I purchased a new water bottle for my 12 year-old for school over the weekend. When I presented it to her, she asked me is if it was BPA free. Not even understanding what BPA meant or what harm it can cause, the fact that she was aware of it was rather surprising. In explaining to her what BPA was, I realized I really didn’t know all that much about it other than there was a link to breast cancer. So, October being breast cancer awareness month, I decided to do a bit of research on BPA and its link to breast cancer.
Breast cancer has increased from 1 out of every 20 women in 1960 to 1 out of every 8 women today. In Canada, it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer with an estimated 23,200 women diagnosed this year.
A lot of attention and research has been done recently around the link between BPA and breast cancer and although there are discrepancies in the research, there was enough concern for legislation to be passed eliminating BPA in plastic bottles and containers.
What is BPA? BPA is a controversial chemical that is found in many hard plastics as well as in the linings of metal food cans. BPA is known to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body and may interfere with the body’s endocrine system. Recent studies have linked BPA exposure to breast and prostate cancer in animals and obesity and thyroid productive abnormalities, as well as neurologic disorders in humans.
In 2008, the FDA said current research supports the safety of low levels of human exposure to BPA. But in 2010 the agency revised its stance to say recent studies suggest there may be some uncertainty about the health risks of BPA.
Interestingly, I came across two items that I was not aware of and honestly, it was a definite eye-opener. First, I had no idea that recycled toilet paper contained BPA’s and that BPA enters into our wastewater and tap water because of this. Being an eco-conscious consumer, I have always purchased recycled toilet paper.
Apparently, the source of BPA in toilet paper is not due to the fact that it is added deliberately to the product, but that a lot of toilet paper is made from post-consumer sources that include lots of recycled thermal printing paper (credit card receipts). Dresden University did a study examining BPA turning up in wastewater streams and traced it back to toilet paper. Ultimately, it’s sources like these that are the reason you probably have BPA (albeit at extremely low concentrations) in your tap water, too. Of course, the same can be said for other kinds of recycled paper as well.
The second item that was definitely disconcerting was the recent report indicating that some canned soups and meals marketed to children contain BPA. According to the report, all of the products tested positive for the chemical, and Campbell’s Disney Princess and Toy Story soups contained the highest levels.
A spokesman for Campbell’s says regulatory agencies say the amount of BPA in canned foods doesn’t pose a threat to health. However, the average level of BPA in the 12 items tested was 49 ppb (parts per billion) and ranged from 10 to 148 ppb. The Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of safe exposure level is 50 ppb per day.
“One serving might be a concern, but a combination of repeated and re-exposure to BPA from cans marketed to kids is a bigger concern,” says Connie Engel, PhD, science education coordinator at the Breast Cancer Fund, which conducted the study.
“The combination of these foods with other foods like canned fruits, juices, or vegetables would add up to levels of BPA exposure associated with breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility in girls, and ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder],” says Engel.
Cooking healthy nutritious and if possible organic foods is really key to keeping our children healthy long-term. With busy schedules and hectic lives, it is difficult to ensure a healthy meal everyday. However, more and more grocery stores are stocking prepared organic alternatives. As for the toilet paper issue, I am perplexed, there are alternatives, such as bamboo toilet paper and bidets but realistically until the cost of these items decreases and general accepted use increases it is unlikely that this will change. Consumer awareness and demand for alternatives will take time, but with additional research and exposure there is hope that manufacturers of these products will look at healthier alternatives.