Toxic Lunch: Decades of Exposure–Now What?

We’re being poisoned, and not by our enemies. More than 93% of American men, women and children have this substance in their tissues.

Research has linked it to cancer and heart disease, Type-II diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction including low sperm counts and early-onset puberty–not in laboratory animals or test tubes but in human populations. Concerns are especially high with regard to its impact on fetuses, infants and young children.

It exists almost universally in the coatings of food and drink cans and plastic bottles on our pantry shelves. Chances are, the sippy cups and polycarbonate infant bottles your children drank from this morning were lined with it, even though we’ve known since the 1990s that it is chemically related to estrogen and falls into a class collectively known as “endocrine disruptors.”

Some seven billion pounds of it are produced around the world each year as a hardening agent for plastic resins (including dental sealants) and its production and use represent a multi-billion dollar business for chemical manufacturers that include Bayer Material Science, Dow Chemical, General Electric Plastics, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, and Sunoco.

I would hope by now you already have guessed the chemical in question: BPA, short for bisphenol-A. But its name has only occasionally and briefly risen into the public-health radar. For the companies listed above, short press dwell-time has been a measure of their control over the whole truth about this chemical.

BPA is a substance about which the party line has been–until very recently–that it is completely safe unless, according to a CDC guideline, you ingest 1,300 pounds of canned and bottled food daily.

The fox has been guarding the henhouse–the chemical companies mostly police themselves! But you can expect to be exposed to BPA’s closeted skeletons in coming months. Long term studies have now been completed, and the subjects have been you, me and our children.

In January, 2010, the FDA finally elevated the status of BPA’s health effects to “some concern.” And reaching even this tentative caution has been hard won, because the money, power and influence backing the “product defense” consultants is enormous and their quest is not for the truth but to sustain profitability for stockholders no matter what.

This is a scenario nauseatingly similar to the twisted science “supporting” the lack of risk from tobacco, PCBs and Agent Orange, and includes some of the very same sleazy Washington law firms on the industry-defense side.

Consider this fact: of the more than 100 independently funded experiments on BPA, about 90% have found evidence of adverse health effects at levels similar to human exposure. On the other hand, every single industry-funded study ever conducted — 14 in all — has found no such effects.

When our second grand daughter was born in September 2007, we were concerned about BPA in the baby’s bottles. Our daughter countered our objections with the “common wisdom” that said it was safe. The data was so biased by the influence of the American Chemistry Council’s spin that I was not able to show her conclusively why she should choose glass bottles instead.

Today, the evidence against BPA is easier to find, and consumer pressure is having an impact. Might we hope that perhaps someday, the Federal Drug Administration  would become an actual watchdog over rather than a partner to industry?

The six largest US manufacturers of baby bottles will no longer sell bottles made with BPA. In April 2008, Canada banned BPA from use in baby bottles nation-wide. But there is new if not surprising evidence even the oceans bear a BPA burden. In March of this year, BPA was found around the world in sea water and beach sand, apparently leaching from nautical paints and/or the massive gyres of Styrofoam and other plastic flotsam that circulate in our seas.

No less than in the era of Silent Spring, we owe it to future generations to pay attention and take an active voice to insure the quality and content of what we eat, drink and breathe. “Better living through chemistry” is a hopeful industry catch phrase, but it does not come with a guarantee.

You CAN reduce your family’s exposure to BPA, some suggested actions listed here and find BPA resources for this article here.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Amen. But then, when you need REAL regulation, you get this kind of .. IMPORANT, high-priority stuff, instead. Check out the link:

    Above link came from Folkways Notebook blog.

    Makes me feel exceedingly glad –even if I have some traces of BPA most of our food comes directly from the source. Glass bottles for “canning”….and meat direct from moo to you. It’s those dental fillings I’m worried about!