As you know from my previous writings on the subject, BPA or Bisphenol A is an organic compound used in a huge number of retail products, including plastic food and beverage containers, kitchen appliances, electronics (casings) and packaging of all kinds. It is even included in the resins used to line soda, soup and vegetable cans. It is currently known to be an “endocrine disrupter” or a synthetic chemical known to mimic the behavior of estrogen. It has been found to disrupt normal heart muscle function and prompt arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. BPA has come under increasing scrutiny by medical researchers for this endocrine-hormone-disrupting potential and has gotten a lot of media attention for this. This new information proves that it can interfere with reproductive, egg and fat cell development, as well as with thyroid hormone and neurological functions. The chemical has also been labled an “obesegen”, meaning it is linked to conditions that can prompt obesity and diabetes.
Suspected of being hazardous to humans since as early as the 1930s, current concerns about the use of bisphenol A in consumer products began in 2008. At that time several governments and their agencies issued reports questioning its’ safety. The news media grabbed the story and many retailers quietly removed products containing BPA from store shelves. Up until now, the main concern have been regarding the exposure of fetuses, infants and young children to products loaded with the compound.
But there is new, disheartening (excuse the pun), news. A study released this week by researchers at the University of Cincinnati says that exposure to bisphenol A may increase heart disease in women. And guess what? New research proves that these effects can occur at very low levels of exposure. In other words, you don’t have to drink more than a couple sodas a day or use more than 1 or 2 plastic food storage containers.
This new information was released in a study that was presented at June 2009 Endocrine Society annual meeting.
BPA is desired by manufacturers because it can create plastics so durable they can then be used in sports gear, motor vehicles, shatterproof lenses as well as in baby bottles and toddlers sippy cups. The big problem arises when the chemical leaches from finished products and ends up in the bowl of corn or the cup of soda. In actuality, the plastics and resins created by this process are so widespread that BPA is literally everywhere. Because of this, current exposure to this chemical by American consumers is nearly continuous, even though the chemical BPA does not last long in the environment or in the human body. There is no “down time” in effect, because just as you finish the can of soda and the chemical starts to leave your body, you are handling or eating something else that renders BPA.
This is scary stuff. In fact, oversight by the US CDC has found BPA in nearly 95% of the Americans they have tested! As well, a current study by Health Canada found BPA in 96% of the canned soft drinks it tested. Please note that this study that covered 84% of all soft drinks sold in Canada and that the levels found where equivalent to 500 times what are considered normal estrogen levels! I mean, seriously. I’m getting paranoid here. I’m at that age when heart disease starts being an issue and it runs in my family.
The study showed that even very low levels of BPA can interfere with the genetic receptors that help regulate cardiac muscles, resulting in an increased frequency of irregular heartbeat. This is interesting because I personally know several people who have developed irregular heartbeats over time. In every case, it did not have genetic relevance nor was it predisposed. This new study shows that BPA, as an “estrogenic” compound, interferes with how the heart muscles produce calcium. Calcium, as you may known, is a key factor in maintaining a normal, healthy heartbeat. Now, due to the specific ways in which the female body responds to estrogenic substances, this effect occurs in females rather than males. So there you have it. Like I said, scary stuff.
Does this explain the current rise in heart fatalities among women, when women were once considered safe from this (in general, at least)? I realize that currently 30% of women suffer from cardiovascular disease and nowadays women account for about 50% of heart fatalities but this was not always the case. When I was growing up, heart problems were the least of women’s worries. Why the big change? And why are we not paying attention?
To make a bad situation even worse, the American Heart Association are now saying that women have a higher rate of death from a repeat — rather than first — heart attack. This makes any factors.. including BPA exposure.. that might increase the chances of having a second attack, a big concern.
To be fair, the adverse impact of BPA on cardiac muscles have been seen in cells isolated from rats and mice. It is the scientists belief that the mechanism triggered here should work the same way in human hearts. In addition, the Endocrine Society released a statement last year that points out endocrine-disruption chemicals (like BPA) work the same way in wildlife as in humans and have produced the same results in both live-animal and cell-culture experiments. The current study used cells isolated from human heart transplants.
BPA is currently approved for use in products by the USDA, even in food contact items. This means that they think it’s safe and that they are not going to restrict it’s use. However, this mounting evidence claiming the adverse health impact of this compound has triggered efforts to regulate it. In fact, many states have introduced bills that would ban BPA from infant and children’s products. So far, the impetus is slow rising. Only two have passed, one in Chicago, the other in Minnesota. But, as always, the grassroots is where true change takes hold. If the public lets their preferences be known with their wallets, well, then.. things happen. In the wake of bad publicity, a number of U.S. retailers have withdrawn products voluntarily, among them Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. The entire country of Canada has banned BPA from baby bottles sold there and now includes BPA on its list of toxic substances.
I realize that the resistance in this country comes from the basic tenants of a free market. Regulations and restrictions on products hurts manufacturers, influences wall street returns and puts people out of work. But ethical and moral considerations must come into play at some point. Is it worth killing your customer base just to sell another bottle? In their usual head in the sand style, the chemical and plastics industry maintains that BPA is safe, as does the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, whose members use BPA in food-can lining. I mean, who would want to spend a few more cents coming up with an alternative? Just kill off your customers.. or bet yet, sterilize them.. so that the need for your product dries up. I realize the retail industry in the US is not known for intelligence or foresight but I think dire circumstances will drive innovation. In the face of disaster, they won’t have a choice.
They continue to release the same inane, banal, wrote statements about safety. These are usually rooted in the general belief that the stamp of approval from the USDA means something. If you are awake, you know different. If you are pushing your cart through the grocery or big box store snoring and drooling on yourself, then that’s another story. But you simply cannot afford to do that. Even if you don’t give a hoot about yourself.. then what about your kids?
While they dismiss the science and claim that animal studies are irrelevant, more and more women may die. Consider this. Although this is not confirmation of any direct cause and effect, the AMA published in it’s journal the results of research that showed that people exposed to higher levels of BPA are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who were not. This study was based on samples from nearly 1,500 adults collected by the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Since this isn’t animals and it’s a credible institution, what do they say now? Nothing, of course. Inertia rules.
Given the strong evidence of multiple adverse health impacts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A, the Endocrine Society, which has over 14,000 members from over 100 countries, is currently recommending decreasing your exposure to these chemicals. Meanwhile, the FDA is continuing its own review of BPA safety. But waiting for the FDA to go against industry is like waiting for grass to grow on the desert.
This is going to be up to YOU. You have to take your own health and well being into your own hands and stop relying on manufacturers to produce something safe or for retailers to tell you the truth about their products. Where the game is to make money, ethics and morals go out the window. You remember the old saying, “all is fair in love and war”? Well, this now applies to business, too.
The whole idea behind my blog is “planting a seed for change”. And realizing that only you can change your world, I try to give you the information you need and some tools to work with. The first tool in you arsenal is always your wallet. Stop buying garbage and they’ll stop making it. Stop and think before you spend. Don’t just buy the cheapest. Save up for the best and buy less.
In this case, you need to educate yourself about BPA. And then you need to stop buying products you don’t really need that have it. There are some products you can’t avoid but you should cut down on them. This list starts with soda in plastic bottles or cans (buy glass where you can), cans of vegetables (buy frozen), food storage containers (buy baggies) or plastic eyeglass lenses (insist on glass). Look on the bottom of bottles and cans and reject any that are marked with a “3” or a “7”. Buy plastic items marked with a recycling number “1” or “2”. Look for the letters “PC” near the recycling symbol and reject these. Look for plastic types, “1”, “2”, “4”, “5” or “6”. PET bottles are safe. Be very careful when buying baby bottles or other plastic items for kids.
Some things you can’t avoid and these include CDs, DVDs, CD and DVD cases, epoxy resins, dental fillings, thermal and carbonless copy papers, epoxy coatings and resins and sports equipment. There are now Japanese made epoxy coatings and resins that are BPA free and may be sold in various areas so check and see if these are available. In the U.S., BPA is manufactured by Bayer MaterialScience, Dow Chemical Company, SABIC Innovative Plastics (formerly GE Plastics), Hexion Specialty Chemicals, and Sunoco Chemicals. In 2004, alone, these companies produced just over 1 million tons of bisphenol A, up from just 7,260 tons in 1991. In 2003, annual U.S. consumption was 856,000 tons, 72% of which was used to make polycarbonate plastic and 21% going into epoxy resins.
There is one more thing you can do to make a difference. Sign these petitions. By doing so, you are letting industry know that you are not snoring behind the cart and that you care what you and your family consume. Enough of you do this and it will make a difference, I promise.
Wake up and do something! You can change the world.