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"More than any other subject, Bisphenol-A or BPA brings readers to this blog. Without a doubt, it is the top search that leads readers here (mostly to my diatribe on BPA and the Infant Formula Industry). Undoubtedly concerned about BPA’s endocrine-disrupting effects on the human body, people are eager to learn more about the chemical and discover how they can limit their exposure to it. So, let’s talk about BPA.
What is Bisphenol-A (BPA)?
BPA is a chemical compound invented in the late 19th century by a Russian chemist. Manufacturers use this industrial chemical to primarily to produce polycarbonate plastics like plastic water and baby bottles, plastic children’s toys, pacifiers, CDs and DVDs, medical equipment and much more. It is also used to manufacture epoxy resins like those found in food cans, circuit boards, dental sealants and some paint.
In short, if it’s plastic it probably contains BPA. The US, on average, manufactures almost 800 million kilograms of the stuff each year. It is everywhere.
What’s wrong with Bisphenol-A (BPA)?
Oral toxicity of BPA is relatively low. For example, your average lab rat would have to eat 3.25 grams of the stuff to kick the bucket. But I doubt any of my readers would consider pouring themselves a bowl of BPA and chowing down.
The real concern regarding BPA lies in consistent, long-term exposure to the chemical. You see, BPA is a known endocrine-disruptor. The chemicals that comprise BPA–when compounded as they are–mimic estrogen in the body. Our medical and scientific community has known about BPA’s estrogenic effects since the early 1930s. That’s almost eighty years.
What are the health risks and diseases associated with exposure to BPA?
The risks are many, and great. As more research continues on the subject of BPA exposure and health issues, the chemical is linked to a greater number of diseases. This represents a short list.
Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Reproductive System Cancers
Decrease in Male Fertility
But isn’t our exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA) minimal?
“Minimal” is a subjective term.
The American Chemistry Council, PlasticsEurope and Japan Chemical Industry Association over at Bisphenol-a.org would have you believe that your exposure to BPA is minimal indeed and utterly safe, but do you really trust the industry–those who profit on the continued production of this chemical–to give you a straight and honest answer on its safety?
Sadly, a 6-year study on BPA exposure indicates that 95% of the adult population is so exposed to BPA that we actually excrete the chemical in our urine. A different study conducted in 2003 and 2004 concluded that 93% of tested children excrete the chemical through their urine. The chemical is also present in the amniotic fluid of pregnant mothers as well as the cord blood of the infant at birth.
When it comes down to it, do you want to to expose your body or your children’s bodies to any level of a known endocrine disruptor or human carcinogen?
What’s the government doing about bisphenol-A (BPA)?
While the US government seems to have little interest in protecting its population from the negative effects of BPA, other governments are taking the lead in fighting against BPA’s manufacture and use. On April 18th of this year, Canada became the first nation to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles thus helping to protect the nation’s youngest citizens from greater exposure to the chemical. Canada’s ban is slated to become law in October 2008. The City of San Francisco, always a forerunner on issues such as this one, banned the sale of products for young children that contain BPA (like baby bottles) in 2006.
If you are concerned about BPA exposure and would like to see your government follow Canada’s lead, contact your legislative representatives. (US citizens can do so here.)
How are we exposed to Bisphenol-a (BPA)?
While BPA is everywhere, food and drinking containers seem to pose the single greatest risk for BPA exposure for adults and children, while the fetuses are exposed to the chemical through their mothers. Breast-fed infants are exposed to limited amounts of BPA through their mothers’ milk while infants who are formula fed are exposed to approximately 11 times that amount through infant formula and plastic baby bottles.
Examples of Products Containing Bisphenol-A (BPA):
While this list is hardly complete, it should offer you a good idea about the types of products you should avoid if you intend to limit your exposure to BPA.
Cans of Food: Cans of food are often manufactured with a lining that contains BPA. The purpose of this lining is to protect the food contained therein from the metal of the can. It also helps to prevent canned food from developing that off-taste that marks it as, well, canned food.
Plastic Water Bottles: Water bottles made of polycarbonate plastic often contain BPA. The risk of BPA leaching from the bottle into your water increases with subjecting your bottle to extreme temperatures like sending it through the dishwasher or placing it in the freezer.
Infant Formula: Cans of infant formula are a notorious source of BPA exposure. The lining in the cans of both powdered and liquid formula contains BPA. When the formula is fed to an infant, that infant is ingesting BPA. Indeed, 1 in 16 babies fed formula are exposed to harmful levels of BPA.
Plastic Baby Bottles: Like polycarbonate water bottles for adults, plastic baby bottles also pose a risk for BPA exposure. The risk might even be considered greater since these bottles and the formula in them are often heated which increases the rate at which BPA leaches.
Plastic Food Containers: Plastic food containers often contain BPA and, like baby bottles, the rate at which BPA leaches from the container and into your food increases with extreme temperatures. So microwaving your container is a bad choice as is freezing it.
Other Sources: Without a doubt, food containers comprise our biggest source of exposure to BPA, but that does not mean it is our only source of BPA exposure. Indeed, BPA is an ingredient in many other manufactured products such as CDs and DVDs, baby pacifiers, children’s toys, sports equipment etc.
Limiting Your Exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA)
While you cannot avoid exposure to BPA entirely, you can limit your exposure to the chemical by using appropriate forethought, caution and by purchasing products that are BPA-free.
Glass Jars: As an alternative to canned foods, you can purchase foods in glass jars or jar food yourself with mason jars. While the lids on these glass jars may still contain an epoxy with BPA, that is a considerable amount less than a can that is completely lined with the same epoxy resin.
Non-plastic Water Bottles: Ditch your polycarbonate plastic bottle and opt for a water bottle that does not contain plastic. Sigg water bottles offer an excellent alternative to polycarbonate plastic water bottles and are attractive. They also have a lovely line of kids bottles that could replace a BPA-containing sippy cup.
Breastfeed: Breastfeed your baby and continue to breastfeed your child until they are ready to wean. By breastfeeding you not only limit your baby’s exposure to the BPA in the lining of formula cans, but you also limit your baby’s exposure to the BPA in plastic baby bottles. If you encounter difficulties breastfeeding look into support from organizations like La Leche League and consider milk sharing or donor milk programs that will get the good stuff into your baby’s belly.
Use BPA-free Baby Bottles: If feeding your baby at the breast is not always possible, and you must use a bottle either occasionally or frequently, try using glass baby bottles or BPA-free baby bottles. We used glass baby bottles from Even-flo for my son. BornFree bottles are BPA-free and present an excellent alternative to polycarbonate plastic baby bottles.
Non-plastic Food Storage Containers: My heart will always rest with mason jars since they’re relatively inexpensive and fairly accessible. I use them for food storage, not just canning.
Other Sources: When it comes to children’s toys, switch from numerous cheap plastic toys to a few hand-selected wooden or cloth toys. There’s a handful of BPA-free pacifiers like those made by Gerber which are made of latex and those made by Binky which are silicone.
So what now?
If you got through that post, and still have questions feel free to email me at (jenny (@) green-mommy (.) com) and I will do my best to find an answer for you. (I’m still waiting to hear back from Meyenberg Goat Milk Products and whether they line their cans with an epoxy resin containing BPA). Just remember: understand the risks, limit your exposure when you can and contact your representatives to move in the direction of a safer environment."