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Are plastics harming us?

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If children can choose between a plastic cup plastered with colorful animated characters or a bare, stainless steel cup, which would they likely select? Following a dinner party, do you think the average American family will most likely store their leftovers in containers of plastic? Or in glass? Plastics are now ever-present in our society, from water bottles, to store receipts coated with a shimmering plastic to lunch containers. When you see a container labeled “BPA-free,” what does that truly mean? What is BPA? Why should you be aware of this chemical used since the 1960s? Following are some facts about BPA.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industry chemical with estrogen-like properties, which some believe can potentially alter the body’s natural hormone balance and lead to reproductive harm and other health problems. The chemical is used in the creation of polycarbonate plastics. Some companies are discontinuing use of this chemical, but there is currently no law to require companies to reveal their product contents. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 2009, the District of Columbia and 12 states, excluding Indiana, have enacted restrictions on BPA.

Where is it found?

The U.S. plastics industry accounted for an estimated $373 billion in business in 2012. Plastics are found in just about every household item one can think of, many of which are in daily use, including: eyeglasses, medical supplies, epoxy resins (food can linings), durable plastics (water bottles, food containers, etc) and bullet resistant security shields used by police departments.

Debate continues about whether BPA-free products are better than traditional ones. Recently in a research prompted by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), nine out of 35 sippy cups gathered from a variety of brands, tested for moderate to high levels of estrogenic activity and alarmingly, seven cups tested for higher levels of estrogenic activity than a cup made with BPA.

What are its side effects?

Although the use of plastics can have benefits, such as the ability to keep foods fresh, there has also been speculation as to whether BPA has been linked to a series of health issues. The chemical has been said to cause miscarriages, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma in children and breast cancer among other items. With the continuous use of plastic containers, BPA can be consumed through food.

In 2012 and 2013 a group of parents and representatives from the American Chemistry Council filed petitions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rid BPA of all infant bottles and packages used for infant food. In 2012 the FDA “amended the food additive regulations to no longer provide for the use of polycarbonate resins in infant feeding bottles (baby bottles) and spill-proof cups, including their closures and lids, designed to help train babies and toddlers to drink from cups (sippy cups) because these uses have been abandoned.”

Over the last several years, government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA have been studying the effects of the chemical. The CDC said the average BPA daily intake for a 154-pound person is 2.4 micrograms, which is smaller than the naked eye can see.

BPA is also found to rapidly eliminate from the body within 24 hours through urine, and no traces were found in the bloodstream.

Although the government has officially approved BPA safe for consumption at small amounts, many parents and health experts don’t trust the government’s conclusion.

Environmental care

If plastics and BPA may be an issue for society’s health, what about the environment? It is said by the American Chemistry Council that BPA “readily biodegrades and is not persistent in the environment.”

But Cheryl Rosenfeld, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri said it is everywhere. “It does not break down in the environment. Almost every water source that has been tested to date has been found to contain detectable levels, so this is a global concern.”

For more information on BPA, visit factsaboutbpa.org.

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