Canada became the first country in the world to declare Bisphenol-A (BPA) a toxin on September 23rd, 2010. The decision comes as a relief to many, but is also in opposition to some major research by Europe and the United States. Here’s where the facts stand in the BPA issue.
What is BPA?
Bisphenol-A is an organic compound used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, as well as other materials. The compound has been used to make plastics for over 50 years, and is especially prevalent in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic. Because it is clear and practically shatter-proof, this type of plastic is used to make things like baby and water bottles, food containers, sports equipment, medical devices, dental fillings, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs, and household electronics.
How is BPA harmful?
BPA is an endocrine disruptor — a chemical that can mimic the body’s own hormones and cause some negative health effects, especially in early human development. BPA disguises itself as estrogen, which controls brain development, the reproductive system, and fetus development. While many believe that BPA is not harmful, studies have shown that even in small doses, the chemical can distrupt the endocrine systems and lead to obesity, breast cancer, reproductive issues, and hyperactivity. BPA leaches from the food container when the food is highly acidic, when the item has been cleaned with strong detergents, or when it is exposed to high temperatures. People introduce BPA into their bodies when they eat the food that was in these containers.
Is it really something to be concerned about?
Issues of whether or not BPA is toxic have been circulating for years, especially when it comes to our little ones. Babies, for example, ingest a proportionally larger amount of BPA because they’re so small. Not only are they exposed to the stuff through their bottles and other baby food containers, but BPA has been found in fetal and umbilical cord blood, proving that it transfers to the infant from the parents. In 2007, a consensus statement by 38 experts on BPA concluded that average levels in people are above those that cause harm to many animals in lab experiments, which spurred research in the area.
Canada’s Big Step
Canada decided that enough was enough and became the first country in the world to declare that BPA is a toxin. Health Canada identified the dietary intake as the primary source of human exposure and after underlining concerns regarding the link to its effects in rodents, said it was “considered appropriate to apply a precautionary approach when characterizing risk to human health”. The declaration went on to say that BPA “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.” This announcement was the culmination of two years of deliberations in Canada, and differs from the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority, which says it has found no scientific evidence that would lead it to recommend altering the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of the chemical. Not surprisingly, the chemical industry wasn’t too happy about the declaration either. Steven Hentges, the American Chemistry Council executive director, said the move was “contrary to the weight of worldwide scientific evidence, unwarranted and will unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public”. The Canadian government is standing strong in light of this controversy, insisting that its actions were based on “robust and relevant scientific evidence”.”Our science indicated that Bisphenol-A may be harmful to both human health and the environment, and we were the first country to take bold action in the interest of Canadians,” said Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health.
The United States’ Position
In January of this year, the FDA expressed “some concern” (the middle level on the scale of concerns) about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate glad in fetuses, infants, and young children. While it announced it was taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply, it also recommended that that families should NOT change the use of infant formulas or foods. In the FDA’s educated opinion, the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition for infants outweighs the potential risk from BPA exposure. As of only a few months ago, many US states are considering some sort of BPA ban, and the Environmental Protection Agency declared BPA a “chemical of concern”.