Bisphenol A, or BPA for short, has been in the spotlight for decades, with both the chemical industry and occasionally the federal government touting its safety, while independent, non-industry funded scientific studies show us how dangerous the chemical truly is. The latest news regarding BPA is no different, with new independent studies showing that the common chemical has the potential to increase the risk of breast cancer when exposure occurs in the womb.
BPA is a common chemical used primarily in the production of plastics, such as baby bottles, canned goods (lining the inside of cans), soda bottles, and other common plastic goods that typically hold food or beverages (although it is found in countless other polycarbonate plastic products, including medical devices). It helps preserve the life of perishable goods, but comes at a dangerous cost to human health.
The chemical easily leaches out of plastic, and is either consumed by humans, or it can be absorbed through the skin. Estimates show that in the U.S., humans consume about 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight everyday. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, at any given time, 93% of Americans have measurable amounts of BPA in their systems.
The latest study, released earlier this month, shows that in utero exposure to BPA in rhesus monkeys led to abnormalities in mammary gland development.
This new study involved fetal BPA exposure, revealing chemical alterations in rhesus monkey mammary gland development, said the San Francisco Gate (SF Gate). For the study, researchers fed pregnant rhesus macaques monkeys a piece of fruit that contained BPA every day during their third trimester of pregnancy.
The monkeys’ BPA blood levels reached the average level that BPA has been observed in human blood in the U.S., according to Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University and a study author, said the SF Gate. The changes observed reinforce concerns that BPA could contribute to breast cancer, according to the team.
The researchers studied the mammary glands of the female offspring of BPA-exposed monkeys and discovered changes in those glands that lead to dense tissue, said the SF Gate. Dense breast tissue is a risk factor for human breast caner, Hunt explained. Prior and new studies conducted by Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein, revealed that exposing rodents to small amounts of BPA could alter mammary gland development and lead to precancerous and cancerous lesions later in life.
Ana Soto, a co-author of the new study who has worked on previous BPA studies, said that this new information strongly suggests that “BPA is a breast carcinogen in humans” and that exposure must be curtailed.
The breast cancer link is just the latest in the chain of health hazards associated with BPA. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2008 that exposure to BPA was linked to an increase in cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and liver enzyme abnormalities. And these effects were seen at relatively low-dose amounts of BPA, well below the amount actually consumed by Americans on a daily basis.
Many companies, including Playtex, Gerber, and several baby bottle manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using BPA in their products, as there are currently no national bans on the chemical. To understand why no bans exist, you have to follow the money.
Companies that manufacturer BPA – including Dow Chemical and Bayer – are bringing in a combined $6 billion a year selling the product. And that money has been put to good use convincing the American public that there is nothing to worry about.
In fact, they’ve done such a good job with their PR campaigns that they managed to convince the EPA to base their decision on whether or not the chemical is toxic on the industry’s own studies. Every single industry-funded study has shown that BPA is “completely harmless,” compared to only 10% of independent studies that found no cause for concern.
One of the main defenders of BPA has been the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the leading front group for the chemical industry. To give you a hint at how their operation works, their former president is Jack Gerard, the current president of the American Petroleum Institute. The organization has spent millions of dollars in the last few years to defeat measures by the EPA to regulate the chemical more stringently, all of which were, predictably, dead on arrival.
In 2010, ACC spent almost $10 million in California alone to defeat measures aimed at curtailing BPA usage.
But the failure of the government doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
Consumers have some power to prevent BPA exposure. Choosing BPA-free products can help prevent exposure, as can purchasing fresh vegetables instead of canned items.
This article provides a few more tips on how to take preventative measures. As long as the industry is funneling money into Washington, the only regulation will come from consumers themselves, who can vote on this issue with their own wallets.
Speaking of wallets, BPA is also used to coat the receipt paper that ends up contacting human skin at cash registers around the world. And a new study shows that the replacement for BPA, known as Bisphenol S, may also pose significant health risks.
So while the consumer can take some steps to limit exposure, it truly falls to the government to investigate and protect consumers from these harmful chemicals. That will require getting rid of the influence of industry cash flowing into politicians' coffers, the most powerful contaminant of all in our democracy these days.