exposure to BPA affected behavioral and emotional regulation at 3 years of age, especially among girls. In other words, these girls were more likely to be anxious and depressed and to exhibit poorer emotional control and inhibition. “Clinicians may advise concerned parents to reduce their exposure to certain consumer products,” the researchers stated.
In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008, Frederick S. vom Saal, Ph.D., and colleagues conducted a large major epidemiologic study examining the health effects of BPA, and found a significant relationship between urine concentrations of BPA and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities. He recommended the U.S. declare BPA a toxic chemical requiring aggressive action to limit human and environmental exposures.
The American Medical Association supports restrictions on products containing BPA, including banning the sale of baby bottles and infant feeding cups made with BPA. They also support increased federal oversight and clear labeling of products that contain BPA.
Not the Last Word Despite all this information and more, the FDA is still dragging its feet. They’re waiting for the results of more studies, particularly human studies, as apparently high doses of BPA were used in animal studies that showed adverse effects, and comparable rates in humans may not have the same effects. Plus, they stated in their report that post-2008 studies by the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) found that the level of BPA from food passed from pregnant mothers to the fetus was so low that it could not be measured. In addition, NCTR researchers built mathematical models of what happens to BPA once it’s in the human body, showing that it’s rapidly metabolized and eliminated through feces and urine.
The FDA assures us that they will continue scientific study and review of all new evidence concerning BPA. They are already “supporting” efforts to develop and use alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans. Still, a lot of people are disappointed.
“The next decision the FDA should make is to remove ‘responsible for protecting the public health’ from its mission statement,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental working Group.
In the meantime, it’s up to us. Fortunately, public opinion on this matter—particularly that of concerned mothers—has encouraged many manufacturers to make the changes anyway, despite the FDA. Cambell’s has started using a BPA alternative in some of its soup cans, and stated it’s working to phase out the use of the chemical in all canned products. In 2008, Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us began phasing out bottles, sippy cups and other children’s items containing BPA. By the end of 2009, the six leading makers of baby bottles in the U.S. went BPA-free.
Tips for You To reduce your exposure to BPA, follow these tips:
Avoid plastic water bottles and similar bottles used for juice, tea, etc. Use stainless steel instead.
Ask your dentist for BPA-free options (some dental sealants contain BPA).
Avoid plastics marked with a #7, especially if you’re pregnant. Look for those marked with the recycling numbers 1, 2, and 4 instead, which do not contain BPA. These are typically opaque.
Avoid canned beverages, foods, and soups, unless they are marked BPA-free. Choose frozen options, or those in boxes or glass jars.
Look for infant formula in glass containers and BPA-free plastics rather than cans.
Never use plastic in the microwave, including sippy cups, baby bottles, and other plastic food containers. Choose glass and ceramic heating containers.
Use pacifiers and toys that are BPA-free.
Realize that BPA is in the linings of soda pop and beer cans.
A last interesting note—on March 16, 2012, Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) filed three separate petitions asking the FDA to ban the use of BPA in infant formula and baby/toddler food packaging, in reusable food and beverage containers, and in canned food and beverage packaging.
This is a great article that shows just how important it is to make your own decisions about health. The FDA is not going to protect you from everything (some would argue, not much at all.)
Of course, when I saw that there would be no ban I was not surprised. A move like this, simply affirms that the burden of proof is on the public when it comes to BPA — even though we’re not chemists and scientists.
Regardless, I abide by a simple rule when it comes to non-natural products — the less you have around you, the better off you are. BPA is a chemical that is quite easy to take out of your life, so there’s no reason you need to be exposed to it. Removing as much plastic out of your life is another way to lessen the exposure to potentially harmful, hormone altering substances.
One thing to watch out for is that many companies are capitalizing on the no-BPA craze and creating plastic products with alternatively toxic chemicals. They know that if it’s BPA-free you’ll buy it, even though it contains Bisphenol S — a chemical that also affects your hormonal balance.
So, clearly, just because a plastic product says BPA-free doesn’t mean it’s as harmless as a local, organic apple.
When it comes to plastics, it’s up to the consumer to decide how much is produced, so be demanding and make a point to use as little as possible. It’s better for you, me, the environment and the planet.
Remember this (EXPLICIT LANGUAGE WARNING)…
Your Question of the Day: What do you think of the FDA’s decision?
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Photo courtesy MattHurst via Flickr.com.
Sources “FDA Won’t Ban BPA from Food Packages; Environmental Groups Charge Bisphenal-A is a Hormone-Disrupting Chemical,” NY Daily News, April 2, 2012, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/fda-ban-bpa-food-packages-environmental-groups-charge-bisphenol-a-a-hormone-disrupting-chemical-article-1.1054534.
Smarter Living: Chemical Index—Bisphenol A, Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/living/chemicalindex/bisphenol-a.asp.
Bisphenol A (BPA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodIngredientsPackaging/ucm166145.htm.
Associated Press, “Bisphenol A Won’t be Banned by FDA,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2012. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/30/MNJK1NSN8T.DTL.
Riette van Laack, “FDA Denies NRDC’s Petition to Ban BPA in Food Packaging,” April 3, 2012, http://www.fdalawblog.net/fda_law_blog_hyman_phelps/2012/04/fda-denies-nrdcs-petition-to-ban-bpa-in-food-packaging.html.
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