"We don't make recommendations to the public but it's pretty clear what the sources of Bisphenol-A exposure are - either drink containers or food cans. If people are concerned they have the option of eliminating the use of those products."
-Dr. Michael Shelby, Director, Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction-
Photo by Trey Ratcliff
OK, I give up! Since November there has been one article after another warning of the dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA), the chemical used to make hard clear unbreakable plastic. BPA has been banned in baby products in Europe since 2006. Canada just conducted a risk assessment of the chemical and is in a 60 day public comment period before it also bans its sale in baby products.
As for the US, don't expect the EPA or NIH to do anything soon. Since 1997 over 100 articles have documented its toxicities. Because of strong lobbying on the part of the plastics and chemical industry, the most our governmental agencies will admit to is possible adverse effects in laboratory animals, but they still claim there's not enough data to prove adverse effects in humans. To read more about this in the Washington Post, click here.
WHERE IS BISPHENOL-A FOUND?
BPA is in the hard clear plastic found in Nalgene sports bottles, plastic baby bottles, dental tooth sealants, some water filtering pitchers and in the lining of most soft drink and food cans. (*Eden Organic Beans come in BPA-free cans) I knew about the Nalgene. I never knew about the cans.
You can identify some products made with BPA by the "7" recycling symbol, but "7" is just a catch-all code for "other" & not all "7's" have BPA. To make matters more confusing not all BPA products will even have the symbol on them, e.g. cans.
WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT BISPHENOL-A?
Animal studies show potentially cancerous changes in the mammary and prostate tissue of animals when they ingest the same small amounts of BPA that humans ingest. Diabetes and behavior problems have been linked to BPA, as well as decreased testosterone levels in men, breast and uterine cancer in women. It's long been known as an "endocrine disrupter", which means it interferes with the body's hormonal balance.
Women who are pregnant or of child-bearing age, and babies and young children are most at risk.
When it's ingested by pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and young children it can potentially cause the most damage. A fetus or infant is growing rapidly & when it's zapped with even a tiny dose of a harmful chemical at the "wrong time", problems can occur. Rapidly dividing and differentiating cells in the presence of toxic chemicals are a bad combination.
Reports by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) & Commonweal, a California non-profit environmental and health group, have shown that almost all of the people they test have BPA in their blood & urine. Fortunately the chemical leaves our bodies. The problem is that we are exposed to it continually.
WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT IT?
I'm following the advice of Linda Birnbaum, the Director of Experimental Toxicology for the EPA. She's been researching "endocrine disrupting" chemicals for over 30 years. She happens to be a big believer in paying attention to what chemicals do to animals.
"When you see a compound causing effects on multiple kinds of animals on several different tissues, it's likely it will cause problems in humans!"
Here's what Linda suggests:
- Only use stainless steel water bottles. I've dumped my Nalgene, and I'm trying to wean myself off of plastic "bottled water". I couldn't find any stainless steel bottles at local stores like Whole Foods or Dick's. I ordered four 27 ounce Klean Kanteen sports-top bottles from Karst Sports, for $14.60 a bottle with free shipping & no tax. It's food grade stainless steel, 100% non-leaching and light-weight. I did have to get used to the fact that you can't squeeze stainless, like you can plastic.
- Don't heat up any food in the microwave in a plastic container. I'm using Pyrex or regular microwave safe dishes to reheat foods. I'm not using any plastic wrap to cover foods that I reheat. Often I cover them with a plate. I'm on the look-out for assorted sized Pyrex containers with lids to store my leftovers & transport food in my lunch box. In the meantime, I have a Pyrex bowl in my desk drawer at work for reheating food.
Here's what Lou Guillette suggests. He's the Distinguished Professor of Zoology at the University of Florida at Gainesville and one of the first scientists to discover the toxic effects of plastic leaching into our water:
- No microwaving in plastic.
- No teflon coated pots & pans. This is next on my to-do list!
- Use filtered water at home.
- He's conscious that every chemical we use, from driveway sealants to prescription drugs releases toxins into our environment.
- Don't despair, he advises. Our liver is designed to filter toxic chemicals.
MORE TIPS TO LIMIT YOUR CHEMICAL EXPOSURE:
- Reduce your use of canned food. Eat more fresh, frozen, or aseptically boxed foods.
- If you use hard polycarbonate plastic food or water containers DO NOT heat them. DO NOT clean them in the dishwasher or wash them with harsh detergent. DO NOT use them for warm or hot liquids.
- Nalgene now has BPA-free water bottles made with safe #2 HDPE plastic. For more information click Here.
- Safer plastics (at least for now) are labeled with the "recycling code" #1 (PETE), #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE), and #5 (PP). The #1 plastic used for bottled water is FOR ONE TIME USE ONLY!
- Do not put hot foods or liquids into any plastic containers.
- It's OK to freeze liquids in plastic bottles, contrary to any online reports. Freezing retards the release of chemicals.
- Remove plastic wrap on food you are thawing or reheating.
- #3 recycling code plastics may contain another unsafe chemical known as DEHA. Avoid it.
- Phthalates are another chemical group to watch out for. They may increase the risk of reproductive system birth defects and hormonal alteration in baby boys, and reproductive problems and hormonal changes in men. They are thought to be the cause of thyroid problems in cats. It's found in the brand names of Teflon, Gore-Tex, Stainmaster (all PFCs) and in flame retardant fabrics (PBDEs).
- Check nail polish labels for phthalates which is used to prevent cracking. Avoid.
- Avoid any personal care products with synthetic fragrances. They may contain phthalates.
CHEMICALS LURKING IN OUR FOOD. WHICH ORGANIC FRUITS & VEGETABLES ARE WORTH THE EXTRA COST? HERE'S A HANDY LIST TO HELP YOU DECIDE.
- The Environmental Working Group has published a wallet guide that ranks the top 43 fruits and vegetables in order of the highest to least amount of pesticides found in each. It's a great way to decide when to buy organic, when to buy conventional.
- I'm going organic for peaches, apples, strawberries, lettuce & spinach.
- For the wallet list click here.
- For the full report click here.
A Hard Plastic Is Raising Hard Questions NYT 4/22/08
Toxicology Letters 176(2):149-156, Jan. 2008 Bisphenol-A
Environmental Working Group Report on Polluted Pets. High Level of Toxic Chemicals Contaminate Our Pets. Many believe our pets are a sentinel for the chemicals we are absorbing in our homes.