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California made headlines recently with its decision to officially add bisphenol-A (BPA) to its Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The move meant that all products that contain BPA in amounts exceeding the state’s yet-to-be-determined safety threshold would have to bear a warning label. Sadly, BPA's time on the infamous list was short lived. About a week later, the chemical industry managed to have it removed.
This is big news—but only if you know what bisphenol-A is and why it’s worrisome for you and your children.
BPA is an industrial chemical found in many common products, even in products marketed toward children. Some 4.7 million tons were manufactured around the world last year for use in ordinary household products such as food and drink can linings, #7 polycarbonate plastic products (such as water bottles and compact discs), plastic wraps, and thermal papers like store receipts.
Unfortunately, BPA easily leaches out of the products that contain it and into things like food, water, and people. That’s why tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control find that 93% of Americans have bisphenol-A in their bodies.
What happens when it gets there is of real concern. Bisphenol-A is believed to be a endocrine disruptor, which means it likely mimics human hormones in the bloodstream. Dozens of research studies have linked low levels of BPA (like those found in people) to countless suspected health effects including cancer, coronary disease, neurological damage, reproductive and developmental disorders, obesity, diabetes, ADHD, and behavioral problems.
No one is quite sure how much BPA it takes to cause trouble, but experts suspect the answer is not much. Scientists at the University Texas, for example, found BPA capable of producing cellular effects at levels as low as 0.23 parts per trillion, an amount far below current EPA safety limits.
We absorb bisphenol-A primarily through contact with products that contain it. Each individual exposure is small and BPA is rapidly excreted from our bodies. Even though it doesn’t build-up inside us over time, our exposures still add up. Researchers call bisphenol-A a “pseudo-persistent” chemical. This means that our constant daily contacts with it maintain blood levels similar to those that would occur if it were accumulating inside us.
For these and other reasons, many environmental health experts suggest that families and kids take a precautionary approach to BPA. This means taking action to protect our families and our children from its suspected dangers. Steps like these will help:
Avoid canned foods as much as possible, especially acidic foods like tomato and citrus products, as well as soda; the linings contain bisphenol-A.
Use stainless steel or glass water bottles instead of those made from #7 polycarbonate plastic, which can contain BPA.
Don’t store or microwave food in #7 polycarbonate plastic containers or plastic wraps. Use glass or ceramic containers instead.
Refuse store, ATM, and other receipts whenever possible. If taken, isolate them in an envelope or small plastic bag rather than let them roll around your purse, wallet, or diaper bag.
When you touch receipts, wash your hands as soon as possible after. Don’t use alcohol based hand sanitizer until you do—it is said to increase BPA absorption!
If your dentist recommends sealant treatments, make sure BPA-free varieties are used.
BPA was banned from baby bottles, sippy cups, and other children’s drinking containers in July 2012. Discontinue using any that pre-date this ban.
Avoid hard plastic infant products like pacifiers and teething toys for young children. Choose natural materials instead.
Be cautious about trusting products declaring themselves BPA-free. Many use a closely related substitute called BPS that’s suspected of similar behavior.