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What's BPA, and do I really need a new water bottle?


BPA-free Bottles and Other Ways to Reduce BPA Exposure
Due to consumer demand, there are now many BPA-free options on the market
Due to consumer demand, there are now many BPA-free options on the market
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Depending on who you listen to, BPA may or may not be a cause for concern, but there's no doubt that you're exposed. A 2004 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected BPA in almost 93 percent of Americans [source: CDC]. A separate study by the Environmental Working Group, a U.S. nonprofit, found BPA in more than 50 percent of 97 commonly consumed canned goods at levels that caused adverse health effects in animal experiments [source: Environmental Working Group].

Mice seem to be harmed when they're exposed to BPA in those kinds of amounts, but does that mean people are too? Conclusive findings could take decades because the effects of estrogens may not show up until later in an individual's life. Thorough studies must follow a line of cells for many decades, and many people aren't willing to wait. Canada, for one, became the first country to officially declare BPA a toxic chemical, a decision that could lead to a partial or complete ban of its food-related use within two years. The European Union is also taking a more proactive approach, requiring companies to prove that a chemical is safe before it's cleared for the market. The U.S., on the other hand, requires proof that a chemical is not safe.

For countries where the government is taking a "wait and see" approach, never underestimate the power of you, the consumer. It was consumer demand that forced companies like Nalgene and Playtex to alter their products. Until other companies follow suit or the FDA changes its stance, there are several steps you can take to limit your exposure. And yes, one of those steps is to replace your beat-up polycarbonate water bottle and to stop using polycarbonate containers to hold food and beverages. If you'd rather not buy new containers, at least make sure yours aren't scratched and that you wash them by hand -- extreme heat and degradation increase the likelihood of BPA leaching out.

Here are some other steps you can take, courtesy of the Green Guide Institute:

  • Use glass baby bottles or switch to polypropylene bottles that are labeled "5" on the bottom.
  • Limit your intake of canned foods or buy from makers who don't use BPA in the lining. (Eden Foods claims to use an alternative.)
  • Buy soups and milk that are packaged in cardboard cartons that are lined with the safer materials of aluminum and polyethylene.
  • Buy or can your own fruits and vegetables in glass jars.
  • Try to find out if your favorite winemaker uses vats lined with epoxy resin -- such wines can contain six times the BPA of canned foods.

If BPA turns out to be harmless to humans, at least you can say you're doing your part for the Earth.

For more information on our plastic world, try some of the links on the following page.


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