Bisphenol-A, a controversial chemical used in the lining of nearly all cans used by the food and beverage industry, got a reprieve from the government last week. Responding to a court order to decide on the Natural Resources Defense Council's petition to ban the stuff on the grounds that it causes harm even in tiny doses, the Food and Drug Administration rejected the petition and upheld its approval of BPA, thereby saving the food industry billions of dollars.
BPA is what is known as an endocrine disrupter, meaning that it has a range of effects on human development at minute doses. And Friday's decision (to approve BPA for general usage) comes less than a month after the release of a major study of endocrine disruptors by a range of scientists, including some from the US Department of Health and Human Services, who found "strong evidence" that BPA negatively affects the prostate at low doses and "undisputed evidence" that it negatively affects the mammary glands.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of American Medicine looked at urinary BPA levels in 1,455 US adults and examined health outcomes controlling for age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, income, smoking, body-mass index, [and] waist circumference." The result: the higher the BPA concentration in people's urine, the higher their incidence of cardiovascular trouble and diabetes. Of course, correlation is not causation--something besides BPA could have caused the increase in health troubles. But given that the scientists controlled for a range of obvious factors, and that that BPA has proven hazardous in the laboratory, those results give plenty of reason for alarm.
In 1999, Eden Foods, which sells organic goods, began lining most of its cans with a plant-based oleoresin. CEO Michael Potter calls the switch a "no-brainer," even though the new cans cost 14 percent more. "I eat this stuff," he says. " And so do my kids."
On the other hand, canning trade rep John Rost dismisses oleoresins as impractical due to reduced shelf-life concerns. So it's not surprising that major food companies and canners are resisting the new options. Besides, these companies have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in canning technology that is set up for the use of BPA. They do not want to change anything."
According to Bloomberg News, the global BPA market is worth about $8 billion, with about a quarter of total production going into cans. (The rest goes into polycarbonate plastics, which end up in everything from water bottles to plastic wrap, to DVDs.) Bloomberg adds that the three biggest suppliers of BPA to the American market are the chemical/steel giant Saudi Basic Industries Corp.--which is 70 percent owned by the Saudi government--the German chemical giant Bayer, and Dow, its US rival. Globally, reports the US Department of Agriculture, . . Bayer and Dow produce "the bulk" of BPA.
BPA is a very likely contributor to the prostate problems that eventually affect a large majority of men in America. It probably also contributes to the "man-boob" problem that many men experience in their later years, just as various other estrogen mimickers do. In this regard, consider this article
from MedPage Today:
Bisphenol-A Mimics Estrogen. Phthalates Target Testosterone
NEW YORK, Feb. 5 -- These chemicals are "his" and "her" endocrine disruptors.
Although they have been linked to reproductive problems in both sexes, bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates -- common chemicals found in household plastics -- have gender-specific effects.
BPA mimics estrogen, while phthalates block testosterone action, Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., of Yale University, said at a press briefing.
"BPA looks like estrogen," Dr. Taylor, whose research focuses on uterine development and endocrine disruption, said of its chemical structure. "By itself it is a very weak estrogen."
The chemical stimulates uterine growth, he said, and animal studies have revealed other estrogen-like effects.
Mice that were exposed to BPA as fetuses developed abnormalities of the ovaries, uterus, and vagina, Dr. Taylor said. Other murine studies found genetic abnormalities in eggs, an increased risk of mammary cancers, and early puberty in females.
The list of problems was shorter for male mice exposed to the chemical, with reduced sperm production and increased prostate size at the top of the list.