This article was originally submitted for publication on August 9, 2010 and has since been updated and revised as additional information on BPA could be verified.
Take the number one and double it. Now take the number two and double it. And with the number four you now have the easy to remember formula to your “possible” good health. But not so fast. These three numbers, one, two and four, so-called “resin identification code” numbers found within the ubiquitous triangle on most, not all, plastic pieces were the brainchild of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 for the environmental purpose of recycling. They stand in contrast to the numbers three, five, six and seven and what makes these three numbers “safe numbers” is their lack of the toxic chemical Bisphenol A, (BPA for short), which is inherent in the remaining four numbers.
BPA, a synthetic estrogen having industrial and dental applications, is the chemical that has been shown to leach into food including baby foods and formulas from BPA plastics and cans that are lined with BPA. This writer will not pretend to offer expertise on the subject. I have none. However, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as of this writing, each post online over 300 technical entries on BPA. I’m sure other federal agencies may also address this serious matter of public health concern. The most comprehensive non-technical reporting on Bisphenol A is provided by the donation funded Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) and the search engine of the Center For Science In the Public Interest (CSPINET.org) also provides topics of concern on Bisphenol A while maverick physicians like Joseph Mercola, D.O. (mercola.com) openly discuss online the hazards posed by BPA.
In a random, non-scientific inquiry I inventoried my own home only to discover shocking results. Naturally my first inclination was to inventory any type of plastic that was even remotely connected to foods and beverages. Real old plastic containers used for food leftovers, like Rubbermaid for instance, understandably lack the numbered triangle. Instead, some pieces may have a number within a circle, the meaning of which is unknown. On to the post 1988 products and my first, and somewhat surprising item, is a Styrofoam carton housing a dozen eggs which bears the number six (6), a BPA-containing carton. I can’t help but wonder if somehow this toxic chemical can permeate a porous eggshell barrier over a given period of time so my egg purchases today come in sturdy cardboard cartons that have no possible adverse effects on eggs and are very safe to recycle.
From an egg carton I move on to the colorless plastic bottles used for juices such as Tropicana. I have several of these, different brands and sizes. I routinely use them to refrigerate filtered tap water and they all seem to have the number one (1), but I’m dismayed when, under magnification, I examine their hard, colored plastic bottle caps but find no resin identification codes. I force myself to avoid speculation.
I have two food containing tubs in the fridge, a Kraft Philadelphia Whipped Cream Cheese, a must for my customary lox and bagel breakfast, and Stonyfield’s Oikos Organic Greek (nonfat) Yogurt, my occasional health food lunch. They bear the numbers seven (7) and five (5) respectively and I’m too miffed to check the lids!
Over the years I somehow managed to accumulate those hard plastic water bottles with company logos that conveniently rest in automobile cup holders and often contain hot beverages. Now alarm sets in. All but two “safe” bottles, from the National Medical Association and G. H. Bass Clothing, bear the number five (5), but two findings compound the problem. None of the plastic caps have resin identification codes and all were manufactured in China, which notoriously manufactures merchandise having lead based paint. Add hot coffee, tea or other hot beverage to these vessels and the resulting chemical interaction could conceivably be harmful, even toxic, to a chemical sensitive person.
So it’s off to the fast food joints but only to check the take-out beverage fountain cups, not the Styrofoam food containing dishes. None of these cups can be used for hot beverages. They’re strictly cold beverage containers, some are of the Styrofoam variety, the others are the more rigid type. It makes no difference. The numbers I encounter are either five (5) or Styrofoam Six (6). I don’t bother to check the lids. At this point I’m so disgusted the lids could be made of bazoonga for all I care. At home I come across two rigid plastic 64 ounce advertising cups, one from the major Cola manufacturer, the other from 7 Eleven and their respective numbers are five (5) and two (2) which, thanks to 7 Eleven, proves that each and every one of these cups can and should be made of BPA free plastic. I can’t help but wonder if sodas are harmful to teeth enamel what sort of reaction occurs between BPA plastic and soda and then what is that resulting effect on teeth and the body? Could it also be that the plastics industry charges the food industry less money for BPA-coated plastic containers than for BPA-free products?
Chemical reactions between BPA, the foods and beverages they contact and any alleged health risks need to become an investigative priority as well as the financial incentives between these industries. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that canned tomato products lined with BPA increase the potency of the toxin and yet these cans show no markings of their BPA content. WHY NOT? This also begs the question should the toxin BPA now be listed as an ingredient or additive to affected foods and beverages? At the very least manufacturers of BPA lined cans and plastics should be required to spell out that their packaging contains BPA to preserve the product so that consumers can decide whether or not to purchase the product. Precedent for this requirement has already been established with health risk warnings on tobacco and alcohol products. Only when health risk warnings on plastics and metal cans appear on these products will consumers have the right to know for certain if foods and beverages they contain will be at risk for BPA contamination.
With less than two weeks to the Thanksgiving 2011 holiday, scientists at the Breast Cancer Fund found inconsistent levels of BPA in several named canned foods traditionally found at the dinner table. The study, “BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food — a product-testing report by the Breast Cancer Fund” was reported in the online Business section of the November 15th. Los Angeles Times edition in the article “Study finds chemical BPA in popular Thanksgiving canned foods” by Rosanna Xia. The one positive finding in the study noted that no BPA levels could be detected in cans of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.
Here’s where the tragedy and fun really begins. I’m in the bathroom where I notice a plastic bottle used to mist water on plants and two different plastics containing the shampoo brands Pert and Finesse. I decide to check these out as well as the various plastic cleaning product containers. They include large refill plastics of Tilex, Simple Green, Drain Care, as well as pump and pour plastics of Scrub Free, Tilex, Zep Mildew and Mold Stain Remover, Liquid Plumr and Kaboom. In the kitchen I come across a large plastic container of Heinz Distilled Vinegar. With the exception of Kaboom which bears the Safe number one (1) and Finesse Shampoo which bears BPA number three (3) every other plastic just named bears the SAFE number two (2) resin identification code!! I’m flabbergasted!! Every plastic used for harsh and caustic chemical solutions is BPA free while cans and most plastics intended to contain food or beverages for human consumption are laced with toxic BPA!! To make matters worse a BPA plastic is used to contain Finesse Shampoo, and in a store I find no resin identification code whatsoever on any plastic container of Fructis Shampoo. There must exist explanations for these abuses and it’s time to demand those answers. Could it be the food industry conspired with packaging manufacturers to add BPA to their packaging so that they (the food manufacturers) wouldn’t have to declare BPA as an additive or ingredient to preserve food? Food manufacturers must be held accountable for everything affecting food and beverages. Would it be feasible to convince Kraft and Stonyfield to sell their otherwise nutritious products in Zep and Scrub Free plastics for the sake of public health, or require Finesse Shampoo to use a number two (2) plastic container like its Pert competitor or demand that Fructis Shampoo reveal the resin identification codes on all its many different plastic containers? I would be quite satisfied with these corrections. I dare not check the resin identification codes for pesticide plastics. The very thought of BPA free plastic pesticide containers is unnerving.
Often overlooked in medicine cabinets are the clear orange colored plastic bottles used for prescription medications. They are made of resin identification code number five (5), BPA, which, should leaching occur, could contaminate prescribed medications with synthetic estrogen. For a number of patients estrogen in any form is a contraindication and for this reason medicines and nutritional supplements should be contained in glass bottles at time of manufacture or transferred immediately to a glass container at home. Certain dental appliances have a BPA plastic composition and these must be evaluated to determine the possibility of synthetic estrogen leakage.
PEDIATRICS, the “Official Journal Of The American Academy Of Pediatrics,” in a widely publicized study on October 24, 2011 entitled, “Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children” cited in its abstract, “Conclusions: In this study, gestational BPA exposure affected behavioral and emotional regulation domains at 3 years of age, especially among girls. Clinicians may advise concerned patients to reduce their exposure to certain consumer products, but the benefits of such reductions are unclear.”
On a recent Sunday morning I head over to Costco where I find a set of plastic BPA-laced cutting boards (WHAT IS THE RATIONALE FOR COATING CUTTING BOARDS WITH BPA?) and an interesting on sale product named, “Snapware Glasslock 18-Piece Food Storage Set” whose box claims the product is BPA FREE. And indeed the Glassware by definition is BPA free and definitely microwave safe and definitely safe to recycle, BUT its plastic lid (intended for microwave cooking) has an inconspicuous resin identification code number five (5), another BPA containing plastic and certainly unsafe for microwave cooking or recycling. So many questions can and must be raised about this and any obvious intrusion by the plastic and BPA manufacturers regarding the obscene exploit of BPA into and on everything dealing with our food supply. No lid should ever contain the toxin BPA and WHY CUTTING BOARDS? While in Costco a demonstration for the blender VITAMIX is taking place. I’ve always been intrigued by the presentation but never got around to making the actual purchase. On the box of each unit is a statement that says the container is BPA-free which also piques my curiosity. During the break I ask the salesperson if I could examine the container and at the bottom of the container I notice a BARELY VISIBLE resin identification code number seven (7), a known BPA laced plastic. I ask the salesperson about this and the reply astounds me. I’m told that the container is not a plastic at all but a copolyester which means it is neither plastic nor does it contain BPA. WHOA! I say nothing further as a new group of onlookers begins to gather, but can’t help but wonder about any chemical reaction with BPA code number seven (7) or IF new copolyester products could leak their chemicals when the unit is used for any purpose but especially to microwave soup or other hot beverage.
When I return home I fire off an e-mail to Vitamix HQ requesting an explanation for what seems to be an obvious discrepancy. I’m impressed by the near immediate Sunday afternoon reply but not impressed by its substance from a company representative which reads in part, “…#7 includes both non-bpa and BPA containers (copolyester and polycarbonate). The containers used are the new copolyester BPA-free containers.” Could this be true and if so has the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) changed the rules to mean “an all inclusive umbrella” under which anything goes? I set about to find answers and with the thought that regardless of the response numerous independent laboratories must identify all copolyester chemicals and confirm that this new copolyester container is indeed BPA free as advertised and ascertain that copolyester plastics do not leach their chemicals or have other harmful effects on foods or beverages especially at high temperatures including microwave heating.
That said, I e-mail my inquiry to the Society of the Plastics Industry and receive a prompt and courteous reply from someone I believe to be a secretary advising me to e-mail my queries to ASTM.ORG which I do, but before sending the e-mail I enter the word “copolyester” in its search engine which returns three inconsequential replies. My next step is to send the actual e-mail but incredibly my e-mail goes unanswered. In frustration I Google “Bisphenol A” where I find websites galore praising or condemning BPA, but nothing from the plastics industry that would allow me to explore questions about the role of resin identification code number seven (7). I can’t help but think that some form of regulations governing resin identification codes are justified to curb what appears to be industry abuses that satisfy the needs of its membership, without any accountability, and at the health expense of the consumer. So I decide to investigate other country’s dealings with the BPA issue.
The year 2008 became the pivotal year for the disposition of BPA. Canada banned BPA from baby bottles and although the debate rages on whether or not to ban the toxin entirely, on October 14, 2010 the government became the first government to officially declare BPA toxic. Denmark restricted the use of BPA. The Washington Post reported on June 12, 2008, “The new laws in the European Union requires companies to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it enters commerce — the opposite of policies in the United States, where regulators must prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be restricted or removed from the market.” WHAT A MARVELOUS, SENSIBLE AND COST EFFECTIVE CONCEPT FOR EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS!!. In this country New York State and California led the fight to ban BPA from baby bottles but California legislators failed to pass the bill. I cannot say whether or not politics plays any role in the future of BPA, it shouldn’t, but in April, 2008 Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and fellow Senate Democrats proposed legislation to ban BPA from all children’s products. Then, a disturbing article in the December 15, 2008 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entitled, “FDA maintains bisphenol A is safe” quotes Laura Tarantino, chief of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety saying, “At the moment, with all information in front of us, we do not believe we have the data on which we could base a regulatory ban,” (HUH? 300+ entries on your own website not to mention confidential reports that aren’t made public!) which makes this writer facetiously suggest to the “Powers That Be” at FDA that BPA should be reclassified as a nutrient so that the FDA could ban it once and for all! The above newspaper articles are “Must Reads” in their entirety and appear on the EWG.ORG website. As late as March 29, 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared BPA a “chemical of concern.” That same year Maryland legislators banned BPA from baby bottles and is actively pursuing additional restrictions on the chemical.
If additional documentation is needed for Laura Tarantino and the FDA to justify banning BPA the chief of the Office of Food Additive Safety is directed to the Editorial section of the September 17, 2008 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and a strongly worded review of a preliminary study entitled, “Bisphenol A and Risk of Metabolic Disorders” by Frederick S. vom Saal, PhD, and John Peterson Myers, PhD. In it the authors cite the following, “…Lang et al report a significant relationship between urine concentrations of BPA and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities in a representative sample of the adult US population.” JAMA also published a Harvard School of Public Health research letter in its November 23, 2011 issue entitled, “Canned Soup Consumption and Urinary Bisphenol A: A Randomized Crossover Trial.” In it the authors “hypothesized that canned soup consumption would increase urinary BPA concentrations relative to fresh soup consumption.” They emphasized the relationship between BPA concentrations to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Regrettably, this writer finds it necessary to remind and advise the FDA that its mission, its integrity, is to protect the U.S. population not the food industry, not the drug industry.
On the subject of safe microwave cooking with plastic Clair Hicks, PhD, professor of food science, University of Kentucky at Lexington maintains that resin identification code numbers one (1) and five (5) are safe and that number six (6) “may be microwaved only if it is covered with a barrier film, such as a microwave-safe plastic wrap.” Here it must be emphasized that only the number one (1) resin identification code is free from BPA contamination making it the only safe plastic for the microwave and then only if glass cookware isn’t available.
Until the federal government, plastics industry, metal can industry and food industry sort out this mess we consumers must exercise our own awareness and vigilance, a kind of civil protest, in our food purchases, preparation and recycling practices to limit our exposure to BPA as with any dangerous toxin. Until the use of known BPA plastics and unidentified metal cans containing BPA intended for food and beverage consumption is either eliminated or advertised with a warning notice, consumers would do well to buy similar products in glass jars which have no known toxins or deleterious health effects, are safe to microwave and safe to recycle. Metal and/or plastic caps should be certified BPA FREE. I intentionally avoid replacing BPA plastics with any plastic since the chemistry of so-called “safe plastics” could possibly result in other health issues particularly where microwave heating is employed. The ultimate purpose of resin identification codes is to recycle same type plastics and cans for future use. Are we then recycling BPA coated products to once again contact and contaminate our food supply?? I suspect we are and for this reason I no longer recycle any remaining BPA-laced plastic or can but instead trash them with other garbage or with hazardous waste material. It’s time to send urgent messages to our legislators to resolve BPA issues and to the food industry that we will no longer buy your food products packaged in unidentified cans that may be lined with BPA or in plastics bearing the numbers three (3), five (5) six (6) or seven (7). I look forward to the day when food manufacturers proudly advertise their products to be safe in BPA FREE packaging (including lids) that only have the numbers 1, 2, or 4 (prominently visible) resin identification codes and no “slight of hand” switcheroos courtesy of the Society of the Plastics Industry.
It seems ironic that the day before the 2010 Earth Day rally in Washington, D.C. a contingent of the SPI Bioplastics Council flew to the nation’s capital to lobby members of Congress. Their agenda, a call “for increased bioplastics funding through grants and other programs such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program.” Only In America could such audacity prosper unbridled. Corporate influence in government, especially that which adversely affects public health, is a corruption that must be exposed and legislatively eliminated. This means overhauling the exploitative effects of lobbying OUR legislators for commercial gain.
This original limerick is intended to drive home the point that the continued use and intimacy of BPA with food or beverage is a case of Americans Poisoning Americans LEGALLY:
Imagine from a country named Reggert
We imported the delicacy Weggert
‘Twas laced with the toxin
Known simply as Poxin
And our government simply did nuthin’
Ewg.org provides informative reports and newspaper articles and readers are encouraged to explore their search engine, “find something” and also enter the following term: “Bisphenol A In Plastic Containers” to consider the many sides of this issue.
Similarly, NPR (npr.org) has reported on the plastic and Bisphenol A controversy, as noted in its search engine, and two March, 2011 broadcasts by Jon Hamilton “Study: Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Like Chemicals” ( http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals ) and “Plastic’s New Frontier: No Scary Chemicals” ( http://www.npr.org/2011/03/04/134240436/plastics-new-frontier-no-estrogenic-activity ) discuss the estrogen problem related to plastics and the future of possible harmless plastics. The New York Times followed these broadcasts with a Special Report by Erica Gies on April 18, 2011 entitled, “The Business of Green: Substitutes for Bisphenol A Could Be More Harmful.”
The online article, “The Price of Environmental Stewardship” by this writer adds further commentary on BPA.
Writer: Allan R. Marshall, D.C.