By Barbara Kessler

Bisphenol A, the controversial component found in plastic baby bottles, took another image hit last week when the Canadian government announced it would be drafting regulations to ban the sale or importing of bottles containing the chemical.

Canadian Minister of Health Tony Clement called the step a milestone for Canada, which he said would be the first country to take regulatory action against the chemical. BPA is commonly found in polycarbonate or clear, hard plastics and can usually be identified by the number seven stamped within the recycling triangle on the bottom of containers.

The United States could follow Canada’s lead. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-New York), with nine other senators, introduced legislation in 2008 to treat BPA as a hazardous substance under federal law for any product targeting kids, ages 7 and younger. Childrens’ developing bodies are considered more susceptible to chemical insult.

Even if the marketplaces sort out the issue with baby bottles, many of which are now being made of glass or BPA-free plastic, BPA turns up in a troubling array of consumer products, including the lining of most canned foods, though the Food and Drug Administration considers the levels contained in these products to be safe for humans of all ages.

“Based on our ongoing review, we believe there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects,” the agency says in its latest statement on the topic. “However, we will continue to consider new research and information as they become available.”

BPA also is used to make sport plastic water bottles, eyeglass lenses, dental sealants and many more products. Despite its wide use, critics say it has not been well tested because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has relied heavily on industry-backed studies that show low levels of BPA are not harmful.

Concerns about BPA center on what happens when it becomes warm or hot. When food or formula is heated in the polycarbonate, the plastic has been shown to leach BPA. There are questions, too, about how much BPA leaches from the resin-lining of food cans, especially when acidic foods, such as tomatoes or tomato sauce, are involved.

Environmentalists critical of the U.S. government’s approval, point to studies showing that BPA is suspected of playing a role in cancer, neurologic damage and insulin resistance or diabetes and other health problems affecting both babies and adults. They raise concerns about low-level but constant exposure to BPA and point also to the persistence of the compound in the environment, where it’s been shown to harm fish and other aquatic life.

The Natural Resources Defense Council feels so strongly about the potential health hazards from BPA that it called for a ban of the chemical and started a citizens’ petition. The petition contains a survey of alarming research on the topic:

“NRDC strongly disagrees with the draft FDA conclusion that current levels of exposure to BPA are safe for human consumption. In laboratory animal studies, exposure to BPA within the range of human exposure levels has been associated with the wide array of adverse outcomes discussed . . . These effects include neuro-behavioral changes, pre-cancerous lesions in the prostate and mammary glands, obesity and metabolic disturbances, early puberty and other reproductive abnormalities. These studies have been done by a number of investigators in different laboratories who have no financial interest in or affiliations with the manufacturers or users of BPA.”

Digging into the issue, the NRDC found that a group of 38 top-level scientists recently said that lab experiments with primates showed links between BPA and the development of breast cancer, neurological damage, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which mirrored suspected “similar adverse effects in humans.”

The NRDC survey of research also turned up a study on primates showing that bispenol A could has “an adverse affect on the brain” affecting mood and cognition.

Are these just Americans’ afflictions, which are being wrongly corraled into a cause-and-effect role with BPA? The NRDC doesn’t think so and quotes scientific findings taht have extrapolated that about 93 percent of Americans have measurable BPA in their blood.

The NRDC wants a ban of all BPA from all food packaging and offers this advice to consumers in the meantime.

  • If you have a newborn, opt for the baby bottles now being manufactured without BPA. Click here for a list of BPA-free bottles, including some you can buy at Whole Foods.
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers; use glass or ceramic. Many plates and cups made for babies and toddlers are made with plastics that contain BPA. Be especially careful not to microwave these, since high heat has been shown to increase the leaching of BPA.
  • Buy packaged soups and broth in cardboard “brick” cartons, which are made of safer materials.
  • Opt for glass jars and bottles instead of cans when buying soda, preserved vegetables, or soup.
  • Avoid plastic jugs labeled #7. That includes the popular Nalgene water bottles which we especially urge pregnant or breast-feeding mothers to steer clear of.

Find more info at the NRDC website on BPA.

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