Bisphenol-A (BPA): Should it be Banned?
A month or two ago I posted an article “How Much of the BPA Story Do You Know?”, which gave many facts and background knowledge the common American, even those that avidly steer clear of BPA, did not know. If you did not read that article, I do summerize it a bit in this more legnthy essay, but you will probably want to read it for your own knowledge.
Here is my final essay on BPA. I do give the argument both sides make regarding BPA and why or why not it should be banned in the U.S., and then I give my opinion. I would LOVE to hear your opinion and any information you’d love to share 🙂
Without further adieu…
Bisphenol-A (BPA), used in many plastics and other common products in our everyday lives, was questioned a decade ago. The question asked was “Is BPA safe to use within certain amounts, limits, and uses?” The belief was that BPA was like any other toxin and was safe if controlled to certain amounts. Geneticist Patricia Hunt, however, discovered that BPA did not behave like other toxins, and thus regulations limiting amounts and levels of BPA in the products we use it in would not be enough to keep our exposure down to any “safe” level. This is because BPA is a toxin through the route of hormone disruption, and through this route, even very low doses of the toxin can cause harmful effects.
In the past, it was believed that even if BPA was harmful, use of BPA in making plastics was not toxic at all as it was chemically sealed in. This was proven false, however, when studies were done showing that the bonds that form products that use BPA do not utilize all of the chemical bonds. Thus, the chemical BPA does not get locked together. This can cause BPA to leach out of the product. Leaching is most prevalent when exposed to high heat or even abrasive damage such as that done by scrubbing pads used for cleaning dishes. This leaching then gets into the food and drink we consume, and through these methods (and many others) we get BPA in our system.
The reason that researchers like Hunt are so prevalent at trying to get BPA banned from use and not just restricted to any amount or limit is due to the studies that have been done that show BPA does not just affect the individual that it enters. These studies have proven that if BPA enters a pregnant female, the female, the fetus, and the reproductive eggs of that fetus as well (if it is female) are affected by the toxin. That is three generations affected by this toxin in one exposure.
Surveys and tests that have been done have brought us the fact that 93% of humans have detectable amounts of BPA in their urine, blood, cord blood from newborns, and/or breast milk. This fact and facts such as those Hunt discovered (that very low doses of BPA can cause harmful effects), make it impertinent to many that BPA be banned and not just limited. Some governments feel the same way and take the “better safe than sorry” approach, such as Canada (who recently banned the use of BPA) and California (who recently passed into law a bill disallowing BPA to be used in items meant for children under 3 years of age).
Why is BPA getting all of the attention? BPA has become a kind of “Poster Child” for getting the news out about endocrine disrupting chemicals. With its ability to bond to estrogen receptors and mimic the hormone estrogen links have been made with several diseases and other health problems, including cancers, obesity, infertility, early puberty, diabetes, neurological problems, and behavioral problems. Many of these are hot topics right now. How can a single toxin affect so many areas of the body in so many different ways? Just think of all the different types of diseases estrogen is connected with: “breast cancer, uterine cancer, obesity, behavior, and the immune system”. If BPA is mimicking estrogen it may be connected to these diseases in some way. Men are also susceptible as BPA also binds to receptors for male and thyroid hormones. For an infant the effects can be much different from an adult. This is because their brains are still forming and their livers are inefficient at detoxing chemicals. Knowing how BPA has a multi-generational effect (it can affect the future generations of the person exposed), we may not even know the full, long-term effects of BPA on humans for so long that many feel it is the correct action to take a “precautionary principle” and ban the use of BPA.
So, with everyone fighting to get BPA banned, why has it not been done? There are many reasons why a BPA ban is being fought and even provisions to bills in the House and Senate have not been allowed. So far, only amendments, with high likelihood of failure, have been allowed into Senate.
The main argument against banning BPA from use is due to conflicting results in research studies. There is great conflict between researchers due to the fact that studies that have or have not shown BPA to be dangerous are not able to be replicated. Some of the reasons for this is because different laboratories study the chemical differently, but much of the reason why results are unable to be replicated is a complete mystery. No matter the reason why, due to the discordances in reports there is no definite answer to the question of whether BPA is safe or not.
Studies have shown associations between high levels of BPA in an adult and that adult having an increased risk of heart or liver disease, but correlation does not prove causation, and many are quoting the fact that there is no definite proof.
The food-packaging and chemical industries are the top individuals concerned with the possible ban of BPA use. To them, BPA is has been “demonized” and any precautionary ban on the chemical would result in dramatic changes that are none too appealing. BPA has been used not only to make attractive looking clear plastics for many products, but it is also widely used in such things as linings in canned foods to prevent corrosion, cash receipt ink, dental sealants, some adhesives, and even your good old American dollar bill. With no conclusive results that BPA is harmful, such uses of BPA such as for the lining in canned goods will become not only what these companies consider “needlessly expensive”, but they also believe that any substitute will be inadequate and less effective than BPA is at the job. With the United States taking the approach that chemicals must be proven harmful before being banned, a “precautionary ban” is being fought against, even if it is submitted as an amendment to such logical bills in the Senate as the Food Safety Bill.
Bisphenol-A is not the only chemical that is an endocrine disruptor and possibly harmful to humans. Studies have identified many more; BPA is just the tip of the ice-burg so to say. Is it acceptable to take the approach the US is taking and not over-react, or is it the responsible choice to follow suit with Canada and other countries and ban with a precautionary approach?
Although it would require the United States to make some drastic changes within some of its’ large industries (such as the can industry and the chemical industry), with a chemical with the potential effects of multi-generational harm to human beings and their genetics, it is my opinion that it is worth the effort. With BPA being the endocrine disruptor poster child it is possible that a ban would open many new doors, inviting a chance for more regulations in our products, and resulting in a healthier society of individuals. It is understandable to ask for indefinite proof that this chemical is harmful to humans (especially considering what the industries feel they are giving up with disuse of the chemical), but with the properties BPA and other endocrine disruptors encompass proof would take a great amount of time that is well past our lifetimes and into that of our children. With multigenerational effects a possibility I feel waiting is unwarranted.
The public has shown support for such a ban, ruling in many states to create their own ban to protect their children’s exposure, and even large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Sears have used BPA-free labels to advertise products and increase sales, knowing the appeal of today’s parents toward products that will not have even the possibility of being harmful to their children. With the market place starting to carry alternative products and consumer demand helping drive the change I can only hope that the government listens to what I feel is our inward intuition to protect ourselves against a substance that may be detrimental to our future generations.
The New York Times, Science: In Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final Answer
Scientific American “Just How Harmful Are Bisphenol-A Plastics?”