Thursday, October 23, 2008

BPA & Food Containers - Hazard or Hype?

We all heard the news reports that a certain water bottle company popular with hikers took some of their products off the market after they were found to leach BPA (bisphenol-A). Not using this brand of bottles, I didn't pay too much attention.

But then in the latest issues of 2 magazines I get every month, there were articles about BPA in other products, such as can linings and other types of plastics, and the potential risks posed to humans. Now these aren't exactly scholarly magazines, but seeing 2 in-depth articles in a row piqued my concerns. I use plastic containers nearly on a daily basis. I thought it was my way of helping the environment. Rather than using plastic baggies to transport my lunch or buying premade lunches, I bring my own food from home in my reusable plastic containers. And since dishwashers are more water-efficient than hand washing, I throw them in the top rack of the dishwasher because they say right on the bottom they're top-rack safe.

Could my efforts to go green be hurting my health? Or was this just a new hyped up worry that would turn out to be much less cause for concern once more was known? Like the good little scientist/researcher I learned to be while pursuing my degree in Biology & Writing, off I went in search of more information from reliable, authoritative sources.

First stop - the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Food packaging is their regulatory domain, so I wanted to see what they had to say. Turns out that for now, they're sticking by their original evaluation that BPA is not harmful at doses humans are commonly exposed to, but they are continuing to investigate "new research" and have developed a new task force to follow up on the claims that are currently being made. OK... this tells me they're not committing to anything yet, but something out there has piqued their interest.

On to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Jackpot. This is what's probably piqued the FDA's interest. In a September 2008 report, the National Toxicology Program (a division of NIH) issued a report expressing:
  • "...some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A..."
  • "...minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A..."
  • "...negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.... [or] reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults..."

So for adults, NIH is saying there's probably not much to worry about, but for kids and kids-to-be, the potential for risks may well exist. They suggest that consumers concerned about the issue limit use of polycarbonate plastic containers (often labeled with a #7), don't microwave or otherwise expose these containers to heat, reduce the use of canned goods and use glass, metal or ceramic containers whenever possible for hot foods & liquids. But they're not calling for the outlawing of these containers...

So I move on to 1 last source. Per Mr. valleywriter's request, I check with the American Medical Association. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found a correlation between increased levels of BPA in urine and certain metabolic disorders, including heart disease & type-2 diabetes. The study notes that, due to the nature of the research, the results cannot conclude causality, but that future research should be done to further investigate the link.

OK - that's enough for me.

Here's what my bottom line is: The experts don't know for sure if there's great cause for concern in humans, but there's reliable evidence to suggest BPA could be a potential hazard to certain humans in certain situations. That's enough for me to change my habits. If I can help cut my risks, why not do it? So you'll find me this weekend scoping out the Pyrex containers to replace my old plasticware - at least for things that go in the microwave and dishwasher. And anything that's been in the microwave or dishwasher... say hello to the recycling bin.

I encourage you to do your own research and make your own decisions. Here are some of the sources I looked at:

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