Commentary

BPA Isn't Worth the Risk - AOL News

When Americans buy canned goods at the grocery store, they assume the food in those cans will be safe.

The last thing they expect is that the food they feed their families will be contaminated with a chemical that may seriously harm their health. Unfortunately, American consumers currently have no guarantee that the cans of chicken soup, green beans or other staples in their pantry are free of bisphenol A (BPA).

As a way to extend the shelf life of their products, many food producers line their cans with BPA, which was originally developed as a synthetic hormone. But BPA is an endocrine disruptor: a synthetic chemical that can mimic the body's own hormones, or block their normal function, causing serious health problems in animals. Even at low doses in animals, BPA exposure is linked to obesity, neurological problems, cancer, infertility and thyroid malfunction.

A study published in September 2008 in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested links between exposure to high levels of BPA and a variety of ailments and abnormalities, including diabetes, heart disease and high liver enzyme levels in humans. More study is necessary to determine whether there is a causal relationship between BPA and these illnesses, and the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences has received $30 million to research BPA's effect on humans.

Last year, the National Toxicology Program, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, reported "some concern" that BPA may affect neural development in fetuses, infants and children at current "safe" levels of exposure. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration agreed that recent studies raise questions about the potential effects of BPA on health.

The Environmental Protection Agency says a "safe dose" of BPA amounts to 50 parts per billion -- or 50 micrograms -- per day. The use of BPA is so widespread that the chemical has been detected in the bodies of 93 percent of Americans.

In my view, it's wrong for American consumers to be used as guinea pigs by the chemical corporations. No chemical should be used in food products until it is proved safe. For this reason, I introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009, which would ban the use of BPA in food and beverage containers, where it leaches into food products and, consequently, the human body.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the National Workgroup for Safe Markets released a study of canned foods sold on grocery store shelves in the U.S. and Canada. The study is called No Silver Lining, and its results reinforced the need for a ban on BPA:

  • BPA was detected in 92 percent of the cans that were tested.
  • On average, the levels of BPA found in canned goods were 77.36 parts per billion -- more than 50 percent higher than the amount designated as the maximum "safe dose" by the EPA. One can of green beans had a BPA level 20 times higher than the "safe" level.
  • BPA was even found in cans of organic food. This means that consumers who intentionally seek out pesticide-free foods are still being exposed to BPA.

My concern over the effects of BPA is so great that I no longer buy canned foods. Fortunately, some companies have begun to phase out BPA or are searching for alternatives. Eden Valley Organics now sells beans in BPA-free cans, while Amy's Kitchen and Annie's Homegrown brands are searching for an alternative to BPA. This is commendable.

In addition, states, local governments and private corporations have begun to phase out BPA. Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, Maryland, several New York counties and Chicago have restricted the use of BPA. The Canadian government has banned the chemical outright in all baby bottles, and California's legislature is considering a ban.

Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us will no longer sell baby bottles containing the compound. And in March 2009, six U.S. manufacturers of baby bottles announced they will no longer use the chemical.

BPA in our food is a major cause for concern. I will do everything in my power to make sure the Ban Poisonous Additives Act becomes law, but I expect an uphill battle as the chemical industry spends millions on lobbyists to defeat the bill.

American consumers can fight back, however, by refusing to buy BPA-laden products. I encourage all American shoppers to read the Public Interest Research Group's No Silver Lining report and decide for themselves if BPA is worth the risk.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is chairman of the subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.