To BPA or not to BPA… Safety last?

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The United States approach: chemicals are not banned unless there is proof of harm.

Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times

About half a dozen states have banned BPA in children’s products, and Senator Dianne Feinstein hopes to accomplish the same nationwide, with an amendment to the food safety bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate next week.

Sunoco, one of the companies that makes BPA, said it would sell the chemical only to buyers who guaranteed that they would not use it in food or drink containers meant for children.

This year, a presidential panel on cancer and the environment said there was a “growing link” between BPA and several diseases, including cancer, and recommended ways to avoid BPA, like storing water in bottles free of it and not microwaving food in plastic containers. Some cancer experts said the report overstated the case against chemicals, but the concerns it raised seemed to reflect growing public worries.

Well, we can always use a marketing tool…(sarcasm)

Consumer fears have made the words “BPA-free” a marketing tool. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Sears, CVS and other retailers have said they will stop selling baby bottles made with BPA, and major formula and baby-bottle manufacturers have also scrapped it. Worried people have purged their homes of plastics labeled 7. (Products are numbered for recycling; those with BPA carry a 7, but not everything with a 7 contains BPA). Nalgene, which makes popular water bottles, quit using BPA when customers began complaining about it. Sunoco, one of the companies that makes BPA, said it would sell the chemical only to buyers who guaranteed that they would not use it in food or drink containers meant for children.

In May, a White House task force on childhood obesity issued a report suggesting that BPA and certain other chemicals might be acting as “obesogens” in children — promoters of obesity — by increasing fat cells in the body and altering metabolism and feelings of hunger and fullness.

BPA exposure = Cancer? Obesity? Infertility? Behavior problems?

Environmental groups and many Democrats want BPA banned, blaming it for an array of ills that includes cancer, obesity, infertility and behavior problems. Environmentalists think the United States should adopt the “precautionary principle,” a better-safe-than-sorry approach favored in the European Union. The principle says, in essence, that if there are plausible health concerns about a chemical, even if they are not proved, people should not be exposed to it until studies show it is safe. The United States takes the opposite approach: chemicals are not banned unless there is proof of harm.

Many Republicans, anti-regulation activists and the food-packaging and chemical industries insist that BPA is harmless and all but indispensable to keeping canned food safe by sealing the cans and preventing corrosion, and to producing many other products at reasonable prices. They argue that the chemical has been demonized, and that adopting the precautionary principle would lead to needless and ruinously expensive bans on safe and useful products. Both sides are closely watching the issue unfold, because BPA is widely seen as a test case in an era of mounting worry about household chemicals, pollution and the possible links between illness and environmental exposures, especially in fetuses and young children.

“This isn’t the only endocrine-disrupting chemical on the block,” said Patricia Hunt, a biologist at Washington State University, in Pullman. “It’s just the one that’s captured the attention, because researchers like me have gotten into the field and gone, ‘Holy cats! We’re all exposed to this.’ There’s been a heavy industry response, and we’ve gathered our forces together a little more strongly to shine a light on it. This is the poster child for this group of chemicals. Academic scientists are saying we need to do something, and we need to do it fast.”

My take? Avoid exposure to bpa. Until they can say definitively, “bpa is safe.”

Read the rest of this article here (NY Times).

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