By Leeann Brown, EWG Press Secretary
Ever since EWG's 2007 report about BPA in food can linings was released, I've walked right past the canned food aisle in my grocery store. In fact, about a year ago, a bunch of EWG staffers challenged ourselves to go a full week eating no food from a can. Fresh and frozen are healthier anyway, so it's a win-win (although canned can often be cheaper, making the BPA easier to avoid if you have the income to make that choice; not everyone does). So I wasn't very surprised to hear this week's news from the U.S. FDA that, indeed, food cans DO leach BPA into their contents, some at very high levels.
The FDA study found canned green beans contaminated with as much as 730 parts per billion of bisphenol A, a synthetic hormone and component of epoxy can linings, confirming EWG's 2007 research.
The tests, which the FDA Office of Food Additive Safety published today in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that 71 of 78 canned foods tested were tainted with BPA. These tests confirm Environmental Working Group's 2007 research that found the chemical in 55 of 97 cans of food.
"Federal health agencies warn parents to limit their children's BPA exposures," senior analyst Sonya Lunder, M.P.H., said. "But with the chemical found in canned food, store receipts and even umbilical cord blood, we think that 'buyer beware' isn't good health policy. Systematic protections for children are the only solution."
Eight states now mandate that infant formula containers and/or baby bottles contain no BPA.
After its 2007 tests, EWG urged FDA to update its tests of canned food for BPA, last conducted in 1995. Scientists have long known that epoxy breaks down quickly, causing BPA to migrate into food from can linings. According to biomonitoring surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all Americans test positive for BPA. In 2009, EWG tests found BPA in 9 of 10 umbilical cord blood samples, the first detections of the chemical in U.S. newborns.
In both the EWG and FDA studies, green beans were the most heavily contaminated. In the FDA tests, a single serving of beans with the highest BPA level could result in a dose uncomfortably close to the amount that has caused permanent damage to lab animals. Bisphenol A acts like estrogen in the body, can disrupt the hormone system and cause other harmful effects, even at very low doses.
Hundreds of animal and human studies have linked BPA to abnormal reproductive system development, diminished intellectual capacity, behavioral problems, reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, resistance to chemotherapy, asthma, cardiovascular system problems and other chronic disorders. Worker studies have shown lower sperm counts and other ailments of the male reproductive system.
The chemical is commonly found in canned infant formula, hard plastics, cash register receipts and dental fillings.
In FDA's tests, foods with the highest levels of BPA included green beans, peas, chili and refried beans. EWG's tests found high concentrations of the chemical in green beans, soups, ravioli, tuna, and mixed vegetables. Both tests found that canned fruits commonly had lower levels, because they relied on tin cans with non-epoxy liners.
Some food manufacturers and retailers have switched to non-BPA packaging in response to consumer demand. The Kroger Company, owner of Kroger's supermarkets, recently announced plans to develop cans without BPA for its store brands.
EWG's tip sheet to reduce BPA exposure advises consumers to avoid canned foods when possible and eat fresh vegetables and fruits instead.