Today CPR releases Protecting the Public from BPA: An Action Plan for Federal Agencies (press release), outlining steps the FDA, EPA, and OSHA can take to use existing authorities to warn the public about the dangers of the chemical, and prepare longer-term regulatory controls. The paper was written by CPR Member Scholars Tom McGarity, Noah Sachs, and Rena Steinzor, and Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz and myself.
Bisphenol A (BPA) makes me want to cry. Not in the sad or mournful way, but in the “I want to kick and scream on the floor and throw a tantrum like my toddler” kind of way. I didn’t always feel this way. These feelings concerning BPA (an endocrine-disrupting chemical added to plastics to increase clarity and durability, and used in myriad other sources such as can linings, kitchen appliances, and water bottles) began to arise when I started working with CPR Member Scholars and fellow staff on BPA policy. The more I learned about BPA, the more I felt like its presence in my life was like mosquitoes in D.C.—a summer BBQ killjoy.
Then I became a parent, and the frustration and concern escalated, because the more I found out about BPA, the more I recognized that the industries using it did not truly understand how it affected my health, but more importantly, the health of my child. Even worse, the new approaches to testing its “safety” and potential adverse health effects were churning out new evidence of its dangers. Evidence that did not fit the traditional “risk assessment” model used by health and safety regulators and thus spurred no change in protective standards.
Left to my own devices, I began buying “BPA-Free” containers and attempting to discern what in my kitchen and life might contain BPA. The more I searched for some basic information about what kind of plastic a kitchen appliance used or whether a can contained a BPA lining, the more frustrated I became. The information simply wasn’t there. There was no “BPA” label on plastic or cans containing BPA linings. Even worse, as time went on, more information was surfacing in the media and scientific communities about how “BPA-Free” didn’t really offer true health assurances, because many common substitutes for BPA are even less understood and potentially just as dangerous.
It seemed the only option I had as a new mother was to attempt to ban plastic from my life, stop buying most canned goods, avoid store receipts, make coffee in an all-metal-and-glass french press and baby food in my glass blender, use glass baby bottles, store everything food-related in glass containers, and start hand-washing what plastic remained an unavoidable necessity. Grocery store trips involved time-consuming scrutinizing of containers and ingredients, because without clear or reliable indications of what containers and foods potentially contained BPA, I was forced to use inaccurate powers of observation and guesswork.
It has been exhausting and often futile, because I still know that BPA lurks in unmarked items and even transfers onto things like money and skin. No matter how driven or research-savvy a parent may be (believe me, I have tested these boundaries and received many a strange looks at the grocery store as I inspect my food containers like historical artifacts), there simply isn’t enough time in the day or access to the right information for the normal mom or dad to be able to make the choice to protect their children from BPA.
Nor should they have to. They should be able to trust that toys will provide entertainment and education, food will provide nourishment and appease grumbling tummies, and water will satisfy thirst and help keep little faces and hands clean. True, a parent’s job also requires a certain amount of vetting and hazard prevention, but on the whole a parent needs to be able to make his or her safety decisions efficiently and trust the information on which she or he relies. Parents need a support system in the government that is meant to protect the health and safety of all of those that depend on it.
In Protecting the Public from BPA: An Action Plan for Federal Agencies, we encourage the federal agencies best suited to tackle this problem to take a series of shorter and longer term steps to protect the public. They must fulfill the critical governmental role of supporting parents and all of the public in achieving a safe and healthy environment—one free of mothers’ BPA-induced meltdowns.