New BPA Hysteria – Fact or Fiction?

As soon as someone mentions BPA (bisphenol A), I recall the glasses and glass holders our family now uses to replace the plastic containers that previously populated our cupboards.  Like many moms, my number one priority is to keep my kids safe.  So of course, I have also been concerned about BPA in the past.

Over the years, my fears had been allayed by proclamations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and international regulatory agencies that BPA is safe.  Recently, FDA has taken a more active role in helping Americans consume healthier foods (e.g., ban on transfats, new nutritional labeling, and dietary guidelines).  Therefore, it is worth noting its assertion that “the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”

Similarly, the FDA’s counterparts at the European Food Safety Authority (a fairly risk averse body!) published a comprehensive study last month on BPA which concluded that the health risk for all population groups, including fetuses, young children, and adults, is low.  Health Canada also concluded that “current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children.”

Based on this information, I am surprised by the reaction to a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which suggests cashiers should wear gloves to avoid exposure to BPA through the handling of receipts.  The chemical is mostly absorbed in the diet, but this study notes that BPA exposure via cashier receipts is a new discovery.

Researchers examined the urine samples of 24 individuals (a very small sample) before and after handling (with or without gloves) receipts printed on thermal paper for two hours. BPA was detected in 83 percent of volunteers and was found in 100 percent of volunteers after they handled receipt paper without gloves.

 The mass hysteria failed to note, however, that the levels found were miniscule and if the levels were harmful, one would think that 83 percent of the volunteers would be ill.  Moreover, BPA has been around since the 1950’s and if cashier receipts were a health risk, I would guess it would be evident in the millions of Americans who handle them every day.  The lead researcher concludes, “I don’t think people should be super alarmed, but they should be aware.” 

How can I be alarmed about a study based on 24 urine samples?  Do they expect us all to put on a pair of gloves every time we go to the grocery store or prepare our tax returns?  Parents and consumers have every right to be concerned – we only want what is best for our families, but we also must weigh these concerns against credible scientists and facts.  Regulatory agencies must keep us safe and deliver up-to-date information.  My plate is full every day, so I am happy to let the scientists and experts do their jobs.

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