The BPA Saga Continues…

The BPA Saga Continues…

With something somewhere between disgust and resignation, I must report to you that BPA, the ambiguously-toxic (or is it safe?) wonder chemical found throughout our plastics and thus our bodies, is once again back in the news.

Don't Panic! said Douglas Adams, and I'll say the same, as a precursor to mentioning our modern world is jam-packed with an ever-expanding cornucopia of alarmingly persistent chemicals which are steadily accruing within our bodies in ever-increasing concentrations.

BPA is but one of these, but BPA has emerged as a sort of poster child for all that is wrong in the US when it comes to corporate responsibility and effective regulation.

To quickly recap, BPA everywhere, Scientists say BPA bad, corporations say BPA good, FDA shrugs shoulders, corporations caught lying, consumers scared, corporations market BPA-free plastics, FDA says maybe BPA bad after all, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Not quite. Turns out, BPA is still everywhere, and where it has been phased out, there is increasing concern that its replacements are at best no better, and quite possibly much, much worse.

Along with that, we also have a study suggesting virtually all modern plastics, including presumed-safety champ HDPE, do in fact leach estrogenic chemicals into food and beverages. Alas, what's a citizen in a developed 21st-century nation to do?

Don't Panic

It's worth saying again: yes, BPA and other chemicals accumulating in our bodies is a real and concerning part of modern life, but for the most part (and for most—but not all!—people), the real risk to your health is small. The stress of worrying about these chemicals may well be worse for your health than the actual exposure.

Avoid Gross Exposures

That said, don't be stupid. Where good evidence exists that something is dangerous, avoid it. This would absolutely include lead, radon gas in homes, cigarettes, and all but the most moderate of alcohol consumption. This would also include living or playing within 500 feet of freeways, factories, or former industrial grounds.

Where plastics are concerned, avoid mixing plastics and heat like the plague—this includes stoves, microwaves, dryers, and dish-washing machines; avoid storing food in old plastic, avoid reusing disposable plastic containers, and throw away old, worn, or discolored plastic cups, plates, and containers.

Phase Out Lesser Concerns Over Time

When it is time to retire your plastic cups, consider replacing them with glass or lead-free ceramic. Give especially careful thought to replacing carpeting and furniture, which unfortunately tend to be loaded with unambiguously bad chemicals. Shift away from complex cleaning products to ammonia-based or other simple, natural products.

Don't use non-stick pans for high-heat cooking, especially searing, and if you can stand it, phase out non-stick cookware entirely. Reduce your intake of canned foods, packaged foods, and plastic-wrapped foods, shifting toward fresh produce when possible.

Moms & Kids Beware

The most vulnerable members of our population are pregnant women, nursing mothers, and small children. If you fall into this group, again, don't panic, but enhanced vigilance is probably not ill advised. Recognize your fears make you vulnerable to exploitation, so prioritize what you can change, and don't let what you can't change drive you crazy.

Absolutely go all-out on identifying and minimizing lead exposure. Also, strongly consider using glass instead of plastic baby bottles, even those plastics sold as BPA-free or otherwise safe. For pumping mothers, store breast milk in glass if at all possible. Never heat milk in plastic. Glass, I know, poses its own set of threats in a house with children.

Beware also cosmetic products, including solvent-based polish removers. These should never be used within the confines of a small bathroom. I'd avoid heavy daily application of sunscreen, especially near a child's mouth (use a hat & clothing instead!), avoid insecticides, pesticides, and weed killers, and I would favor cotton clothing over polyester, though I can't quite bring myself to recommend cloth over plastic disposable diapers.

Finally, remember that some exposures come with positive benefits. This especially includes exposure to natural bacteria, which are essential to human health, but also vaccination, which at the cost of typically-minor complications, protects your child (and by extension, other children) from the large risk of contracting devastating and often-fatal diseases.

Bottom Line

In summary, try not to worry, eliminate major threats, phase out minor threats as time and cost permits, take special care to protect your children, and try to maintain some optimism that over time, data collection and processing advances will allow us to better identify major hazards, and make better decisions about what to do about them.

— June 9, 2015

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents