Fifty Years And How Many Lives?

On March 22, 2007, I spoke about Bisphenol-A in Episode #27 of my Test Pattern podcast. I am attaching that podcast as well as the transcript. Please take a moment to listen to the podcast (and read along) before I reveal the reason for re-hashing such old material.


Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, was first synthesized in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen. BPA is used as a building block for polycarbonate plastic. Bisphenol A-based polycarbonate is used as a plastic coating for children’s teeth to prevent cavities, as a coating in metal cans to prevent the metal from coming in contact with food, as the plastic in food containers, refrigerator shelving, baby bottles, water bottles, returnable containers for juice, milk and water, micro-wave ovenware and eating utensils.

Bisphenol-A has also been used as an inert ingredient in pesticides, as a fungicide, flame retardant, and polyvinyl chloride stabilizer.

BPA is a heavily produced industrial compound. It ranks in the top 2% of produced chemicals in the United States. Annual production exceeds a billion pounds per year and is so common in products and industrial waste that along with humans, it is found in rivers, estuaries, sediment, household dust, and air nearly everywhere it is tested.

More than one hundred peer reviewed studies have found BPA to be toxic at low doses, yet not one regulatory agency has updated safety standards to reflect this fact.

During tests in the 1930’s studies on animals and humans showed cancer cells to occur with exposure as low as 2 to 5 parts per billion.

Recent studies have confirmed that BPA exposure during development has carcinogenic effects and may produce the precursors of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Bisphenol-A has also been shown to have developmental toxicity, carcinogenic effects and possible neuro-toxicity. It may even be linked to obesity, as it may trigger fat cell activity.

Despite the toxicity levels, there are still no safety standards for BPA. It is allowed in unlimited amounts in consumer products, drinking water, and food. The Environmental Working Group contracted with a national analytical laboratory to test 97 cans of food they purchased in March of 2006.

The laboratory detected Bisphenol-A in 57 percent of the cans. They found 83 percent of cans containing baked beans contained an average BPA level of 9.7 parts per billion. Remember, the tests in the 30’s found exposure as low as 2 to 5 parts per billion could cause cancer. Eighty-nine percent of canned soups were found to contain an average of 57.6 parts per billion, and every can of ravioli had an average level of 63.5 parts per billion.

As of December 2004, 94 of 115 peer reviewed studies had confirmed BPA’s toxicity at low levels of exposure. At some of the very lowest doses, the chemical causes permanent alterations of breast and prostate cells that precede cancer, insulin resistance, and chromosomal damage linked to recurrent miscarriage and a wide range of birth defects including Downs Syndrome.

Few chemicals have been found to consistently display just a diverse range of harm at such low doses. Like acrylamide, the FDA is doing nothing about exposure to Bisphenol-A.

As more and more people are diagnosed with condition after condition, it only makes sense to look at what we’re eating. If we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for us.

I recorded that podcast thirty-four months ago. At the time I recorded the podcast I received a few comments that I was being extremist. I was accused of alarming people about a substance that science had clearly proven safe. I was told that I, along with the EWG, was off my rocker.

Low and behold, it turns out the EWG was correct, and so was I. From the FDA website:

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical that has been present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.

Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children. In cooperation with the National Toxicology Program, FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research is carrying out in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about the risks of BPA.

In the interim:

  • FDA is taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. These steps include:
    • supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market;
    • facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans; and
    • supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings.
  • FDA is supporting a shift to a more robust regulatory framework for oversight of BPA.
  • FDA is seeking further public comment and external input on the science surrounding BPA.

FDA is also supporting recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services for infant feeding and food preparation to reduce exposure to BPA.

FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk from BPA exposure.

It took them 50 years, but someone finally opened their eyes and looked at the data. The FDA has officially changed their position on BPA and they believe that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children.

All I can say, is it’s about freaking time. In 2007, 94 of 115 peer reviewed studies put the evidence right in front of them and the FDA chose to ignore it. How many additional people have gotten sick because the FDA dragged their feet about this? How many additional children will show developmental issues because the FDA ignored the truth?

They’re still not sure it has the potential to cause all the damage I spoke about in the podcast, but they are currently supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing bottles and feeding cups. The FDA is also facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans. They wouldn’t be “supporting” all these actions if Bisphenol-A was harmless.

They were fifty years late getting to the table, and I want to know why? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that something like Bisphenol-A is dangerous. Believe me I know, I’m not a rocket scientist, and that’s probably due to the tardiness of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.