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BPA musings

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Someone posted a link to a new article decrying the horrors of BPA. Again. I started writing a response, and realized it was far too long for Facebook, so here it is (and I kinda extended it, because… links).

This is kinda a rant and (hopefully also sorta) informative.

It’s not exactly news. I found this article from NPR (a pretty good summary of the Mother Jones article), published a year ago. FWIW, I think this a less inflammatory article from the ACS (American Chemical Society, a professional society of chemists, which is not the same as the original post’s American Chemical Council, which seems to be a lobbyist group in DC). This article is pretty good too, although kinda old. I’m having trouble finding recent studies.

I have a personal beef about people using the word “chemical.” Just doesn’t make sense to demonize a word when all it describes is most matter on the planet. Similar issue for me is with “organic” and “natural,” both of which describe amino acids as well as snake venom. Neither word means that it’s inherently good or healthy or that you should eat it.

BPA (or its analogs) is in a lot of hard plastics. If you truly want to get rid of BPA, you should be prepared to also dump your keyboards, Nalgene bottles, all canned food (which is lined with plastic to prevent botulism and extend shelf life), all heat-printed papers like receipts, and glasses lenses (probably the frames, too).

If you want to get rid of all plastics, you still have sandwich baggies, juice boxes (lined like canned foods), most packaging (like the bags inside cereal boxes and yogurt cups and glass-bottled juices with plastic-lined metal lids), pharmaceutical and shampoo containers, your toothbrush and toothpaste tubes, the toys your kids chew on, not to mention synthetic clothing and fabrics, nail polishes and some make up, probably coatings on diapers and paper products, your city’s and your house’s water lines (which may have PVC pipes or junctions), and nearly anything else that may possibly come in contact with liquids on a daily basis.

With that…

There does seem to be clear evidence that BPA can act as an estrogen (actually, estradiol) mimic, and yes, that can mess with biology and development, especially in kids/babies (I think it’s safe to say that any contaminant or drug or food will mess with little guys more, just because of the size of the “dose” compared to their bodily size). This is why most safety tests are done on a g/kg body weight scale. But just because you eat it, doesn’t mean it actually gets into your system to do damage. This NYTimes article talks about how, although BPA exposure might be higher than thought, most of it is disassembled by the liver and doesn’t get into the bloodstream.

The FDA’s job is to evaluate whether chemicals are safe for human consumption (note: not whether the food/drug does what they say it does, like vitamins… a whole separate topic), and it has found that BPA is okay. Also, the European Food Safety Authority (generally more strict than the FDA) is also okay with BPA at current — pretty low — doses. A lot of the scare-articles will say that 90-something-% of people have BPA in their urine or stool. Just because it’s detected, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily in large amounts or doing harm to you (think of blood-alcohol levels: small amounts are generally not harmful for most people, but the alcohol can still be detected). Plus, BPA has been used since the 1960’s (i.e., we all grew up with it, so if it’s really nasty and mutating away at our genes, we’d already have the genetic mutations and be passing them on to our kids). Comforting, huh?

So the question really is about the dose you (or your littles) get.

This is also not (entirely) a defense of the FDA. In general, I think the FDA gets it correct most of the time. Sometimes they don’t (actually, they got part of that one right).

If you minimize your food’s contact with plastics, you’ll have less BPA (or whatever else leeches from plastics) in your diet. Instead, you’ll probably have other things leeching from whatever you put it in (by the way, metal containers also leech metals into your foods, too… that’s why they say to cook on cast-iron if you’re anemic). If you use plastics, don’t heat them, as heat often degrades the integrity of the plastic and allows more stuff to leech out. Plus, old or degraded plastics are great harbors for bacteria, which can also be harmful or deadly.

These news articles also expose the danger of letting the public dictate what’s safe and what’s not. Most of us aren’t experts in biochemistry and pharmacology. It’s the same kind of hysteria that lets people think that it’s okay to not vaccinate their kids. News articles are designed to upset you so that you read them. Here’s a good article on how to read science articles and figure out which to take with a grain of salt.


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