We’ve got good news and bad news. And very bad news. Action Alert!
The good news: more and more companies and government bodies are concluding that the endocrine-disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) is bad for you!
- China has banned BPA in baby bottles;
- the European Union banned use of the chemical entirely;
- Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance;
- many states banned BPA from baby products (toys, bottles, sippy cups);
- thirteen states currently place restrictions on BPA;
- six major companies have voluntarily banned BPA from baby bottles; and
- The FDA banned BPA from infant formula packaging, though only because packagers are no longer using it (“this use has been abandoned”)—the agency explicitly said its decision was unrelated to the question of its safety.
BPA has been linked with serious health problems, including cancer, birth defects, and heart disease.
Even with all this movement, BPA is still ubiquitous in production, as the above bans pertain mainly to children’s products. These bans do not extend, however, to the BPA in children’s dental products, where it still exists to an alarming extent: in tooth sealants, composite tooth fillings, and even braces.
A new report has identified 175 “packaging substances” that could pose health risks—and BPA was described as “probably the most prominent” of these. Only a few food manufacturers claim they no longer use BPA in their can linings—which means that one of our most commonly used household items, canned food, still contains BPA. Canned soda and beer often contain at least traces of BPA.
Worse, many of the popular alternatives to BPA are as bad if not worse. According to a 2011 study, almost all the plastics they tested leached synthetic estrogen when exposed to heat or other conditions known to unlock the chemicals. Many BPA alternatives still use chemicals in the bisphenol category, such as BPS and BPAF, and also have estrogenic activity. Opinion is divided: some say the other bisphenols are slightly less dangerous than BPA, while others think they may be every bit as toxic.
A BPA-free plastic called tritan copolyester, used in products made by Nalgene, Rubbermaid, and Tupperware, has been seen as a beacon of hope. It’s free of the all the bisphenols, and according to the manufacturer, Eastman Chemical Company, it has been verified by third-party laboratories as safe and free of estrogenic activity. The Eco Dentistry Association recommends tritan for as a replacement for BPA in dental devices.
Unfortunately, in June 2013, the Washington Spectator reported that Eastman was suing CertiChem to stifle findings that one of tritan’s ingredients, triphenyl phosphate, is just as bad as BPA. A court ruled in favor of Eastman, but it does raise some red flags.
Some other alternatives could be safer than BPA as well. Given that many chemical companies don’t disclose all their data, much more research will be necessary, but it’s nice to know that for now, polyester (also known as PET or #1 plastic), is GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, as are #2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE) and 5 (polypropylene) plastics. Oleoresin, a plant-based oil and resin, is being used as an alternative to the BPA lining in some cans (for example, Eden Foods uses it to line their bean cans).
When possible, avoid plastic altogether. Glass containers have been used for a long time, are much safer, and don’t leech toxins.
As we have reported previously, one of the most ubiquitous sources of BPA is in thermal cash register receipts. The Environmental Protection Agency reviewed nineteen BPA alternatives specifically for cash register receipts, rating the chemicals on their effects on human health, aquatic toxicity, and environmental fate. No matter how useful the EPA’s data turns out to be in terms of pure research, at least these studies provide a good comparison with BPA. Some chains, such as Whole Foods, use BPA-free receipts already, but unfortunately, some register paper replacements use BPS instead—which, as we noted above, may not be any better than BPA. It’s a good practice not to take a receipt unless you really need it, or at least wash your hands afterward. Many stores also will email receipts to you instead if you ask them to.
Action Alert! A new bill introduced by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) in the Senate, and Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) in the House, would ban BPA in food packaging. “The dangers of BPA have been well demonstrated,” the three wrote in an opinion piece for Roll Call. “Exposure, even at minimal levels, has been linked to numerous health problems, including breast cancer, altered fetal development, infertility and behavioral changes.” The bill, S 2572 and HR 5033, currently has twenty-one sponsors in all. Please contact your legislators immediately and ask them to support the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2014, also known as the BPA Act!