BPA and Other Plastics: Are they Poisoning Us?

BPA, or bisphenol A, has been in the news again recently. You remember BPA, right? It's a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, like baby bottles, and in canned food and beverage linings.

BPA has just the sort of handy properties you'd want in something that cozies up next to your food and beverages. It's an endrocrine disrupter linked to numerous health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity. Oh, and pregnant women and children are supposed to be especially careful to avoid exposure because of potential developmental problems. Good thing it's in so many baby bottles!

Most recently BPA has been in the news because the trendy eco-conscious aluminum water bottle people, Sigg, just sheepishly admitted they were using the stuff in their liners until August of 2008. Whoops!

Photo: mcj2a

So all the careful consumers who'd switched from Nalgene's polycarbonate bottles because they had BPA's and went to Sigg's aluminum bottles instead? It seems some of them are a little steamed.

(And let's not even get into the whole drinking water safety issue. Apparently, due to lax EPA enforcement, there's some Pretty Darn Nasty Stuff out there.)

But back to BPA. It was also just in the news because a recent Harvard Study found that drinking one's water out of a hard plastic polycarbonate bottle instead of a stainless steel one does indeed appear to raise BPA amounts in the body.

And it's not just BPA we're supposed to worry about, either. There are other plasticky culprits that one hears are dangerous. Like, for example, phthalates, which are plasticizers found in a variety of products including sweet, innocent-looking toys like rubber duckies.

(But, um, excuse me scientists: Which one of you clever kids decided to coin a word starting with the letters "PHTH"? I think we should ban phthalates based on spelling alone. Otherwise, people will be spitting all over each other trying to say it properly.)

Anyway, after coming across an interesting post over at Truth 2 Being Fit about plastics, I set out to investigate whether this was something I should worry about.

Wanna know what I discovered?

Photo: dpade1337

Actually, there's good news and bad news. And then worse news and even worse news and then maybe some slightly hopeful news.

Too much to digest? Well, I'll make it easy.

Since most of us tend to pick and choose the information we pay attention to based on (1) our typical emotional style, and (2) what we already believe to be true, I'll break it down by pre-existing mindset. Just pick yours, and you can skip all the rest since you won't pay attention anyway!

1. For the action-oriented pragmatists: check out Jody's post mentioned above, or the source of her safety information over at Care 2. These posts remind you that many plastic food and beverage containers come with those little recycling numbers, which can also alert you to the Evil kind of plastics in them!

In short: the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are usually a better bet than the numbers 3, 6, and 7, which could contain dangerous chemicals.

Other things you can do: switch to a water bottle made with stainless steel (not aluminum, like Sigg). I've got bottles made by Klean Kanteen and Enviroproducts. They don't have (or need) plastic liners like aluminum bottles do, and you can clean them really easily, by hand or in the dishwasher.

(Note: I'm not even getting paid or free-producted to say that!)

You might also want to choose glass or cardboard or ceramics containers over cans or hard plastic containers; avoid microwaving in plastic; avoid putting hot liquids in plastic; throw away old scratched beat-to-shit tupperware type things; and just generally try to avoid a lot of exposure to plastic or can linings on or near your food.

Also, the Environmental Working Group has some resources on avoiding BPA, like a guide to infant foods and baby bottles, and a report on BPA in canned foods. Canned milk? Not so bad. Canned meat or pasta? Not so good. (Wait a minute...canned pasta? Ewww!)

2. For Those Tired of Melodramatic Health Warnings Who Don't Give a Rat's Ass about BPA or other plastics: Lucky you, there's absolutely nothing you need to know!

3. For Those Who Think it's a Conspiracy and They're All Out to Kill Us: Want further proof of your suspicions? Check out the Newsweek articles on the dangers of BPA and the creepy way the FDA has distorted the research to avoid regulating it. And just spend some time over at the EWG and discover how almost every product in modern life, from sunscreen to shampoo to produce to cell phones, is full of toxins or radioactivity or some other scary crap that's gonna kill us one day, and the government has been not been particularly interested in trying to stop it.

4. For The Only Mildly Concerned, as well as the Lazy, or the Hopeful: So yeah, basically there's all kinds of dangerous stuff out there, and remembering to follow a few of the rules for avoiding unnecessary exposure makes sense. When you can remember. Or when there's an reasonably priced, convenient way to do it.

But there's a little bit of cause for hope! We have a new administration, and there are new people starting to head up many of our government agencies, and there seems to be a growing awareness that our federal regulators have gotten far too cuddly with those whom they are supposed to be regulating. Maybe someday they might actually do something about making sure the stuff we buy is safe!

So which of the above mindsets do I have?

Probably a little bit of all of them.

I'm mostly weary that it's always such a f@cking battle to go to the grocery store and not come home with poison, just because it's more profitable for companies if they don't have to worry whether the stuff they sell us will eventually kill us or not.

I'm just a lazy blogger, not a scientist. I'd like for people with actual qualifications to do real, unbiased research and find out what's dangerous and what isn't. And if it's not safe, perhaps it shouldn't be on the shelves!

What do you folks think about the dangers (or not) of plastics, pesticides, or other potential toxins making their way into our bodies?

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