You’d think that humans would be smart enough to stop poisoning ourselves—or at least our babies. But, no.
Turns out that all the BPA-free products—the ones I’ve sought out to protect my dear little girl’s reproductive system and to ward off cancer and neurological problems—may have given me a false sense of security.
The power of concerned parents to get manufacturers—and sometimes governments (Maine just approved a ban on BPA in reusable food and beverage containers that will go into effect next year; Oregon is considering banning it in sippy cups and baby bottles)—to remove certain toxics from kids’ products can be a double-edged sword. The problem is that when we all got on the BPA-free bandwagon, BPA began to be replaced by other toxics—some of them known to be linked to health hazards and others totally unknown and untested!
Basically, we’re swapping one endocrine-system disrupting, cancer causing bisphenol for another. Dominique Browning, a blogger at Moms CleanAirForce and author of “Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness,” wrote about it in a New York Times op-ed this week:
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Bisphenols are shaping up to be a dysfunctional family of chemicals. BPAF is BPA’s fluorinated twin. It is used in electronic devices, optical fibers and more. New studies have found BPAF to be an even more potent endocrine disrupter than BPA. Bisphenol B and Bisphenol F are other variants used instead of BPA in various products. In the limited testing done on those chemicals in other countries, scientists found Bisphenol B to be more potent than BPA in stimulating breast cancer cells.
A similar drama played out with PBDEs, a family of flame-retarding chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems, such as altered hormone levels, abnormal brain development and fertility issues. PBDEs migrate off electronic casings or are released from foam cushions. (It is no small irony that we worry about what our kids are watching on their computers instead of the toxic stuff coming off some of their equipment.) Under intense pressure, manufacturers have begun to replace PBDEs—with new, untested chemicals whose effect on people is unknown.
As Browning puts it, this kind of swapping is an illustration of a broken system for consumer protection.
The problem is that our regulatory system allows manufacturers to introduce or continue to use chemicals that have not been adequately tested for safety. A manufacturer can replace BPA with another untested compound and get a few years’ use out of it before it, too, becomes the subject of health alerts or news media attention. By the time we know what those new chemicals do to us, entire generations are affected.
It makes far more sense to test first—well before our kids become guinea pigs. It seems like a no-brainer that manufacturers should only be able to sell us stuff that isn’t going to give us cancer or other chronic illnesses. And, maybe it’s not just product manufacturers who can do better. Evan Beach at Environmental Health News points out that chemical producers could do more upstream testing as well—from teaching chemists the basics about toxic phenomena, to industry toxicity tests, ranging from computer models to animal studies, and setting better molecular design guidelines before chemicals even leave the lab.
So, what can bewildered and busy parents do before our heads explode? For one, cut out plastics as much as possible. Go for glass baby bottles. I’m going to look into metal sippy cups I’ve seen around. And…It’s time to learn to deal with spilled milk when you try to get your 1.5 year old to drink from a regular old drinking glass!
We can also demand action from lawmakers.
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, bless his heart, recently introduced a bill to change the United States’ main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, so that chemical companies would have to demonstrate that products are safe before they are sold to consumers—the way we regulate food additives and medicine.
As Browning says, we should make as much noise as “fussy newborns”—with the fierce passion only a parent’s love can generate—to get Congress to pay attention to Senator Lautenberg’s proposal and, more broadly, to chemical regulation that makes sense for families and not just manufacturers’ bottom lines.
Image courtesy Slice of Chic, Flickr.com, under a Creative Commons license.
It infuriated me during the original BPA debacle to hear people, time and again, say “I’m mad that this company didn’t even know what’s in their own plastic products, and told me everything was okay. So I’m going to switch to this other company that makes plastic products, who says everything is okay. Now I’ll be safe!”When I found out about BPA, I started buying GLASS containers. My arms got a little stronger, but other than that my life didn’t change very much, and now I’m done with the plastics hand-wringing. I only wish everyone else was, too.
Jason, One note to make you crazier 🙂 The metal lids of glass jars are mostly lined w/ BPA… Less food contact of course as most glass-canned goods are shipped upright and have head space, but the food comes in contact during the canning process. Home canners have been taxed w/ this knowledge for years and many of us ship in lids from Europe.To the article…We need to stop looking for the easiest/most convenient/cheapest products from the mass market if we ever want to stop the use of toxics. If we keep buying, they will keep making.
When reporting on any issue of human health toxicity it is important to keep it in perspective. We live in a world full of hazards and the question is not one of preventing hazard, but managing it to an acceptable level. For example, exposure to UV radiation can result in skin cancer. Do we say that everyone should stay indoors? If we did, we would then all have Vitamin D deficencies and other health effects associated with inactivity.When discussing the toxicity of BPA, BPDF or any other substance you should also report what is the determine cancer risk level. That way the reader is empowered to make their own risk determinations. This approach of having a hazard of the month becomes counter intuative with out this wisdom. For example, now that BPA and PBFD sippy cups are off limits, how many people will jump to stainless steel cups (shown in your picture) only to find out next month that stainless steel contains 11% chromium by weight and jump yet again to another material.
Spencer, Awesome note, thanks. Everything you say is very true… Unfortunately, consumers who don’t have direct training in risk assessment (and even scientists who do) will react with their guts. It’s human nature (as proven by lots of psychological studies). How you die and how unknown a technology is have a lot to do w/ people’s reactions to risk. I highly recommend 2 books to anyone working in public advocacy around toxicity—Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk, and a more recent one, Switch by Dan & Chip Heath.
We just swapped out all our Tupperware(TM) food containers with glass containers—primarily saved from commercial food packaging. The plastic ones went to the garage, where they are suitable for storing nuts and bolts and such.We try real hard to avoid plastic packaging in commercial food, but it’s pretty difficult sometimes. Those big 3.9 litre juice jugs are great for freezing our excess goat milk and pear juice.In a world of declining petroleum resources, it’s each person’s duty to “just say no” to plastic at every opportunity.