Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Extra Serving of Bis-Phenol A at the Check Out Counter

By Davey Rogner

Earlier today, the Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill that would ban the chemical bisphenol A from baby bottles and sippy cups that toddlers use. Last week, the house passed a similar bill. If Governor Martin O'Malley signs on to the bill, which he is expected to do, Maryland will be the fourth state in the country to pass measures that reduce the risk of exposing our children to the dangerous effects of the plastic hardening chemical.

Courtesy of Penn State University

Bisphenol A -- an endocrine disruptor -- acts similarly to estrogen in the human body. The disruption means that the chemical alters how hormones are either produced and/or received by cells to signal new development stages in the human life cycle. Altering the endocrine system can affect the development of the brain and nervous system, the growth and function of the reproductive system, as well as the metabolism and blood sugar levels in the human body. In laboratory experiments, it has been found that small amounts of exposure to Bisphenol A in laboratory mice or rats can cause serious genital abnormalities, such as a 30% increase in prostate weight and permanent changes in the genital tract. The exposure levels that cause these types of changes are less than the estimated daily exposure to infants and toddlers in America. The bill was well timed and necessary.

The packaging for many consumer food products, such as canned foods, water bottles, and microwaveable dinners contain BPA in the form of epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics. When we consume food, soda or water from those types of packages we intake BPA leachates. One study found that 93% of Americans tested had BPA in their urine. Additionally, an overwhelming amount of studies performed have found that the chemical is linked to breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm counts, miscarriage and a host of other reproductive failures in laboratory animals. According to the Journal Sentinal, the government has a history of supporting it's determination that BPA is safe. However, those assurances are based on outdated science and chemical industry research. In 2007, the FDA said that BPA does not pose a risk to the health of Americans, because exposure to BPA from these sources is minimal.

A groundbreaking study published last summer states that there are multiple unknown sources of BPA intake to the human body that the FDA may not have accounted for in estimating daily intake. This particular study, exposed Resus Monkeys to 400 times the FDA's estimated amount of daily exposure for the average American, and found that even though the exposure level was astronomically greater, the monkeys still had less BPA in their urine than the average American. Just last month, the FDA decided to take a closer look at BPA. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health is presently providing $30 million in stimulus funds to further the study of BPA's effect on humans.

Between 8 and 9 billion pounds of BPA are produced every year in the United States. The general population is completely unaware of their exposure to the chemical. In 2009, Science News reported that the most common form of exposure to BPA may very well be from the receipts we all receive at check-out counters. According to the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, the amount of exposure to BPA leached from polycarbonate bottles is merely nanograms. In contrast, John C. Warner, the co-founder of the Institute, says, “The average cash register receipt that's out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” And by free, he means loose molecules. This previously unaccounted for exposure may be one of many sources that the FDA ignored when determining that the chemical should continue to be allowed in the marketplace and in everyday commodities.

courtesy of The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction

About a month ago, I was visiting a close friend for his toddler's first birthday. Almost all of his child's toys were made from hardened plastics. And so I wonder: what kind of developmental risks is little Isiah's taking when he lives inside a plastic playground? Appropriately, I gave my friend a BPA-free sippy cup.

I've been working at restaurants, handling gobs and gobs of printed receipts since I was 15. How much BPA exposure have I had? How has it affected me?

Unfortunately, Warner lacks the resources to publish any reports about the prevalence of BPA in receipts. He also wonders how much of those BPA molecules can actually rub off. And if so, are they entering our bodies through the skin, or are there materials in our skin that prevent their entry?

The overwhelming feeling I am having is that this is not a problem with one single chemical like BPA, but that our exposure is more of an issue of how our society consumes. Products are now valued more for their convenience, rather than their ability to increase our health and well being. This is why plastic packaging is so readily available and piling up in our oceans, landfills, and underutilized areas in the community. We do not need this type of consumption and the burden of dealing with the waste and the effects of exposure to harmful chemicals is beginning to outweigh the convenience at which we can consume.

If we are to improve the health of our children by reducing exposure to BPA, we must mandate by law and demand changes in the way industry package and prepare materials. I'd like to attribute this widespread use of plastics to the huge production capacity demanded by large industries who profit off the fast, large-scale manufacturing, packaging and shipping of goods.

A common theme for the sustainable revolution is empowering local food producers and water sources to overtake the large manufacturers as the predominant supply of nourishment for our communities. While these initiatives are definitely less convenient as they require us to question how we choose to live, they do provide a healthy alternative.

Maybe this could also help with how we document our purchases. Maybe we could purchase less?? Maybe we could develop a widespread system of e-receipts. But most importantly, our choices have to give precedence to our health over convenience. The alternatives may be harder to find. The alternatives might even cost more money initially, but the alternatives do not externalize the value of American health.