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California Set to Declare BPA Toxic to Reproductive System

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Full disclosure. Over the years (not in the last 15) I've been asked to leave several establishments for various reasons. There was the Paragon Bar in Seattle, Charlie B's Saloon in Missoula, Montana,Grumpy's in Ketchum, Idaho and The Blue Beat in Newport Beach, California.  That last bit a clear case of mistaken identity. 

However, my path through Western watering holes has been relatively smooth in comparison to the road the chemical bisphenol A has traveled in the last decade. Study after study by scientists from around the globe has connected the plastics and food packaging ingredient with more than a dozen serious health problems, including reproductive system abnormalities, cancer, behavioral disorders and diabetes.  A growing list of states and localities across the U.S. has 86ed baby bottles and sippy cups containing the substance. 

Now California, the most populous state in the country, is poised to declare BPA as toxic to the reproductive system in people under Proposition 65, the state's consumer products safeguards law.  The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment made its decision following a review of the 2008 National Toxicology Programstudy that was the first time a federal government agency expressed significant concerns about the adverse impacts of BPA exposure to human health. Proposition 65 requires a warning label on any item that contains a certain level of a toxic chemical like BPA.  Ouch.

However, we're not apt to see many actual warning labels on anything. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment intends to set a maximum allowable dose level of 290 micrograms per day.  That's far too high.

"No one should take away that [290 micrograms a day] is a "safe" level of exposure to BPA," says Sarah Janssen, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Over the past five years, says Janssen, scientists have developed substantial evidence that "much lower levels of exposure, within the range that most people continue to be exposed to, are linked to harmful health effects, including cancer and metabolic disorders such as heart disease and obesity."  

As a practical matter, most people are exposed to BPA by consuming canned food and drink. Those cans are lined with an epoxy lacquer that contains BPA.  The chemical leaches into the can's contents - but the concentration of BPA seldom reaches the 290-microgram level at which a label would be required. The federal Food and Drug Administration has banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups but permits its use in food cans. 

Still, environmentalists believe the California decision will make more Americans aware of the dangers of BPA in cans. As Janssen puts it, "The significance [of California's decision] comes from the fact that BPA is about to be officially recognized as a reproductive hazard by a state regulatory agency.  The listing puts manufacturers, retailers and others on notice that BPA is a chemical that is not safe." The accompanying publicity could persuade food and beverage companies to move to non-BPA can linings. The state is such a large retail market that no company would want to make one product line for Californians and another for everybody else.

There are steps people can take to lower their exposure to BPA.  They can limit their consumption of canned foods and beverages.  They can avoid hard polycarbonate plastic water bottles marked # 7. Not all #7 bottles are polycarbonate, but some are. Some thermal paper receipts from retail stores like supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations are coated with BPA. People can avoid handling them and allowing their children to touch them.

You can find out more ways to avoid contact with the chemical at EWG's Guide to BPA.

And read more about California's decision in a blog by NRDC's Janssen.


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