This past summer, New York State passed legislation banning bisphenol-A (BPA), a controversial chemical used in plastics like baby bottles and sippy cups, in children’s products. This was a huge step towards protecting our most vulnerable, adorable, and bib-wearing residents, but what about (still adorable!) adult New Yorkers? Shouldn’t we also be aware of where the dangers lurk?
After all, BPA is a chemical used in polycarbonate plastic water bottles, as well the epoxy resin lining of cans. And it’s still in some yoga mats (though hopefully we’re not ingesting those), and thousands more everyday objects like ATM receipts and takeout containers.
BPA disrupts hormone systems in the body by acting like estrogen, and, countless studies have linked it to breast and other cancers and early onset puberty. It has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes and has been shown to affect the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children.
Last month, Canada declared BPA a toxic substance, giving the government the ability to regulate it in all products (The country banned BPA in baby bottles two years ago), and just last week, the European Commission banned BPA in baby bottles starting in mid-2011. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed a similar ban of BPA baby products as an amendment to the food safety bill that passed last Thursday, but it was defeated after protests from the food industry and other major business groups. In the absence of a federal law, many states have enacted their own bans, and several companies, such as Gerber and Evenflow, have voluntarily stopped using BPA in baby bottles. Retailers such as CVS and Toys R’ Us have also discontinued selling products that contain the chemical.
Yet even as BPA is increasingly accepted as toxic, the focus is still set squarely on protecting children, rather than, well, everyone. “Due to concerns about a child’s unique vulnerabilities to environmental exposures at critical stages of development, much of the legislation thus far has focused on infants and children,” says Dr. Maida P. Galvez, an assistant professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Pediatrics at Mount Sinai who studies BPA. “Children and adolescents also tend to have higher levels [in their bodies] than adults, as reported in the Center for Disease Control Report on Human Exposures.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that adults are not susceptible to BPA’s harmful effects, and many advocacy groups reason that it’s better to play it safe. “Precautionary Principle is when you act upon the weight of sound scientific evidence, even if you don’t have 100 percent certainty,” says Laura Weinberg, president of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition. “The public has been advised by national advocacy groups and the Department of Health in Massachusetts to avoid BPA in products when possible, due to the growing body of evidence—more than 700 studies—that show adverse health effects.”
So, to help you play it safe, here are a few simple recommendations from Mount Sinai’s Dr. Galvez:
Use safe alternatives such as glass or polyethylene plastic, which is symbol #1. (The worst plastics are numbers 3, 6, and 7. A cheesy, but easy-to-remember rhyme can help: 5, 4, 1, 2—all the rest are bad for you.)
1. Do not microwave food or beverages in plastic. (Heat promotes leaching of the chemical into your food.)
2. Do not microwave or heat plastic cling wraps.
3. Do not place plastics in the dishwasher.
4. If you use polycarbonate plastics, like water bottles, baby bottles, and sippy cups, use them only for cold or room temperature liquids, not warm or hot beverages.
5. Avoid canned foods when possible.
6. Look for labels on products that say “BPA-free.” —Lisa Elaine Held