Food News

Industrial Chemical BPA Used in Food Packaging and Kids' Toys Might Cause Cancer, Diabetes, Brain Damage

BPA, or bisphenol-A, an industrial chemical used to make plastics, has been found to adversely affect the receptors that regulate metabolism, obesity, and brain signals. Had I not read a recent article about BPA on the Bangor Daily News's website, I would have no idea what BPA is, that it exists, or the fact that millions of tons of the stuff is used to make toys and food packaging every year.

Now a study will be released in a scientific journal this week that further discusses the negative effects of BPA exposure. You know, minor side effects like breast cancer, diabetes, and infertility.

Lani Graham and Norma Dreyfus, physicians and cochairs of the Maine Medical Association's Public Health Committee, are comparing BPA's potential damage to that of lead.

Lead caused severe health problems in children before any government action was taken. "As physicians, we will never forget the children lying stiffly in their hospital cribs, backs arched, with intractable seizures from lead exposure. Although the toxicity to the growing child of even low levels of lead was suspected, it was years before public policy caught up to the growing body of scientific evidence."

I realize that it is possible to unwittingly use products that contain seriously harmful chemicals -- it took awhile for the damaging properties of lead to be discovered, for example. But if there is even a hint that something can be harmful -- especially something inorganic such as an industrial chemical, shouldn't it be removed from our usage?

I'm not talking about harmful organic products like fats, or harmful inorganic products that improve our quality of life like cars, but a chemical ingredient in food packaging whose absence would make absolutely no difference in our lives.

I am the first to agree that if I want to smoke cigarettes (I do!) and ingest butter, cream, and cheese (I do!), I should be allowed to make those decisions for myself. But if there is toxic waste in my toothpaste or hazardous chemicals in my Twinkie wrapper, the government needs to ensure that it is removed.

The Department of Environmental Protection in Maine has proposed to remove BPA from children's products and continue researching the use of the chemical in other items. But Maine's governor, Paul LePage, is patently dismissing the results of current studies that show the chemical to cause severe adverse effects even in low doses.

Why in hell would the governor of Maine defend the continued use of a chemical already known to cause disease in those exposed to it even at low levels? Seriously. Why would he? Does he own stock in some company that would suffer a financial loss if BPA is no longer used? Does he manufacture BPA when he's not governing? It really doesn't make sense.

According to the column written by the two doctors, "As an endocrine disruptor, BPA interferes with normal hormonal balance, especially in developing fetuses and infants, who are so vulnerable to both natural and synthetic hormones. The effects of BPA are pervasive and include affecting the receptors involved in metabolism, obesity, and brain signaling. Some studies have linked BPA to breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, obesity, learning disabilities, and reproductive health problems."

Of course, there does not seem to be enough evidence at the moment to declare BPA guilty of all the aforementioned ailments, but there is enough evidence to warrant a closer study as well as the removal of BPA-containing products from the market. If there is even a remote chance that BPA is indeed as harmful as early studies suggest, it has no place in our canned goods, food wrappers, and children's toys. Period.

Graham and Dreyfus say, "It took many generations of severely damaged children before regulations to limit exposure [to lead] came into play. During those years, many children, their families, and society as a whole suffered and continue to suffer from the children's neurological and behavioral injury."

In cases such as these, the expression "better safe than sorry" should be the governing rule.

Think of it like preventive medicine -- better to act now "just in case" than wait and incur even more damage. Results have already shown that BPA exposure is potentially harmful and might be responsible for several medical problems. Why even take a chance?

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Ily Goyanes
Contact: Ily Goyanes