Bye-Bye BPA? It Could Happen Within Weeks
Faced with a growing list of lawsuits from consumer-protection, health, and environmental groups, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to announce its decision to continue to allow—or ban—the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, from food packaging.
Chemical manufacturers produce about 3 million tons of BPA annually, a startling amount when you consider that consumption of even miniscule amounts has been shown to alter heart rhythm. Small doses are also suspected of causing infertility, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and behavioral problems, among other ills.
You won't find BPA on the label, but it's used in the epoxy liner of almost all metal cans containing canned foods and canned baby formulas, as well as in cash-register receipts, vinyl shower curtains, and some No. 7 plastics. Because its use is so widespread, scientists have now detected the industrial chemical in our air, water, sand, and even the cord blood of nine out of 10 newborns.
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Environmental Working Group (EWG), the organization that released a 2007 study showing BPA migrates from those liners and into food and drink, said FDA is expected to announce its decision by March 31. Another 2007 EWG report found that one in 16 formula-fed infants were exposed to toxic levels of BPA, something other studies suggest could permanently alter the children's hormonal health and lead to diseases years down the road. "FDA is the only agency with the power to protect consumers from being exposed to BPA from the food they eat," says Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst for EWG. "Let’s hope the agency's upcoming decision will keep the public's health at the forefront."
So how can such a harmful substance be legal?
The first important thing to understand is that the current regulatory system in place for testing chemicals focuses on high doses, and the way chemicals are currently tested can't predictably indicate whether human exposures are safe, says BPA expert Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
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"Currently, chemicals are tested at extremely high levels—at doses that humans would never encounter. Researchers then calculate downward to a dose they predict should be safe," explains Vandenberg. "But that 'safe' dose is never tested! And because these chemicals have effects at low doses that they do not have at high doses, there is no way to 'calculate' a safe dose."
Vandenberg adds that there's no safe dose when it comes to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that act like hormones. Because hormones act at extremely small concentrations—think of a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool—even small changes in hormone actions can have drastic effects," she adds.