tips, topics, info and insight to help you save money and make our world a little greener

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Worry About BPA

In one of my first posts - it was about making soup stock from scratch - I briefly mentioned the issue of BPA in food containers. Last week, the New York Times published an editorial advising Americans to avoid using products that contain bisphenol-A or BPA.  BPA is "a key component used to make epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastic, which are used to make consumer goods," according to the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group of the American Chemistry Council which represents most of the major manufacturers of BPA.

BPA is used in the manufacture of eyeglasses, bike helmets, cell phones, CDs and DVDs, cars, planes and medical equipment. It's also found in most plastic containers that have the number 7 inside the recycling arrow on the bottom of the containers. Water bottles, baby bottles and the inside coatings of cans for food are made with BPA, and this is where the big concern lies. 

The issue raised in the New York Times editorial is "concern about the potential effects on the brain, behavior and prostate in fetuses, infants and children" as a result of studies by The National Toxicology Program which is part of The National Institute of Health.

This isn't new news apparently. According to the editorial, and a number of articles, The National Toxicology Program expressed their concern in September of 2008. But the FDA, which had issued a draft report in August of 2008 saying "that small amounts of BPA that leach into milk or food are not dangerous," is now also expressing "some concerns" about the dangers of the substance.

In my on-going efforts to live a greener life, I have greatly reduced the amount of plastic in my home. But I do have glasses, a bike helmet, cell phone, CDs, and DVDs, though these items aren't leaching BPA into my food. A thorough search of the house didn't turn up one #7 plastic container. But my pantry has a few the moment there a half dozen cans of beans, two of coconut milk and one of clams. Is the food in these cans contaminated with BPA? If it is, what will the affect be on my family - I'm not pregnant and I don't have any infants or young children at home. Because my exposure is pretty limited, I'd say the risks are slim to none.

But for pregnant women and families with young children, the risks are frightening.

The good news is that most baby bottle makers are no longer using BPA in their manufacturing process. Parents can check the bottles they have on hand and throw away any they suspect are made with BPA. And the FDA is recommending that consumers not pour hot liquids in containers made with BPA, though my inclination would be to chuck them all.

The Environmental Working Group has published a list of tips on how to avoid BPA in canned food. Of particular note is infant formula - almost all manufacturers of canned liquid baby formula use BPA in the containers. The Environmental Working Group recommends using powdered formula whenever possible. If that is not available or suitable, the organization recommends buying formula packaged in glass or plastic containers. Of course, a simple fix is breast-feeding, though I'm not going to get preachy about that.

Another way to keep BPA out of your food is to grow, can and freeze your own, especially tomatoes as the acid in them may cause more BPA to leach out than other foods; buy fresh fruits and vegetables from farmer's markets and local growers, or through a CSA or co-op whenever possible; and to purchase dried beans instead of canned.  Or you can look for canned food labeled BPA-free. In a July 2009 Huffington Post article,  Nena Baker, author of The Body Toxic, profiled Eden Foods,  a company that has been using BPA-free cans in 1999.

In the meantime, the FDA is doing fmore studies to determine how BPA will be regulated in the future.

Does BPA concern you? Are you doing anything about it? Please share.


  1. This BPA problem is a bear. We moved over to aluminum water bottles, but really when you look at it, mining is horribly polluting and energy intensive. Glass doesn't work since it breaks - thus a danger to commercial kitchens and families. All we can do now is balance the various evils.

  2. I'm not much of a water drinker to begin with, but I know lots of people who like the stainless water bottles. And they will last a good long time. Still requires mining and manufacturing. Maybe more public water fountains!