‘What’s in my tuna?’ The controversy over BPA continues

Lyndsie Yamrus, Assistant Opinion Editor

Around 6 billion pounds of bisphenol-A (BPA), an organic compound used primarily in plastics and coatings of manufactured products, are produced globally each year. That’s a substantial amount.

One part per trillion is another important number – often described as being equivalent to one twentieth of a drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. This number represents the amount (at least) of chemical doses detectable by scientists in the human body today.

BPA can be found in a vast array of everyday products, so nearly everyone is being exposed to it. Can and plastic food containers are perhaps the most common sources and are generally the most common routes of exposure, since humans ingest what is inside them.

BPA used in lining metal cans was actually used to protect the consumer against the metal leaking into the food and the can itself against corrosion, but in reality, the BPA actually leaches onto the food or beverage inside.

The Center for Disease Control and prevention discovered that at least 212 environmental chemicals can be found in the body, and BPA is one of them.

The chemical has been talked about more and more recently, so is BPA really something to be worried about?

It could be.

BPA is an endocrine disrupter, meaning it interferes with bodily hormones. For example, the chemical can act like estrogen, mimicking or disrupting the real hormone to cause reproductive and/or pubertal problems.

Laboratory studies on animals, where the chemical was introduced in small amounts, created health problems including neurological problems, reproductive problems, reduced sperm count and cancer, among other health complications. The discovery of negative effects on fetuses has led to a wide response towards BPA exposure in pregnant women, who are suggested to avoid the chemical.

Recently, the FDA has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, and companies that make these products have phased out its use.

This decision however, seems anything but serious. It’s a necessity for baby bottles to be BPA-free, okay, but what about the rest of society?

The FDA webpage regarding BPA concerns specifically states that “the level of BPA from food that could be passed from pregnant mothers to the fetus is so low that it could not be measured” and that “models show that BPA is rapidly metabolized and eliminated through feces and urine.”

Turns out, this decision was really only made to ease public anxieties, and the FDA seems a little wishy-washy on the topic. In 2008, they stated that BPA was safe. In 2010, they had concerns. Now they’re back to saying BPA is safe. For now, we as a public body don’t really know what to believe, although scientists have a lot of evidence to say that BPA is not harmless.

Science often moves at an incredibly slow pace. Regulations move at an even slower pace, and it could potentially take years for the industries to make a decision on whether BPA should be banned or not.

But while these decisions are being made, we’re all being exposed. I just hope that when the concrete science does become available saying that yes, bisphenol-A in even the tiniest of dosages is toxic to human health, the FDA remembers their professional responsibilities in protecting human health.

For those who are concerned, you can distinguish BPA-containing products by the letters PC (polycarbonate) and recycling label #3 or #7. Although not all products marked with these numbers contain BPA, it is a sensible guideline to avoid these particular plastic groups.  According to the Environmental Working Group, plastics #1, #2 and $4 are the safest choices.

Oh, and Green Century released a study last year, grading major brands on their BPA policies: Wal-Mart, Kraft, Unilever and Coca-Cola all failed. Whole Foods received a D+. Surprising, because Whole Foods sounds so … wholesome.

The good news is that Chef Boyardee, Hunt’s and H.J. Heinz (ConAgra brands) all passed with high scores.

Looks like Spaghetti-O’s and ketchup for dinner …