Baby Bottle BPA Ban Still Leaves Children—and Adults—Vulnerable

A newly released analysis urges strong legislation to protect consumers from a growing number of known BPA exposure sources, not just baby bottles.

February 22, 2011

Favoring fresh, whole foods over packaged food when you can is one strategy for avoiding BPA.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As U.S. government agencies disagree over the health risks associated with the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, Health Canada (Canada's equivalent of the United States' Food and Drug Administration, aka FDA) made its mark as it made Canada the first country to declare BPA a toxic health hazard. It even initiated a nationwide ban on using BPA in baby bottles, and the European Union will follow suit next month. But the problem is, one of the groups most vulnerable to BPA won't be protected by a BPA ban in baby bottles. "The human fetus is not being exposed to BPA from baby bottles," explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University in Boston. "Exposure comes from what Mom's consuming."


THE DETAILS: In an analysis just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vandenberg challenges Health Canada to enact strong legislation to protect all consumers from BPA. After all, the agency has stated that "the potential harmful effects of bisphenol A during development cannot be dismissed and the application of precaution is warranted."

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But protecting unborn children during critical windows of development—a time when research has shown real-world exposure levels can damage normal organic and reproductive development and lead to obesity, infertility, and metabolic disease later in life—would involve getting BPA out of products that pregnant mothers consume, not just baby bottles, Vandenberg says.

WHAT IT MEANS: Vanderberg's analysis comes a month after Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) reintroduced his bill that would prohibit the use of BPA in all drink and food containers—including food cans, which are typically lined with a BPA-containing resin. "It is clear that BPA poses serious health risks, especially to children," Markey said in a statement. "It is time for Republicans to stop blocking action on this public health issue and for Congress to act quickly to ban this toxin from all food and beverage containers."

While Clean Water Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Consumers Union, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Public Interest Research Group all back the proposed legislation, those public interest groups face strong opposition from food packaging and chemical lobbyists. Vanderberg says switching from BPA to a safer vegetable-based liner in canned foods would cost about 2 to 3 percent more, a mere penny increase per can. Still, she says, BPA used in food cans brings in $6 million per year to chemical companies. "They're not going to abandon it unless they're told to," she says.

Last month, the World Health Organization identified the migration of BPA in canned food liners into food as the leading source of BPA contamination. But Vandenberg says that doesn't jibe with the numbers. Canadian's BPA levels are about half that of Americans, yet there's no indication they're eating half the amount of canned goods. The United States alone produces nearly 1 million tons (Corrected from 2 tons -Editors) of BPA annually, and Vandenberg notes it's in all sorts of consumer products, including cash-register receipts; CDs; cooking surfaces on boxes of pre-packaged, microwavable foods; electronics; and even cigarette filters! "The patent for putting BPA into cigarette filters occurred in the 1970s, but companies don't have to disclose stuff like that," she adds. Perhaps because we produce so much in this country, and because it's so ubiquitous in our products (according to the Handbook of Food Packaging Chemicals, BPA can be used as an antimicrobial or antioxidant in cosmetics) it shouldn't be much of a surprise that it's also now turning up in our air, water, and sand. "BPA has been co-opted to be useful for a variety of reasons, yet we as consumers have no idea it's entering our bodies," Vandenberg says. "It's not on the label."

Here's how you can help protect yourself from BPA:

• Eat fresh as much as possible. Most canned food liners contain varying levels of BPA. Eat fresh or frozen food as much as possible, and avoid heating up frozen processed foods in the microwave-safe boxes or materials included in the package. These surfaces could be coated with BPA, Vandenberg warns.

• Be a minimalist. Vandenberg says BPA is typically used in electronics, although companies don't have to disclose this. So use the electronic items you need, but avoid electronics overkill.

• Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with plain soap and water during the course of your day, especially before eating. Even if it turns out that hand-to-mouth isn't a significant source of BPA exposure, you'll be avoiding germs.

• Support the bill. Although the current political environment in the House favors slashing costs over protecting public health, you can still urge your legislators to support Markey's bill to ban BPA from food and drink containers.

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