Friday, December 4, 2009

Bisphenol-A: Too Profitable To Be Banned?

With a host of health risk recently uncovered in studies relating to its use in the food industry, is the use of Bisphenol-A or BPA in the global food industry just too profitable to be banned?

By: Ringo Bones

As one of the ingredients in polycarbonate-based plastics used to line tin cans and as a food-grade plastic container, its ubiquity in the global food industry is hard to deny. But in recent studies, funded by U.S. President Barack Obama’s 30 million dollar stimulus research grant to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration– Bisphenol-A or BPA like its pthalate-based chemical cousins – has been proven to cause adverse health risks. With its relatively low cost, ease of manufacture and lack of a viable safer – from a health standpoint – replacement, will Bisphenol-A prove to be too profitable to be banned despite of being a carcinogen?

Bisphenol-A, like its pthalate-based chemical cousins which are often mixed together to make food grade containers and tin can linings for the global food industry had been recently found to pose a health threat. Bisphenol-A or BPA has a chemical structure that acts as a hormone mimic when it enters the human metabolic process. By mimicking the biological function of the hormone estrogen, BPA in high enough concentrations has been found to arrest the male sex organ development in laboratory animals under test. Sex hormone imbalances due to hormone metabolism problems in humans can trigger some of the most common forms of cancer. As one of the chemical hormone mimics that constitute almost all plastics in our daily use, Bisphenol-A is an out-and-out carcinogen and teratogen – i.e. has a potential to harm developing embryos and fetuses.

Bisphenol-A seeps away from the plastic used to hold drinking water and other foodstuffs especially at elevated temperatures. Recent testing of a number volunteers who are long-term inhabitants of the industrialized West have shown elevated levels of BPA. People with higher BPA concentrations in their bloodstream tend to show increased liver enzymes that could increase susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and liver damage. And could even trigger cancers. In higher concentrations, BPA have caused sterility, brain damage, and cancers in later life of the higher primates under test.

Recent studies have shown that 50 micrograms per day per kilogram of body weight is the daily safety dose limit of BPA. This means for someone weighing 50 kilograms, they should only be ingesting 2,500 micrograms of Bisphenol-A in order for their bodies to safely metabolize the stuff without undue health problems. Sadly, despite of its negative effects to our health, BPA use has been increasing on an annual basis of 8%. Not only that, dentistry epoxy resins contain BPA too – which make it as a health concern together with the metallic mercury content of tooth fillings.

Even if Bisphenol-A used in food containers are banned immediately most of us have been using BPA-containing polycarbonate-based plastics continuously in our daily lives for the past thirty years or so. From CDs, i-Pod housings, to bullet-resistant glass, and even those plastic cups that we used for drinking for almost forever. And these BPA-containing plastics emit 55 times more BPA when heated risking bloodstream absorption just by casual contact or inhalation. To minimize ones BPA intake, it could be as easy as using those good old drinking glasses and ceramic cups – if you are willing to overcome the minor inconvenience that these drinking vessels break when you drop them on the floor.

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