September 14, 2009

BPA and Other Plastics: Are they Poisoning Us?

BPA, or bisphenol A, has been in the news again recently. You remember BPA, right? It's a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, like baby bottles, and in canned food and beverage linings.

BPA has just the sort of handy properties you'd want in something that cozies up next to your food and beverages. It's an endrocrine disrupter linked to numerous health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity. Oh, and pregnant women and children are supposed to be especially careful to avoid exposure because of potential developmental problems. Good thing it's in so many baby bottles!

Most recently BPA has been in the news because the trendy eco-conscious aluminum water bottle people, Sigg, just sheepishly admitted they were using the stuff in their liners until August of 2008. Whoops!

Photo: mcj2a

So all the careful consumers who'd switched from Nalgene's polycarbonate bottles because they had BPA's and went to Sigg's aluminum bottles instead? It seems some of them are a little steamed.

(And let's not even get into the whole drinking water safety issue. Apparently, due to lax EPA enforcement, there's some Pretty Darn Nasty Stuff out there.)

But back to BPA. It was also just in the news because a recent Harvard Study found that drinking one's water out of a hard plastic polycarbonate bottle instead of a stainless steel one does indeed appear to raise BPA amounts in the body.

And it's not just BPA we're supposed to worry about, either. There are other plasticky culprits that one hears are dangerous. Like, for example, phthalates, which are plasticizers found in a variety of products including sweet, innocent-looking toys like rubber duckies.

(But, um, excuse me scientists: Which one of you clever kids decided to coin a word starting with the letters "PHTH"? I think we should ban phthalates based on spelling alone. Otherwise, people will be spitting all over each other trying to say it properly.)

Anyway, after coming across an interesting post over at Truth 2 Being Fit about plastics, I set out to investigate whether this was something I should worry about.

Wanna know what I discovered?

Photo: dpade1337

Actually, there's good news and bad news. And then worse news and even worse news and then maybe some slightly hopeful news.

Too much to digest? Well, I'll make it easy.

Since most of us tend to pick and choose the information we pay attention to based on (1) our typical emotional style, and (2) what we already believe to be true, I'll break it down by pre-existing mindset. Just pick yours, and you can skip all the rest since you won't pay attention anyway!

1. For the action-oriented pragmatists: check out Jody's post mentioned above, or the source of her safety information over at Care 2. These posts remind you that many plastic food and beverage containers come with those little recycling numbers, which can also alert you to the Evil kind of plastics in them!

In short: the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are usually a better bet than the numbers 3, 6, and 7, which could contain dangerous chemicals.

Other things you can do: switch to a water bottle made with stainless steel (not aluminum, like Sigg). I've got bottles made by Klean Kanteen and Enviroproducts. They don't have (or need) plastic liners like aluminum bottles do, and you can clean them really easily, by hand or in the dishwasher.

(Note: I'm not even getting paid or free-producted to say that!)

You might also want to choose glass or cardboard or ceramics containers over cans or hard plastic containers; avoid microwaving in plastic; avoid putting hot liquids in plastic; throw away old scratched beat-to-shit tupperware type things; and just generally try to avoid a lot of exposure to plastic or can linings on or near your food.

Also, the Environmental Working Group has some resources on avoiding BPA, like a guide to infant foods and baby bottles, and a report on BPA in canned foods. Canned milk? Not so bad. Canned meat or pasta? Not so good. (Wait a minute...canned pasta? Ewww!)

2. For Those Tired of Melodramatic Health Warnings Who Don't Give a Rat's Ass about BPA or other plastics: Lucky you, there's absolutely nothing you need to know!

3. For Those Who Think it's a Conspiracy and They're All Out to Kill Us: Want further proof of your suspicions? Check out the Newsweek articles on the dangers of BPA and the creepy way the FDA has distorted the research to avoid regulating it. And just spend some time over at the EWG and discover how almost every product in modern life, from sunscreen to shampoo to produce to cell phones, is full of toxins or radioactivity or some other scary crap that's gonna kill us one day, and the government has been not been particularly interested in trying to stop it.

4. For The Only Mildly Concerned, as well as the Lazy, or the Hopeful: So yeah, basically there's all kinds of dangerous stuff out there, and remembering to follow a few of the rules for avoiding unnecessary exposure makes sense. When you can remember. Or when there's an reasonably priced, convenient way to do it.

But there's a little bit of cause for hope! We have a new administration, and there are new people starting to head up many of our government agencies, and there seems to be a growing awareness that our federal regulators have gotten far too cuddly with those whom they are supposed to be regulating. Maybe someday they might actually do something about making sure the stuff we buy is safe!

So which of the above mindsets do I have?

Probably a little bit of all of them.

I'm mostly weary that it's always such a f@cking battle to go to the grocery store and not come home with poison, just because it's more profitable for companies if they don't have to worry whether the stuff they sell us will eventually kill us or not.

I'm just a lazy blogger, not a scientist. I'd like for people with actual qualifications to do real, unbiased research and find out what's dangerous and what isn't. And if it's not safe, perhaps it shouldn't be on the shelves!

What do you folks think about the dangers (or not) of plastics, pesticides, or other potential toxins making their way into our bodies?


  1. Well crap, Crabby! Does this mean I have to throw out all my plastics? There'd be nothing left in half my cupboards! (oh, wait, that might not be a bad thing!)
    I don't have time this morning to check out all the links, so now at least I'll have something to wonder and worry about when I'm making my rounds at work! Thanks! :)

  2. The statistics are scary:
    One out of one, dies.

    Meanwhile, eat right, exercise, avoid as much of the poison as you reasonably can, see your doctor regularly for check-ups, and remember that too much worry isn't good for you either.

    That's my only answer, so I'm sticking to it, at least for now.

  3. Well of course they are!!

    FYI: The calorielab editor delivered her baby last week! A little early, but as far as I know, both are doing well! That's why the site is on a short break.

  4. Well....Our tap water tastes like chlorine and I can't stand filtered water, so I drink out of plastic bottles. But I did just check the recycling number on my bottle & it's #1. Yay Evian!

    I've been trying to use more glass containers instead of plastic, and avoid microwaving in plastic. Went through my containers a couple of months ago and got rid of the older plastic containers.

    So, I guess I'm trying to take a few precautions without driving myself crazy.

  5. The government does not care as long as we procreate enough that there's a good tax base to leech from. Other than that, whichever earth-fouling co. has the most money to kick back wins.
    Hmm, I'm a bit bitter and cynical this a.m. Or maybe just a realist. Either way I'd better go eat some chocolate.

  6. *hangs head in sadness as she loves err LOVED her Siggs*

    LOVE MessyMimis comment and yet fear, some days, I can get too laid back about all this.

    Which is why I need a daily does of McSlacker & Sunshine.

  7. Crabby, thx for mentioning my Sunday post & thank you even more for adding so much additional info to your post! I would never call you a lazy blogger based on all that info you provided!

    I love this: I'd like for people with actual qualifications to do real, unbiased research and find out what's dangerous and what isn't. And if it's not safe, perhaps it shouldn't be on the shelves!

    So very friggin true. Every time we turn around, we have to worry about what is in that food or that bottle that may harm us long term.. or the future environment!

    I am also going to check out the water bottles you mentioned too!

    Thx again!

  8. I've always had a plastic water bottle... ewwwww!

    I also use those lovely plastic food storage containers. Is there any hope GLAD will come up with some stainless steel ones in the future? LOL!

  9. I've been trying to move away from plastic food and drink containers for five years, and it's hard. Just about everything is in plastic! Even things in cans are in plastic (check the can liner).

    Other than my once-a-week lunch date with hubby, I rarely eat anything I haven't cooked myself and stored in glass or ceramic, and I can really taste the difference on the occasions when I buy pre-made food in plastic. It has a chemical taste, even if the ingredient list shows nothing that my great-grandma wouldn't have recognized.

    I totally believe that the chemicals in plastic leach into our food, but unfortunately it's impossible to avoid completely unless you're going to go out into the wilderness with a dozen flats of Ball canning jars and live off the land.

    I do what I can to minimize the amount of plastic I eat and drink, and I don't worry about the rest. There's only so much you can worry about in a day!

  10. I must be a conspiracy type person because I don't trust the FDA as far as I can throw them. Like when I take herbal supplements and people say to me "Oh but those aren't FDA approved" I say, GOOD!!! then they will probably be good for me.

    Yup, I've switched to aluminum for drinking out and I cook in ceramic and glass most of the time now, no babies yet but hopefully in the near future and I've already been investigating which is better to use, so back to glass bottles and I'm checking all products over at, yup, I'm a nutty person I suppose.

  11. We forgot to mention that dangers of drinking out of a Kleen Kanteen:

    I either walk around with a huge water spot on my chest from spilling water all over myself as I drink (shades of "Airplane" - I have to deal with my drinking problem), or I sound like a chorus of birds chirping as I take a pull from the Kanteen's plastic sportscap.

  12. Oh, and my Sigg lasted one week before I almost killed myself by dropping it and running over it with my bike.

  13. I'm still using a plastic water bottle. I lose them -don't ask- and who wants to replace stainless or steel all the time. Also, they are light.

    I am trying not to store food in plastic containers -and do not microwave things in plastic of any kind.

    Guess I'm one of those mildly disturbed but being reasonable kind of people.

  14. But wait - you don't have a category for those of us with extreme cognitive dissonance from being overeducated and paralyzed by all the options! You should have seen me this weekend trying to buy a plastic shower curtian liner (of course I have a cloth curtain - gotta avoid those toxic plastics! but you can't JUST have a cloth curtain right?) It was PAINFUL. Stood there for 45 minutes trying to decide if EVA or PVA free was better. Eek.

  15. You forgot the remaining position, which is, Hey, At Least We're Not All Dead From Diptheria or Spanish Flu! I find that comforting. Don't you?

    In my last blog post I tried to reconcile existing obesity research. Is it bad for you, or what? Not as clear as you'd think.

  16. Argh! slaps her forehead Completely forgot about the shower curtain plasticity. I just bought a new one the other week, and that 'new plasticky' smell wouldn't go away for days. It's like those new furniture pieces that 'outgas' or whatever. Doesn't sound good.

    I'm going to go hide in a deep dark cave now.

  17. And of course now you can get your plastic bottle BPA free! Hurrah for that...but it's still a petroleum based product.

    *sigh* I'm torn. Because I like to tote my water around with me. But I drink about a gallon a day. And do you *know* how many stainless steel bottles that would be? And how heavy? Ugh.

    So while I avoid plastic for food storage and I do can/freeze/store most of my veggies myself (vs. buying canned), my water bottles are my last guilty indulgence.

    But at least they're reusable/refillable and I'm not buying cases of bottled tap water labeled "spring water" in cheap yucky disposable bottles!

  18. I'm definitely #4 - and I did switch my old, BPA-infused Camelbak water bottle to a new BPA-free one, but that's about as far as I go. I even *whispers* microwave food in those Gladware plastic containers! Oh well. I guess for me, convenience wins out. That said, I am glad that you digest and post all of these warnings and what they mean - at least I know what I'm getting into!

  19. Odd...I have had a Nalgene bottle (#4) for many years as they're supposed to be chemically inert - I mean we use them in the labs all the time to store chemicals and solutions as the plastic in them is not supposed to be reactive. I know temperature change and plastics has been an issue for years - back in university it was a big thing that heating and freezing things in plastic was releasing chemicals that mimiced estrogen in to our bodies and the I switched to a Nalgene bottle to avoid that. Then a few years ago had to get a BPA free one...sigh.

    The thing is...this just gets me going on how things are put out for our consumption and use without a lot of testing...and later we find out they're not so great. I've got a plain old stainless steel bottle and BPA free nalgene bottle, and I still use both, altho I only put ice water in the steel one...just in case...
    It all just reaffirms my decision to stay away from processed foods. It's hard enough to pay attention to food labels and packaging, when there is stuff that will leach out of packages and we don't even know about them. As a chemist I am annoyed that for household chemicals and cleaners they don't even have to list all the ingredients on the the lab I have MSDS sheets for everything I use, but apparently the average joe doesn't need to know that sort of thing!

    I'm currently reading "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite" which is full of information about the contents of modern food. Wow.
    It's enough to put you off processed food forever...

  20. Guess I'll have to start competing for water at the bird bath with my dog. But there's always the secret weapon that only those of us with opposable thumbs can access: the garden hose.

    Didn't Roseanne Roseannadanna put it best? It's always something.

  21. I read an article a year ago in JAMA (Journal of the AMA) about the link with BPA and Diabetes (damage to B cells) and other harmful effects. LINK: or google JAMA BPA. Also about that time read a similar article. One small study in Japan indicated that the most common source for humans was coming from canned beverages (sodas etc) This might explain the link between soda consumption (both regular AND diet sodas) and diabetes/metabolic syndrome. I don't trust FDA - too much influence from big money for profit corporations. I too have read Kesslers "End to Overeating" and its excellent. When he was head of FDA it was a different story.

  22. Crabby,

    They ARE all out to get us!

    I was busy being steamed about mandates that kids on school lunch program be served dairy when people of color are:

    1) A huge % of those served by school lunch programs (don't EVEN get me started on social injustice) AND

    2) A much larger % of people of color are lactose intolerant than Caucasian folk.

    I know that has nothing to do with plastic, but it DOES have something to do with the DUBIOUSNESS of government regulatory agencies (such as the FDA) serving the best interests of the people.

    Sigh and GRRRR.

  23. Doomed. We are all doomed.
    At least we all start at the same place.

  24. I'm with POD and the dooom mindset :)

    Well, if the 1's are ok then I"m basically ok given that I recycle my water bottles I buy and fill them with our RO water system. Unless that's wrong too and then it's doom, doom, doom again.

  25. Crap. I didn't think about the food storage containers until someone else mentioned it. We're back to doom again.

  26. I think there's cause for concern, and I wouldn't microwave in plastic anymore, but I still sometimes use plastic water bottles. I also smoked forever, so comparatively, not so scared of this. That being said, I used to buy cans of gluten (fake meat from Asian supermarket), and between bpa and lead lined lids, I don't do it anymore. Too bad, yummy stuff.

  27. This topic can stress me out as I realise how much plastci comes into our house. Thanks for the post. I was still checking out plastics after reading Jodys post from the other day :)

  28. I got a "lovebottle" a few months ago and I LOVE it. I am not being producted to say this either.

  29. I recently switched over from bottled water (with a #1 bottle) to filtered water which I drink from a stainless steel bottle. This was done for environmental reasons, but I do want to use less plastics. I don't have a microwave and only rarely store my food in plastic containers. Now if only I could get rid of the plastic wrap on store bought produce!

    I now have to wipe the screen from trying to say phthalates!

  30. I microwave stuff in plastic and reuse the plastic bottles out of vending machines.
    However my food also comes home from the grocery store in plastic bags, my bedsheets and clothing (mostly) have some polymer blend and everything else that I touch is plastic. (computer, mouse, folder, calculator, microwave, cell phone, credit card, carpet, etc, etc.)
    If there is a way to get away from plastics permanently that would be nice, until then I'm not going to worry too much about the cause of inevitable death.


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