We're debuting a new category this week: Scary chemicals. Chemicals that we've been told are scary and are; others you don't often hear about but are lurking everywhere; and old standbys that kill and maim and yet are easily avoidable. Our intent here isn't really to scare folks, but to pass along some sensible dodge-those-toxin tips that we've neurotically accumulated over the years.
I'll jump right in with the chem I most love to hate, bisphenol A (BPA). Why do I hate it so? Let me count the ways.
Canada is expected to label BPA officially dangerous, and today for the first time the National Toxicology Program in the U.S. said it is potentially dangerous. Yet BPA, which is used to make plastics, still lurks in many products: Most of the polycarbonate plastic baby bottles on the market, the liners of many canned foods and drinks — including infant formula — plastic tableware and dental sealants. It's present in the blood of about 94% of Americans, according to a CDC study. See, the FDA had earlier declared the chemical safe, basing its decision on two studies funded by the chemical industry.
According to my research the burden of proof was met long ago. BPA blows, to put it bluntly. It leaches into food or water, particularly under heat or when the item is scratched or worn, and some studies show ill effects at even very low levels. Once in our bodies, BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, and in more than 100 published studies has been linked to reproductive problems, breast cancer, ADHD, diabetes and even obesity. It may be particularly harmful to a fetus.
Industry sources beg to differ. Their own studies show the chemical is safe. Hey, it's already been used for decades! But don't be scared, really. Smack down BPA like so:
- Look for other plastics (or aluminum) for your bottles. Polycarb, the bad stuff, has the recycling number 7 on the bottom, and it's a rigid plastic, the kind that makes a clicking sound when you tap it with your fingernail. Happily many manufacturers are starting to avoid BPA; Nalgene has a new BPA-free water bottle, too.
- If you do use polycarb, wash it gently by hand with warm water, and throw it away when it starts to look cloudy or have those little hairline cracks under the surface.
- Don't consume tinned food if at all possible, especially tomatoes or caffeinated drinks; the acidity increases leaching. I know, this one's tough. But less packaging = fresher and greener. (I suspect some other containers have BPA-laden linings, too, like microwave-and-eat soups and pasta. I've tried to call and find out. No luck yet. I'll get back to you on that.)