In a recent post, I talked about body burdens, the total accumulation inside each of us of the many pollutants and chemicals we have encountered and absorbed simply by living in the modern world. These body burdens are something I've spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing in the last few years because I think they're one of the biggest symptoms of our culture's systemic failure to embrace meaningful holistic change Now it's time to pull back my own medical curtain and look at some of what tests have revealed about my body burden.
Here's my first eye-opener: I have 1.47 parts per billion (ppb) of bisphenol-a (BPA) in my urine. That puts me in the 29th percentile among all Americans who've been tested for this chemical by the CDC, which means that about 29% of the public could be expected to have a lower level than I do and everyone else would have higher amounts. So I'm in the lower part of the statistical middle.
This is some comfort, but not much because BPA has been found to misbehave in the body even at relatively low levels like mine. And there don't seem to be many health problems it doesn't cause -- hormone disruption, chromosome and reproductive changes, low sperm counts, impaired brain function, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, early puberty, cancer, and resistance to chemotherapy; you name it.
That's a pretty spectacular list and it makes a little number like 1.47 ppb seem pretty big. I'm not alone either. Some 93% of all Americans tested, including kids, have BPA in their bodies. The chemical is everywhere. Six billion pounds are produced each year around the world for use in dental sealants; food can linings; epoxy resins; and baby bottles, water coolers, food and beverage containers, and other products made from polycarbonate (#7) plastics. It can and does leach out of all of these things, and when that happens it gets into us. Hence my 1.47 parts per billion.
Last year, the FDA released a long-awaited assessment of BPA that declared the chemical quite safe at average "low dose exposure levels," which the agency declared to be 11 micrograms per day for adults and seven daily micrograms for kids. But many people, myself included, believe that the process was rigged by chemical industry influence and that the FDA's opinion is ethically challenged and scientifically dubious. The vast majority of experts say that not only have plenty of studies found BPA to cause serious harm at much lower levels than the FDA says are safe, but the agency itself has underestimated the public's typical levels of exposure.
In March, an international group of scientists meeting in Germany to discuss BPA declared that the FDA's assessment was full of holes and not to be trusted. In an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tufts biologist and conference participant Laura Vandenberg said that "it is becoming undeniable that BPA is dangerous. The FDA's standard for safety is reasonable certainty. It is no longer reasonable to say that BPA is safe."
The silver lining here is that after years of campaigns by organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to draw attention to this dangerous toxin, an anti-BPA movement is starting to build. Countries like Canada and various U.S. states are banning or considering banning the use of BPA in certain products like baby bottles and infant formula cans. And bills introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate would halt BPA use in food and beverage containers.
While we wait for lawmakers to do the right thing and get BPA out of consumer products and our bodies, there are some steps each of us can take to prevent BPA exposure and protect ourselves and our families:
- Stay away from canned foods as much as possible. This is easier said than done, I know, but we should at least try to avoid canned sodas, canned baby formula, and acidic canned foods like tomato, pineapple and citrus products, which almost always use can linings containing BPA. According to the EWG, BPA leaching from canned foods and baby formulas appears to happen at higher levels than is the case with polycarbonate plastic food containers and baby bottles. Tests show that beverages appear to contain less BPA residues, while canned pasta and soups contain the greatest amounts. Rinsing canned fruit or vegetables with water prior to eating may reduce your exposure.
- Don't buy or consume foods and beverages sold or served in polycarbonate plastics (#7) either. Plastic types #1, #2, and #4 are made without BPA and are safer choices.
- Don't drink out of hard polycarbonate plastic water bottles. Use stainless steel bottles instead but make sure they don't have a lining. Stay away from old and scratched bottles -- studies show that the more beat-up a bottle is, the more BPA it's likely to be leaching.
- Never heat or microwave food in plastic of any kind.
- Read the EWG's Guide to Baby-Safe Bottles and Infant Formula and protect your kids.
- Support Congressional efforts to regulate BPA responsibly. Write or call your U.S. Representative and ask them to support H.R. 1523, the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009, which would prevent the use of BPA in the food and drink containers and cans. Tell your U.S. Senatorial delegation that you support the corresponding Senate bill, S. 593, too.
Together we can and must prevent further BPA contamination. If we can do that, I'll consider my own body burden of the stuff a small price to pay.