Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Chemical Secrecy Keeps BPA in Food

Michael Potter, who runs a company that cans organic foods in Michigan, has a problem. He doesn’t want to sell Eden Food’s products in cans lined with epoxy resin containing bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen linked to a variety of potential health hazards.

But, as he told Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton, trying to find out what’s in the linings he buys is an exercise in frustration – even though he pays for the stuff.

“Inevitably, you end up speaking to a large law firm inside the Beltway that says you don’t have the right to know,” Potter lamented.

It sounds hard to believe, but Potter is correct. Makers of canned foods can’t necessarily find out if certain chemicals, including BPA, are in the liners of the cans they sell to millions of people every day.

In the case of BPA, of course, it doesn’t help that until recently, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered the plastics chemical to be “generally regarded as safe” in food. That gave companies a pass on having to disclose whether BPA was in their cans. FDA made an about-face last month, intensifying its investigation of BPA as a food contaminant, warning the public to avoid BPA-contaminated food and encouraging industry to search for alternate can linings and other BPA-infused packaging.

Making things worse, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hamstrings the downstream industries that do care about the chemicals in their products. For 33 years, that law has given industry free rein to lace the environment, and people’s blood, with an untold number of persistent chemicals, even as diseases associated with many of these contaminants skyrocketed in the U.S. population.

Under this outdated 1976 law, chemical makers have been pretty much free to cloak the identity of thousands of toxic chemicals — including their makeup, possible health risks, amounts produced and how they are used. All manufacturers have to do to hide basic information about a chemical is declare that it’s “Confidential Business Information.” (CBI).

For consumers, the current approach to “protecting” the public from hazardous contaminants is a lose-lose proposition. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives chemicals a stamp of approval without anyone having to prove them safe, and then lets industry hide critical information about them from everyone. Even the President of the United States, barring some national security emergency, would be restricted from warning the public about potential health risks from a chemical if he reviewed the “confidential” information.

Last week the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the agency’s in-house watchdog, released a damning report that ticked off a litany of serious, systemic problems with TSCA. It concluded that:

Given the limitations of the review process, EPA’s assurance that new chemicals or organisms introduced into commerce do not pose unreasonable risks to workers, consumers, or the environment is not supported by data or actual testing.

What if prescription drug manufacturers were allowed to introduce new products without first running them through rigorous safety tests?

Chemicals aren’t widgets. Many are complex mixes of sometimes-volatile ingredients bound together to produce a certain reaction — hardening plastics, in the case of BPA. Americans need a federal regulatory system with the muscle to review and approve all chemicals before they’re used, so those that could pose risks to health and the environment don’t end up in products like baby bottles and sippy cups, pizza boxes, cribs, rugs, child car seats – and in our bodies.


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6 Responses to “Chemical Secrecy Keeps BPA in Food”

  1. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I wrote a blog on this topic last month. Amy’s organic foods wrote in and said they are working on finding another option but that they had to admit, with regret, that their cans currently have the BPA. How frustrating this situation is for consumers and food companies alike! I hope BPA is banned in the near future. I hate knowing we are all polluting our bodies with these synthetic chemicals.

  2. Alex Formuzis, EWG says:

    Thanks for your post, Alexandra. I couldn’t agree with you more that the situation is incredibly frustrating, however legislation will be introduced soon that, if enacted, would place the burden of proof for chemical safety with the industry.

    New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush are expected to re-introduce this years’ version of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, which you can read more about on this site.

  3. simon says:

    Alex-Does EWG have the transperency, willingness, courage and truth to write about Chemtrails or are you also controlled by mainstream media in Washington?
    Nothing is more important than this big picture subject when it comes to toxic dust of Aluminium Oxide and barium that the entire world popluation is secretly been poisioned by.

    • Sally says:

      Simon – Is the Barium you mentioned in your post – the same that is used for upper GI’s? Our daughter is scheduled to have one, and I am wanting to cancel the test due to these concerns. Any information would be greatly appreciated!

      Sally
      anonzzz1@yahoo.com

  4. Tania says:

    I’m so confused. I just read on treehugger that Eden has been able to secure PBA free cans – and that it costs them an extra .02 per can.

    But previously I’ve read that manufacturers have no control over cans due to the fact that they are purchased as a commodity… Any clarification on this?

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/03/7-bpa-free-canned-foods.php