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Bisphenol A: Birth Defects In A Can?

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If it's not one thing it's another when it comes to packaged food and drink these days. If it's it not what they are using to improve the flavour that will make you sick (monosodium glutamate or M.S.G. as its more commonly known) it's what has been used to give it extra weight. The food industry has take to bulking up frozen packaged foods with soy protein.

Thankfully people are starting to catch on, including the food regulators. So instead of the old warning labels on packages, with only peanuts as a potential allergen, the list now includes soy, wheat gluten, and sulphates. People with food allergies are used to having to read any item's label in order to ensure their safety and well-being.

Well now instead of having to just worry about what is being put in our food being dangerous to our health, we may have to start worrying about what our food is being packaged in being a danger. Bisphenol A is a chemical known to act like a synthetic female sex hormone used in the manufacture of plastics and tin to prevent the taste of the container from being transferred to the food or liquid its holding. The only problem is that far too many test results are revealing something is not right with this wonder chemical.

In fact what scares scientists the most is that it seems the lower the amount of chemical present, the greater the danger. This has to do with the way hormones interact with our bodies. Hormones latch onto cells and at low doses stimulate vital biological processes. At too high a dose the cell's receptors are overwhelmed and shut down. This of course turns the theories of toxicity that state that the higher the dose the worse off you are on their head.

How bad is it? Well a geneticist at Washington State University, Dr. Patricia Hunt, was so appalled by her findings that she immediately went home and threw out all her products containing Bisphenol A. She had found that female mice exposed to low levels of the chemical had the unfertilized eggs in their uteruses so scrambled that if they had been humans the result would have been birth defects such as Down syndrome and miscarriages.

It's only been in recent years that the chemical has become widely used, even though we've known about its existence since the 1930s, and started using it in the 1950s. But we live in an increasingly pre packaged age so there is more call for this type of product then before – who wants to taste plastic in their food and drinks? Usually a product containing Bisphenol A is marked with the recycling number 7 inside a triangle. (Interestingly enough that's one of the plastics my local recycling company won't take)

Just how pervasive is this stuff? Well in the United States urine tests found it to be in 95% of all people tested, and in other parts of the world it has been found in the blood, in placenta, and in birth chords.

One of the other very interesting characteristics of Bisphenol A is that test results are dependant on who has done the testing. Every single test conducted by the plastics industry and those who manufacture container products have found it completely safe for human consumption. On the other hand 95% of independent tests have produced results so terrifying that those conducting the test never want to touch goods that come in those products again.

Spokespeople for the plastic industry say that there is nothing wrong with the chemical and that scientists are using flawed methodology. The scientists respond by saying the plastic industry is splitting hair in their results when they say that Bisphenol A is weak form of Estragon because it triggers reaction in far fewer cells then other forms. It still affects enough cells that are responsible for many of our biological functions.

One of the big five plastics companies in the United States, GE, has just decided to phase out that aspect of their business. They claim their timing has nothing to do with the first of what promises to be many class action suits brought against the manufacturers of plastic. A group in Los Angles is filling suit alleging harm from the chemical was caused by plastic baby bottles.

GE claims that their plastics division isn't growing as rapidly as others and is not fitting into their current business mode, so they've put it on the market. Their spokesperson dismisses talk of risks from Bisphenol A as "speculation" saying that it has never been shown to have any risks to humans.

If the chemical is so safe why have scientists from Health Canada and the Ministry of the Environment classified it as inherently toxic? Why are they conducting an assessment of how it used in the manufacturing process where they are starting with that premise that it is a risk to humans and industry is going to have to convince them otherwise? Normally it’s the other way round.

When Health Canada set its acceptable limits (the amount of trace elements on a parts per million scale that is considered safe for human consumption) back in 1999 they didn't take the less is more factor into their calculations. Some scientists are now saying this chemical needs to be considered on a scale of parts per trillion for a clear picture to emerge.

Since Health Canada set their limits, there have been a dozen studies that have shown adverse affects at amounts lower then the limit. One study using a sample 1,000 times less potent then Ottawa's limit showed the chemical able to change breast tissue to make it more predisposed to breast cancer. Scientists believer that there is a correlation between the increase in the number of cases of breast and prostate cancers and the increased prevalence of Bisphenol A in our food.

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm not predisposed to trust anyone from industry to tell me the truth about pollutants and toxics in our food. They after all have a vested interest in the results, not the scientists. I'm more inclined to believe the scientists who are so scared by the results that they getting rid of everything in their houses made with Bisphenol. It's not like they're getting paid to replace all the food and baby bottles in their houses made from the stuff. I think from now on I won't be bringing anything into my house with the number seven stamped on it.

Industry doesn't have the best record with the truth when it comes to pollutants and I see no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. Remember these are the same types of companies that dumped Mercury in our rivers, all the while assuring us it was safe. That is until children in Japan and Northern Ontario were born with horrible birth defects, linked directly to the Mercury that had poisoned the fish their parents had eaten.

Industry has always played fast and loose with the truth when it comes to issues of pollution and safety. Why should this time be any different?

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site He has been writing for since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • A person at Washington State

    A good article.

    Hmmm… So the industry’s studies all say the chemical is harmless, but independent and university scientists are saying it is certainly harmful to mammals with similar hormonal systems to ours, and is probably harmful to us.

    Not hard to see who is more believable. Who has the highest stakes riding on how their studies turn out? Not the university scientists; they still get paid even if things don’t turn out the way they thought. In fact, that’s how this whole thing came up in Patricia Hunt’s study at Washington State. She wasn’t even looking for this at first; she was studying something else and just needed to find out why her mice had developed unforeseen reproductive defects. Corporate science, on the other hand–it may not be quite on the scale of cigarette companies releasing “studies” proving their products safe, but bias is bound to creep in. When billions of dollars and maybe the job of the researcher are at stake, the methodology and interpretation of the results are bound to reflect that influence.

    Kudos to Canada for taking a proactive stance on this. Maybe it’s not as big a problem as the evidence suggests…I hope it’s not…but I’d rather be safe than sorry, and I’ll trust the government and independent research before I’ll trust the ethics of the corporate world. I wish I could say the government in the US was doing as good a job looking out for people and seeing the big picture.