Kicking the BPA Habit

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The FDA has announced that it will blow a third self-imposed deadline on bisphenol A–the end of 2009–further pushing back a ruling on whether the ubiquitous plastic food-packaging ingredient is safe. So it’s still up to consumers to decide on their own whether they should be concerned about the ingredient that’s in soups, juices, drinks, even drinking water and home-canning lids, and is suspected in a wide range of health issues.

At the Reno News & Review, Kat Kerlin writes about her experience in attempting a weeklong BPA-free diet. Six months pregnant, she finds it pretty much impossible to eliminate BPA from her life during the exercise, and she ultimately falls off the BPA-free wagon with a thud. Her chronicle is well worth reading for anyone attempting to live by the precautionary principle.

Meanwhile, take it from the key federal official in charge of studying BPA: Do your best to avoid the stuff. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, put it pretty clearly to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Asked if consumers should be worried about BPA, Birnbaum said, ‘Absolutely.'”

The Journal Sentinel reports that in testimony before a Senate panel in early December, Birnbaum compared BPA to lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, “all of which have been found to have devastating health effects even at low doses.” Her agency, the NIEHS, is spending $30 million in the next two years on BPA research.

BPA is just one ingredient widely used in plastics that has suspected or known damaging health effects, Environment Yale points out in “The Problem With Plastics” in its Fall 2009 issue. And the controversy surrounding BPA is just part of a larger social-political-environmental-medical debate that we’ll be having as we reform our nation’s ill-conceived toxic substances policy, largely embodied in the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“On the regulatory side, we’re in a hole, and it’ll take us a long time to dig ourselves out,” John Wargo, a Yale professor of environmental policy, political science, and risk analysis, tells Environment Yale. “Until that happens, it’s like the Wild West. The public bears the risks of exposure, and the public has to decide how to avoid them.”

Environment Yale helps out by publishing a sidebar with Wargo’s tips on avoiding toxins in your life, from his eye-opening new book Green Intelligence: Creating Environments that Protect Human Health (Yale University Press).

Sources: Reno News & Review, Science & Environmental Health Network, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Environment Yale

Photo illustration by Don Button. Image courtesy of Reno News & Review.

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