Canada Declares BPA Toxic. Why Isn’t the US Following Suit?
Bisphenol-A (BPA) has already been detected in the urine of 95 percent of people tested, and with the outpouring of research showing it can trigger major changes in your body even at low-level exposure. Canada is doing what's necessary … they're getting the ball rolling to get BPA out of food packaging and other consumer products.
The country has added BPA to their list of toxic substances, noting:
"Concern for neurobehavioural effects in newborns and infants was suggested from the neurodevelopmental and behavioural dataset in rodents
Given that available data indicate potential sensitivity to the pregnant woman/fetus and infant, and that animal studies suggest a trend towards heightened susceptibility during stages of development in rodents, it was considered appropriate to apply a precautionary approach when characterizing risk to human health.
Therefore, it was concluded that bisphenol A should be considered as a substance that may be entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health."
Notice the term "precautionary approach" … this is what is sorely lacking in so many areas in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) frequently drops the ball when it comes to regulating toxic chemicals like BPA and mercury.
BPA in baby bottles has been banned in Canada and several U.S. states. Other measures are being considered in 30 U.S. states and municipalities -- but at a federal level, the FDA is treading water.
Why Isn't the FDA Taking Action Against BPA?
According to the FDA, its regulatory framework limits its ability to regulate BPA production.
That's right. Under its current construction, the FDA is unable to remove a toxic chemical that is leaching into canned goods and other common foods as we speak, because it was classified in 1963 as an indirect food additive and is listed among the 3,000 or so chemicals categorized as GRAS ("generally regarded as safe").
This outdated GRAS designation is what exempts BPA from more careful scrutiny and analysis.
According to the FDA's regulations, a substance granted GRAS status is not subject to FDA review. The Agency explains these limitations via an "update" on its website:
“Current BPA food contact uses were approved under food additive regulations issued more than 40 years ago. This regulatory structure limits the oversight and flexibility of the FDA.
Once a food additive is approved, any manufacturer of food or food packaging may use the food additive in accordance with the regulation. There is no requirement to notify the FDA of that use.
For example, today there exist hundreds of different formulations for BPA-containing epoxy linings, which have varying characteristics. As currently regulated, manufacturers are not required to disclose to FDA the existence or nature of these formulations.
Furthermore, if the FDA were to decide to revoke one or more approved uses, the FDA would need to undertake what could be a lengthy process of rulemaking to accomplish this goal."
The FDA's Hands are Tied?
What this means is that the FDA can ask chemical companies to volunteer information about BPA, but this voluntary system does not have a history of working well when it comes to corporations who have billions of dollars at stake.
As it stands, BPA is one of the world's highest production-volume chemicals and is widely used in the production of:
- Plastic water bottles
- Plastic gallon milk bottles
- Plastic microwavable plates, ovenware, and utensils
- Baby toys, bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups
- Canned foods and soda cans (most have plastic lining in the cans)
- Tooth sealants
The American Chemistry Council, a lobby group for the chemical industry that issued a statement in early 2010 denying the health hazards of BPA, clearly does not want to see this cash cow bite the dust ... nor be held accountable for health problems related to its use. They will pull out all the stops to keep this chemical in your food packaging, baby bottles, and more for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, the FDA has admitted that they can basically do nothing to get BPA out of consumer goods without a formal change in the law, and this is despite the fact that they've acknowledged "concerns" related to its use:
"…On the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children."
Congress has introduced legislation intended to establish a federal ban on BPA in all food and beverage containers, but for now the chemical is still widely used.
What Does the Research Say About BPA?
Of 115 published animal studies, 81 percent found significant effects from even low-level exposure to BPA.
This toxic chemical, an endocrine disrupter, first caught researchers' attention after normal mice began to display uncommon genetic abnormalities. The defects were linked to plastic cages and water bottles that had been cleaned with a harsh detergent, causing BPA to leach out of the plastic.
After determining how much BPA the mice had been exposed to, the researchers realized even an extremely small dose of 20 parts per billion daily, for just five to seven days, was enough to produce effects.
Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life exposure to BPA, which can lead to chromosomal errors in the developing fetus, triggering spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage. And being exposed to just 0.23 parts per billion of BPA is enough to disrupt the effect of estrogen in a baby's developing brain.
For this reason, women of childbearing age and those who are pregnant should be especially diligent at avoiding BPA, but practically no one is immune. One recent study found the chemical can lead to heart disease, diabetes and liver problems in adults, and previous research has linked BPA to:
- Structural damage to your brain
- Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning
- Increased fat formation and risk of obesity
- Altered immune function
- Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, and ovarian dysfunction
- Changes in gender-specific behavior, and abnormal sexual behavior
- Stimulation of prostate cancer cells
- Increased prostate size, and decreased sperm production
- Heart disease
- Liver damage
Tips for Staying Away From BPA
The Environmental Working Group is keeping tabs on BPA legislation in the United States and globally, and you can view its timeline here. As of late summer 2010, BPA bills were pending in five state legislatures, and earlier this year numerous positive steps have been made to get this toxin out of U.S. food containers:
- Vermont banned BPA in baby food, formula and bottles, and will restrict its use in metal food cans starting July 1, 2014
- New York state banned BPA in bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers and drinking straws beginning December 2010
- General Mills announced in April 2010 that it would use BPA-free cans for Muir Glen organic tomatoes starting with the next harvest
Hopefully this type of legislation will continue to snowball until a worldwide ban is placed on this toxin, making it one less that you'll need to worry about. But in the meantime, the following tips will help you to steer clear of BPA as much as possible:
1. Only use glass baby bottles and dishes for your baby.
2. Get rid of your plastic dishes and cups, and replace them with glass varieties.
3. Give your baby natural fabric toys instead of plastic ones, and only BPA-free pacifiers and teethers.
4. Store your food and beverages in glass -- NOT plastic -- containers. Glass is the safest and most inert way to store your water and food, and is far better than ANY plastic (even BPA-free varieties).
5. If you choose to use a microwave, don't microwave food in a plastic container.
6. Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel travel coffee mugs rather than plastic or Styrofoam coffee cups.
7. Avoid using plastic wrap (and never microwave anything covered in it).
8. If you opt to use plastic kitchenware, at least get rid of the older, scratched-up varieties, avoid putting them in the dishwasher, and don't wash them with harsh detergents, as these things can cause more BPA to leach into your food.
9. Avoid using bottled water; filter your own using a high-quality filter instead.
10. Before allowing a dental sealant to be applied to your, or your children's, teeth, ask your dentist to verify that it does not contain BPA.
11. Avoid using canned foods (including soda cans) as the linings often contain BPA. If you do eat canned foods, choose only those that come in BPA-free cans.