I warned you last October about using canned foods and clear plastic food containers as they might contain a form of plastic called Bisphenol-a (or BPA). Even though the FDA and the EPA said last year that BPA poses no threat to human health, I have my doubts.
Plus -- a few new twists and turns in this story have me more frustrated than ever, so I wanted to give you an update.
Here's the problem with BPA: It leaches into your food and gets absorbed by the body. In fact, drinking from a polycarbonate water bottle for just one week can prove harmful. That's according to a new study out last month by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Harvard scientists invited 77 students to participate in this groundbreaking study, the first to emphasis just how quickly the body begins to absorb BPA from food or beverage containers.
The students began the study with a 7-day wash-out period. During that time, they only drank from stainless steel containers in order to minimize BPA exposure. The BPA in their urine was then measured and used as a baseline.
On the 8th day, students began drinking from clear polycarbonate water bottles that were known to contain BPA. The students drank from the containers for just one week. (Polycarbonate bottles are clear, hard, non-breakable, and refillable. They usually have a pop-top or flip-top lid for drinking.)
Any guesses how much the BPA spiked after just one week?
The BPA found in the students' urine after just one week of drinking from the plastic containers spiked by 69 percent!
And in case you were wondering -- the students did use the water bottles properly. They didn't heat them. They didn't put them in the microwave. They didn't put them in the dishwasher. Nor did they use them with hot liquids, as these are all known to increase leaching.
But the BPA leached anyway! And what's most shocking to me is how quickly the spike occurred. In just one week, their urine was full of the stuff.
So why do we worry when we see spikes in BPA?
Well, according to the Harvard School of Public Health news release, BPA is an "endocrine-disruptor in animals, including early onset of sexual maturation, altered development and tissue organization of the mammary gland and decreased sperm production in offspring. It may be most harmful in the stages of early development."
That's not good, especially when you consider many baby bottles still contain BPA. (You can find some BPA-free baby items in stores now. Look on the packaging to be sure.)
Plus -- high BPA levels in the body are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, neurological problems, and even cancer. In fact, one study by scientists from the University of Cincinnati showed that even low levels of BPA in the body can interfere with chemotherapy by essentially "protecting" the cancer cells.
Big brother starting to take action…
The good news is, lawmakers are starting to step in to put BPA food containers where they belong: off the market.
Last week -- following the lead of Canada, the city of Chicago, and Suffolk County, NY -- the California state senate passed a bill to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. And it looks like dozens of other states plan to follow suit...despite the FDA's 2008 ruling.
In fact, it looks like the FDA's BPA ruling had less to do with actual scientific proof and more to do with dollar bills...5 million of them to be exact.
Let me explain...
Conflicts of interest from start to finish
First off, the FDA ruling on BPA in 2008 was based on just two studies. And those were funded by the American Plastics Council. Clearly, they have a stake in keeping the status quo.
And if that weren't enough of a conflict of interest…
Martin Philbert is the founder and co-director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center. Sounds benign enough, right? Well, he's also the Chairman of the FDA panel that put out the 2008 report on BPA telling us it was safe.
But good old Marty has some explaining to do.
Last year, reporters discovered that Philbert's Risk Science Center received a $5 million donation (that's 50 times the organization's annual budget) from a very dubious source. The donation came from Charles Gelman, an activist who, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal "has fought against government regulation of pollutants for years." He's also gone on record saying he believes BPA does not pose a threat to public health. It should come as no surprise that Gelman's hefty donation was sent to the Risk Science Center just before Philbert was set to rule on BPA safety in 2008.
Even more interesting is that Philbert never disclosed the large donation to the FDA. It only came to light after reporters asked about it. But not to worry...an FDA associate commissioner looked into it. Since Philbert's salary wasn't paid by the $5 million donation, he's certain there wasn't a conflict of interest.
Well, after some urging last week by two U.S. senators, it looks like the new FDA chief Margaret Hamburg, M.D. might actually have to fess up to the gaffe and reconsider last year's BPA ruling. Turns out that the ruling may have been made a bit hastily.
In any case, folks, if you're still unsure whether your plastic containers contain BPA, look for a recycling number somewhere on the bottom of the item. If it's got a #7 on it, you know it's got BPA in it.
Plus -- it's wise to avoid all canned foods as these are likely to contain BPA as well. Go for fresh, organic string beans, peaches, and corn this summer, instead of the canned variety. I'm sure your local farmer's market has opened for the season, so it's a perfect time to clear out that pantry of all your canned foods. Or get really serious and plant your own beans this year!