Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | April 18, 2008

Let Justice Roll on Like a River

Or better yet, like water from the tap to an uncontaminated water bottle. This week a chemical used in most plastic baby bottles, aluminum cans, and some popular sports bottles came under fire in the US and Canada over concern for its impacts on the long term health impacts on children. This lead to a response from industry and government regulators that previously denied any need for concern. Why all the foot dragging until now?

One of the most popular water bottles out there on the market is one made of polycarbonate plastic that is clear, hard, and comes in a variety of colors. It is labled with a #7 or PC. But it also contains a food sealant known as bisphenol-a (BPA). Most of the plastic baby bottles on the market are also made with this type of plastic. A baby bottle report released a few months back found that when heated or when acidic or basic substances are added to these bottles, they leach bisphenol-a into the liquid.

Bisphenol-a is found in a variety of consumer products, but its presence in bottles, aluminum cans, and some dental sealants is particularly concerning. It has been found in animal tests to be linked to obesity, type II diabetes, early puberty in girls, fertility and other reproductive challenges, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

This week some very important announcements were made regarding this chemical. On Wednesday, the Canadian health department announced that the chemical is dangerous and they are beginning a process to add it to the toxic substances list.

The US National Toxicology Program responded by reversing its findings in a draft report from last fall on the chemical that said there was “little concern” about its health effects. The NTP stated Wednesday, “The possibility that bisphenol-a may alter human development cannot be dismissed.”

In utter defiance of reason, the NTP fall report disregarded the panel of experts that said there is great concern about the safety of bisphenol-a. The non-experts included some representatives from the bisphenol-a industry. The reversal of their previous conclusions are welcomed and a good step forward.

These statements from Canada and the NTP also lead to changes in corporate America. Walmart announced that in Canada they were immediately pulling all polycarbonate plastics from their shelves and that they would do the same in the US by the end of the year. Sears Canada is also pulling baby bottles and sports bottles with BPA. Nalgene, one of the most popular producers of these sports bottles announced today that it would stop manufacturing BPA bottles and that they would make a similar looking bottle made with a different chemical called Tritan. Whole Foods already replaced all their bottles with BPA free materials thanks to shareholder and consumer pressure. Some of these companies dragged their feet for years, defending the safety of this chemical. Now they have heard from the horse’s mouth (the NTP) that the chemical may not be safe for infants and children so they have taken needed action.

It is through the witness from state advocates, the efforts of shareholders, and pressure from people who have uncovered new science over the last ten years that this issue has been brought to light this week.

But there is more to be done. There is still the issue of this chemical in aluminum cans. Perhaps of great concern is its presence in infant formula cans. Michigan Representatives Dingell and Stupak are currently investigating corporate influence in approval of BPA in infant can linings.

We need our government to be more prophetic. We need them to come out and protect the health of our children before they suffer potential consequences later in life. It was disappointing that Michael D. Shelby, who chairs the NTP committee investigating BPA, could not advise consumers on what safer alternatives were out there in his National Public Radio interview (if you are interested stainless steel, glass, and plastics #2, #4 and #5 are safer alternatives).

Additionally, regulating bisphenol-a is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of other chemicals in our consumer products that go untested and unregulated since they were grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act thirty years ago. Then we did not know what we know today about chemicals that effect the regulatory system of the body- the endocrine system.

When the federal government and the companies manufacturing the chemicals stop dragging their feet, then “justice [will] roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)


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