Bisphenol A: Is it Gone? What's Next?
Posted April 18, 2008 in Health and the Environment
The dominos are really starting to fall, as major manufacturers and retailers line up to announce that they are removing bisphenol A (BPA) from their products, or are pulling these products from their shelves. Although it’s gratifying to see this happening, it’s my job to always keep a weather-eye on the horizon and to worry about what’s next. Do the announcements by Nalgene and others today really solve the problem?
Not quite yet....
For years, we have been working to painstakingly pull together the science on BPA and to make the case to various regulatory agencies and legislative bodies (mostly unsuccessfully) that they should pay attention to what the science shows. For over a year we have had guidelines on our website telling consumers what they can do to avoid BPA. Meanwhile, studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have showed that almost all Americans have this chemical in their bodies at levels that are likely to be significant. It’s frustrating to look at the science and then to look around you at the world and realize that nobody knows, and the key people don’t seem to care. It’s worse than frustrating when you realize the implications of the science could mean significant health problems ranging from promotion of breast cancer, to abnormalities of reproductive function, to alterations in fat storage in the body (ie. obesity).
When the tipping point finally happens, and BPA becomes a household name, that’s a good thing, because consumers and the public can finally drive agencies such as the EPA to do what they should have done years ago. Better still, companies take action right away when they realize the writing’s really on the wall.
There are two remaining problems that I’m worrying about today. One is that what is probably the biggest source of BPA seems to be entrenched and isn’t making a change, and the other is that we need to be wary of moving from the devil we know to the devil we don’t.
Some studies suggest that the biggest exposures to BPA come from eating canned food and drinking canned beverages. If you open a can of tomato sauce, empty it out, and peer inside, you’ll see a beige material lining the inside of the can. This stuff is a polycarbonate resin that’s designed to help prevent the metallic taste from the can from getting into the food. Since BPA imparts no flavor, it’s a great choice as the building block of this lining – except for the inconvenient fact that it’s toxic. Take a flashlight and peer deep within a soda can; you’ll see the same beige lining. Yet the canned food industry says they haven’t found an alternative yet, so the consumer will have to wait. Or maybe not...since we can buy our tomato sauce in glass jars or cardboard boxes and our vegetables frozen.
A while ago, the Sigg company removed the BPA lining from their nifty stainless steel water bottles. They were ahead of the curve and deserve special praise for their foresight. We withheld our praise, however, when they refused to disclose what chemicals they were using instead. Nalgene’s announcement today garnered lots of public attention, but my attention went to their “Tritan copolyester”, with questions about what’s in it. Camelbak has similarly announced their “genderbender free” bottles (love the name!) without disclosure of ingredients.
The real issue here is that two principles need to be put into place in the consumer marketplace:
- First, chemicals that go into consumer products need to be tested for safety before they are put in the products, so we don’t have to wait for years before we discover that a chemical’s a problem.
- Second, consumer products should all be required to list ingredients. That way, scientists like me can evaluate what’s in things and whether they’re safe, and the informed public can read the label if they want to avoid any particular ingredients.
We’ve got labeling on food, why can’t we do it with other consumer products?
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