Just over two weeks ago, I was with forty other Christians who traveled to Alexandria, Minnesota to attend the biannual NCC Eco-Justice Working Group conference. This year’s conference focused on environmental health. As we learned via our keynote speakers and daily workshops, and gathered in worship, one chemical stood out as a poster child for what is wrong with our national chemical policy.
Bisphenol-a (BPA) is a chemical used to line polycarbonate plastic baby bottles, drink bottles, some plastic containers, and aluminum cans. It is also found in many receipts we get at the grocery store or any other place we shop. Studies have found that low-dose exposure to BPA is linked to disturbing outcomes in animal tests. These health conditions include type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, prostate cancer, early childhood puberty in girls, among other conditions (See the consensus statement from 38 experts on BPA that emerged out of a workshop sponsored by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences).
On October 20th, Canada took a historic step in protecting people from the effects of bisphenol-a by calling it a toxic substance and banning it from baby bottles. This is a good step forward in addressing one of the exposure pathways for the most vulnerable members of our society. This was followed a few days later with the San Francisco city council asking retailers to stop carrying bisphenol-a baby bottles. Safeway and Whole Foods also announced that they would stop carrying baby bottles containing BPA. The Food and Drug Administration’s full science board is meeting on Halloween to hear more testimony on BPA from concerned organizations and from industry using and producing BPA. The FDA is releasing their final ruling that same day.
It is hurtful that babies who are “fearfully and wonderfully made” come into this world already carrying a chemical burden. The Environmental Working Group did a study in 2005 that found that babies were born with an average of 200 chemicals in their umbilical cord blood. It is disturbing that the very bottles and sippy cups we use to feed these sacred beings may be changing the intricate system of cues in our body that affect everything from our weight to issues relating to fertility.
As prophetic Christian witnesses, we can do something about BPA. We can make changes in our own lives and educate our congregations about this issue. Encourage family and friends to look for BPA free baby bottles, sippy cups, and drink bottles. If conducting a food drive, encourage donations of food that are in glass or plastic bags rather than aluminum cans. My church is encouraging a food drive that is organic or whole grain as well. If your church is hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner for the congregation or the community, consider promoting one that is only from fresh foods. Consider making it organic and/or local too. Additionally, we can encourage city council initiatives like the one in San Francisco, or encourage our state and federal legislators to ban BPA in products in place of safer alternatives.
In the meantime we can also celebrate the bold action that our neighbor to the North has taken to protect their citizens. I pray that we can see this action bear fruit in the United States and in other parts of the world too.