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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Bisphenol A: Is it Gone? What's Next?

Gina Solomon

Posted April 18, 2008 in Health and the Environment

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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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Comments

MG TorkApr 23 2008 05:44 PM

I've posted to another NRDC author's article on BPA and wanted your opinion as a scientist and concerned citizen.

From what I have read, including in your posting, the biggest risk comes from consuming canned food/beverages such as tomato sauce and sodas.

This makes sense because tomato sauce is likely poured hot (and acidic at any temp) into PC resin-lined containers, and soda typically has oodles of acid. These would both, intuitively, tend to react with many types of container material, including metal given enough time.

However, the studies I've read indicate the clearly significant risk is to fetuses, infants and young children who's systems are developing, and particularly sensitive to endocrine disruptors. This too makes sense since a polycarbonate baby bottle will receive hot formula (or be heated with the formula) to temperatures which induce higher rates of migration (leaching) of BPA from the container to the food. Further, bottle-fed babies eat basically everything out of bottles (sometimes polycarbonate).

So it stands to reason that given conditions which increase BPA leaching, coupled with a population that gets virtually all sustenance from leaching bottles and has a developing system, there may be a significant health risk.

What I have not seen is clear evidence of a danger of BPA leaching from polycarbonate bottles for an adult population which stores neutral pH drinking water at room-temperature (or cold temps).

Can you comment on your opinion of the safety of PC bottles for unheated, neutral pH drinking water for adults who don't have other BPA exposure risks by dint of the fact that they avoid soda (too much sugar and acid) and eat mostly fresh produce?

Michael RaeApr 24 2008 01:28 PM

According to this Environmental Working Group article, the Japanese have already moved on this, and have considerably cut (though not eliminated) BPA exposures:

http://www.ewg.org/node/20938

Surely American companies, and companies importing into the US, can be pressured or forced to meet or exceed standards and procedures that have been established and tested for several years in another major developed country -- and to innovate further, lowering exposure even further with new sealants.

-Michael

Tony VerityApr 24 2008 04:44 PM

a portion of a review of published literature on the toxicology of BPA published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, February 2008 is below.

Can you shed any light on what this means in use of everyday products which contain BPA - like if there is some demonstrable risk driving the current news stories, or if it is more panic-without-science driven?

"...There is no evidence that BPA poses a genotoxic or carcinogenic risk and clinical evaluations of 205 men and women with high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-verified serum or urinary BPA conjugates showed (1) no objective signs, (2) no changes in reproductive hormones or clinical chemistry parameters, and (3) no alterations in the number of children or sons:daughters ratio."

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a789485048~db=all~order=page

Gina SolomonApr 24 2008 07:12 PM

These are all good comments and questions. I completely agree that the concerns about bisphenol A are most serious for babies drinking out of polycarbonate bottles and for people eating or drinking canned foods and beverages. My usual advice to adults who use polycarbonate water bottles is that they try to avoid storing water in them for a long time, especially in a hot environment such as a car. It's best to fill the bottle up right before you go for a hike, and then drink it over the next few hours, instead of letting the water sit in there for days. That's also good practice since bacteria thrive in those conditions as well. However, I have to say that if I were pregnant, I'd be sure to avoid using a polycarbonate bottle. For more tips on Bisphenol A, check out www.simplesteps.org.

There are several studies in the scientific literature that didn't find health effects from Bisphenol A. For example, the study cited above is consistent with others in that it did not find evidence that the chemical is mutagenic. However, the study didn't focus on babies - the most sensitive group. Other studies have found evidence of abnormalities, although the clearest evidence so far is still in the animal studies, at doses that are similar to those people encounter regularly. I'm pretty concerned about those animal studies...after all, we're animals too!

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