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This past spring, the companies that make and use the chemical bisphenol-A, BPA, convened a meeting in Washington, DC, to devise a reassuring media campaign, which they have just now launched.  Young mothers aged 21-35, such as MomsRising members, are the target.  The meeting minutes noted that their “holy grail” representative would be a pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.  Are they out there now looking for her?

BPA is an ingredient in hard plastics, such as #7 polycarbonate baby bottles, sippy cups and reusable sports water bottles, in the resins that line canned foods and soft-drink cans, in PVC pipes, even in dental sealants.  BPA is one of the many chemicals, now a constant feature of today’s world, that disrupt the way our hormonal systems work.  Among all these chemicals, BPA tops the list in volume, at 6.4 billon pounds a year.  It generates $6 billion a year for its manufacturers which include Dow and GE Plastic.  Soda makers such as Coca-Cola and canned food companies such as Del Monte rely on BPA.  These companies sent representatives to the spring meeting and their trade groups will foot the bill for the p.r. campaign.

BPA leaches into water even from new polycarbonate and resins at room temperature, accelerating with wear or heat.  It shows up in the urine of 93 percent of all Americans and, just a few months ago, research found that it doesn’t leave the body as easily as previously thought but seems to linger in our fatty tissues.

Independent studies have discovered that the chemical may trigger breast and testicular cancer, brain damage, ADHD, Down Syndrome, altered immune system, obesity, spontaneous abortions, lowered sperm counts and early puberty.

As this information surfaces, more and more people are choosing BPA-free products.  Canada banned BPA from plastic baby bottles this past October.  Which is why industry is worried.

The media campaign, at this point costing $500,000, dressed up as a survey of the public’s view of PBA safety, first aims at figuring out what messages work best.  At the planning meeting, attendees suggested using tactics that would play on parental fears -- “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?”, and that appeal to our love of consumer choices --“What does not having BPA mean to your daily lifestyle?.”  These tactics and the companies employing them have all come out of the tobacco makers’ decades-long fight against regulation.

The BPA industry is also employing web technology and social networking in its defense.  If you search the term ‘bisphenol-a,’ the first website that pops up, disguised as an ‘org,’ not as a ‘com,’ is an industry site.

Often companies assure us that our exposure to a chemical is only at small amounts which won’t do any harm.  But even at low levels, BPA is harmful.  Of the 130 studies of low-dose effects published as of 2005, 119 were paid for by government and 11 by industry.  92% of the government-supported studies report ill effect.  None of the industry studies do.

Our regulators have not protected us.   When the Food and Drug Administration ruled that BPA is safe, last year, it chose to look only at data from the American Plastics Council.  To generate this data, the Council hired a company in business to provide “product defense” for manufacturers of all types, with a history dating back to the tobacco wars; and this company chose to focus on only two published studies, including one which used a strain of rats bred over generations to be impervious to hormone-shifting chemicals.

Watch this space.  Perhaps the Obama appointees and their new staff at FDA will undertake a more honest and more complete review.

What does this mean for you?

Be skeptical of ads and ‘surveys’ and of websites managed by industry.

If you live in Connecticut or California, where a BPA ban is under discussion, keep your eye on your legislators.  The BPA proponents plan to focus on people able to manipulate the legislative process.  Make your own voice heard.

BPA crosses the placenta.  If you’re pregnant, limit your consumption of canned foods and drinks.

Avoid canned infant formula.

Minimize canned foods and drinks for growing children because they are more vulnerable to hormonal influences and their underdeveloped detoxification mechanisms cannot protect them from BPA.  Avoid buying acidic food, like soda or tomatoes, in cans, as the acid releases the BPA more easily (Eden Foods produces cans without BPA).

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-         Alice Shabecoff is the co-author with her husband Philip of the book, Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on our Children, published by Random House.

-         For more information, go to

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