Bisphenol A has been formally declared toxic by Health Canada. But Canadians are routinely exposed to the substance also known as BPA, as it is still used in cans’ inner linings, for everything from soup to fruit to beverages.
Now a Vancouver naturopathic doctor is supporting a national environmental group’s call to ban the chemical from grocery-store items altogether.
“BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, and from that there are so many health effects,” says Krista Moyer, a naturopathic doctor at Broadway Wellness. “A survey [by Canada Health Measures] found that 91 percent of urine samples of Canadians have levels of BPA that are higher than animal studies have proven to be safe. This is not something that’s a light concern.”
The Toronto-based Environmental Defence group has launched a petition asking the federal government to develop regulatory measures that will get rid of BPA in food and drink containers.
“Over 150 peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to cancer and shown it to be a risk factor for diabetes and other diseases,” says Maggie MacDonald, the organization’s Toxic Program manager. “This is something we don’t want leaching into our food.
“The public is inclined to trust that things on the market are safe and we should be able to trust [that] what’s in our grocery store is safe, but sometimes science tells us it’s not,” she adds. “It’s important to be savvy and demand important change.”
Health Canada banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2010. Health and environmental experts applauded the move, which other countries, including those in the European Union, have since followed. However, the federal body maintains that the chemical’s presence in food and drink containers is safe. “Health Canada’s Food Directorate has concluded that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants,” Health Canada’s website states.
According to Environmental Defence, even low-level exposure to BPA, or 4,4’-(propane-2,2-diyl)diphenol, is linked to infertility, heart disease, miscarriage, behavioural problems, and predisposition to breast and prostate cancer.
A recent large-scale study has also found that kids with higher levels of BPA in their bodies are more likely to be obese than those with lower levels. Although the study, published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, didn’t definitively conclude that BPA causes obesity, it’s just one more study on an ever-expanding list of those that question BPA’s safety.
An October 2011 report in the journal Pediatrics, for example, found that girls exposed to high levels of BPA in utero were more likely to be anxious and hyperactive at age three than those exposed to lower levels. Men with higher levels of BPA were up to four times more likely than others to have low sperm count and poorer sperm quality, a February 2011 study in the international journal Fertility and Sterility found. And according to a September 2008 JAMA study, higher levels of BPA were found to be linked to heart disease and abnormal liver function.
The National Workgroup for Safe Markets, a coalition of U.S. public-health– and environmental-health–focused NGOs, conducted a study called “No Silver Lining”. It found that meals involving one or more cans of food can cause a pregnant woman to ingest levels of BPA that have been shown to cause negative health effects in developing fetuses in animal studies.
Researchers looked at BPA in 50 types of canned food available in Canada and the U.S. They found the highest levels to be in Del Monte French Style Green Beans, Great Value (Walmart’s in-store brand) Sweet Peas, Healthy Choice Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle soup, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup.
Chemical-manufacturing and packaging companies use BPA to protect food from metal corrosion and bacterial contamination. Besides food and drink cans, BPA is also found in dust, some plastic containers and water bottles, printer inks and toners, and on some cash-register receipts.
“People are exposed from multiple sources through the course of the day,” MacDonald says. “It does add up. Very small levels of hormonally active chemicals can have an impact on the body.”
Moyer urges her patients to do what they can to minimize BPA exposure. “There are so many chemicals in the air we breathe that we can’t control that we need to control what we can,” she says. “I suggest no plastic whatsoever; drink from glass water bottles. Look for companies that use BPA-free inner linings or skip cans altogether. You can find frozen cooked beans and lentils or make them yourself. It’s more cost-effective, but it takes more time. All these toxins have a cumulative effect.”
MacDonald says concerned consumers can contact food companies directly to tell them they don’t want BPA used in their products. This is especially important given that it’s not possible for many people to avoid canned food or beverages altogether, particularly those on low incomes who rely on nonperishable goods.
Tomatoes are one of the worst products to buy canned, she notes, because their high acidity causes more BPA in the lining to leach into food.
“We were very happy that the government took BPA out of baby bottles,” MacDonald says. “But we do need further action on this. We all have a right to safe products.” To that end, Moyer supports the Environmental Defence petition.
“One less chemical in our environment is a step in the right direction.”