'Tapped':  Bisphenol A

By Louisa Enright | Feb 07, 2011

In the documentary “Tapped,” Dr. Frederick Vom Saal says Bisphenol A, or BPA, is “one of the most toxic chemicals known to man.”  BPA, explains Vom Saal, is “the poster child chemical that is going to dismantle the entire regulatory process and demand a re-analysis of all chemicals.”

BPA, he says, is “frightening to the regulatory community because of the magnitude of the error they have made.”

BPA leaches into water from water containers made of hard, polycarbonate plastic, stamped with No. 7 on the bottom of the product.  Examples of problem water containers are the five-gallon hard plastic water jugs used with water cooler systems, baby bottles, and sports bottles.

Other examples in the general food system include containers for liquid baby formula and the linings of beverage and food cans.

Elaine Shannon, of the Environmental Working Group, reports that because plastics made with BPA “break down easily when heated, microwaved, washed with strong detergents, or wrapped around acidic foods like tomatoes, trace amounts of the potent hormone leach into food from epoxy lacquer can linings, polycarbonate bottles and other plastic food packaging.”

Wikipedia notes that as of last April, General Mills had developed a BPA-free alternative can liner that works even with tomatoes.  But, writes Wikipedia, General Mills is only planning on using this new liner with its organic food subsidiary, Muir Glen.

Polycarbonate plastics are ubiquitous today.  BPA, explains Wikipedia, is used in “sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs, and household electronics” — like, Shannon notes, computers and cell phones.  BPA, details Wikipedia, is used to make other plastics; it’s a “precursor to the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A”; it was “formerly used as a fungicide”; it’s the “preferred developer in carbonless copy paper and thermal paper,” including sale receipt paper; and it is used in foundry castings and to line water pipes.”

BPA mimics estrogen in the body, which is something scientists have known since 1930.  Regulatory bodies have determined what they believe to be safe levels for humans by using an idea dating from the 16th century:  “the dose makes the poison.”

Vom Saal says, however, that this premise is false for any hormone and explains that recent studies are showing that even minute levels of BPA are unsafe.  Vom Saal explains in "Tapped" that 700 peer-reviewed, published studies show BPA to be dangerous.

He explains that the 38 internationally recognized scientists who served on a 2006 National Institutes of Health panel (Chapel Hill) determined that current levels of BPA pose risks for humans.  Shannon notes in “What the Chemical Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” that the National Toxicology Program accepted much of the Chapel Hill panel’s thinking and wrote that low doses of BPA may affect development of the prostate gland and brain and may cause behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children.

Shannon notes that Vom Saal, working with Wade Welshons at the University of Missouri-Columbia, “turned up the first hard evidence that miniscule amounts” of BPA “caused irreversible changes in the prostates of fetal mice” in 1997, or 14 years ago.  By 2008, writes Shannon, the global chemical industry was producing six billion pounds of BPA annually, which generated “at least $6 billion in sales”

In order to protect its BPA turf, the chemical industry has followed the successful tobacco industry model, which Devra Davis details in “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” (2007).  The tobacco industry spent astonishing amounts of money to advertise tobacco use, delay negative decisions, negative science, craft favorable legal decisions, obfuscate science with problematic studies from paycheck scientists, and to fire or discredit anyone saying tobacco use was unhealthy.

The chemical industry is currently running what Shannon calls a “scorched earth” campaign that includes such actions as an “industry e-mail to food banks charging that a BPA ban would mean the end of distributions of canned goods for the poor.”

Vom Saal describes in “Tapped” how a representative from Dow Chemical Company showed up in his and Welshons’ Missouri lab to dispute the data and to declare “we want you to know how distressed we are by your research.”

Vom Saal revealed that Dow tried to stop papers critical of BPA from being published. Shannon describes how the American Chemistry Council attempted to prevent Vom Saal from speaking at Stanford University because his work was “very controversial, and not everybody believes what he’s saying.”  Shannon quotes Welshons as saying that chemical industry officials made “blatantly false statements about our research’” and “they were skilled at creating doubt when none existed."

"Tapped" shows footage from a Senate hearing investigating the Food and Drug Administration’s use of biased studies produced by the chemical industry’s paycheck scientists.  Senator John Kerry castigates FDA’s Dr. Norris E. Alderson for not asking for independent studies. Kerry concludes that the FDA is not protecting citizens, and “Tapped” concludes that industry has captured the FDA and other regulatory agencies.

Lyndsey Layton, of the Washington Post, reported that as of 2009, 93 percent of the U.S. population had detectable levels of BPA in their urine.  Layton’s article discusses a November 2009 study of 634 male workers from four factories in China showed that exposure to high levels of BPA caused erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems after a few months on the job.

Vom Saal, in “Tapped,” links the following health problems to BPA:  childhood diabetes, obesity, prostate and breast cancers, brain disorders like ADHD, liver disease, ovarian cancer, uterus disease, and low sperm count in men.  Layton lists infertility in general and early-onset puberty.

Shannon discusses some of the dozens of other scientists who are studying BPA and who concur with Vom Saal and Welshons.  Patricia Hunt, a reproductive scientist (molecular biologist) from Washington State University, was stunned by what she saw under her microscope after a caustic floor detergent used to clean her lab released BPA into her animals’ food and water.  Hunt said “like most Americans, I thought, my government protects me from this kind of stuff.”  She began studying BPA, and, after a decade, determined that “exposure to low levels of BPA — levels that we think are in the realm of current human exposure — can profoundly affect both developing eggs and sperm.”

A Yale University medical school research team led by Csaba Leranth discovered that BPA affects the neurological system in African green monkeys.  In humans, reported team member Tibor Hajszan, the devastating effect on synapses in the monkey brain could translate to memory and learning problems and depression.

In September, Canada banned BPA as a toxic substance. Eight states have banned BPA in children’s products: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.  In October, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection held hearings on a ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.  The board postponed any decision until it studied expanding the ban.

Here’s what you can do: Don’t wait for our government to protect you.  Don’t buy canned foods or beverages unless the container says “BPA free.” Avoid the combination of plastic and foods. Don’t heat plastic, and don’t reuse plastic containers. Do buy, cook, and preserve the locally grown, organic, nutrient-dense whole foods that are abundantly available in our region.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Lisbeth A Whitney | Feb 08, 2011 08:11

BPA is also found in Ball and Mason jar lids.  So even if you grow your own vegetables or buy locally available produce, you must search out BPA free canning lids.  There are a few options available.



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