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California Says BPA May Cause Health Problems

Update Date: Apr 24, 2013 12:46 PM EDT

The state of California recently declared the canned food chemical bisphenol A (BPA) as toxic and said it may cause health problems.  

The chemical was officially added to California's Propostion 65 list-a list of substances that are known carcinogens or endocrine-disruptors.  California will now require warning labels on products containing high levels of BPA sold in the state.

"This decision is a step in the right direction," says SHAPE Diet Doctor Mike Roussell, Ph.D., author of The Six Pillars of Nutrition. "I think this is good validation that these endocrine-disrupting chemicals have real effects on our bodies. I hope this will be the first of several similar decisions." 

Consumers and health and nutrition experts have been concerned about potential risks from BPA exposure for years. The chemical shows up in items consumers purchase everyday such as plastic water bottles, canned foods, and even items like pacifiers. Prior to a few years ago, BPA was also present in baby food containers until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned it due to widespread public protest.

The healthy living community has some disagreements on exactly how bad BPA is for you, but it has been linked to health effects such as behavioral changes, altered brain behavior, cancer and cardiovascular disease.  

"BPA is what's referred to as an endocrine disruptor, meaning that once in the body, it mimics estrogen and can block testosterone," registered dietitian Julie Upton told SHAPE magazine. "When something mimics estrogen or has an estrogenic effect, it can increase your risk of certain types of cancers that are estrogen-dependent, such as breast cancer or ovarian cancer. BPA can also increase your risk of prostate cancer." 

The California Prop 65 law was approved by state voters in 1986. It is a "right to know" law that requires California to maintain a list of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Other chemicals on the list include asbestos, lead, mercury and benzene. The proposed "safe harbor level" of BPA, which is the maximum allowable dose, is high at 290 micrograms per day meaning many products sold in California that contain the chemical may not be required to display a label, according to Sarah Janseen, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"That is a relatively high level of exposure and is based on high-dose studies from a 2008 National Toxicology Program report. This is not likely to result in any warning labels on products in California, but it can be changed, and we think it should be, based on newer science, which continues to find evidence of harm at much lower levels of exposure," Janseen wrote in her blog.  

BPA is difficult to avoid because it breaks down into food you are eating and the water you are drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has actually found BPA in the urine of 93 percent of the people it's tested and, according to Roussell, it's ubiquitous in fetal blood tests as well.  

Reducing the consumption of processed foods that come in cans or packages is one way to reduce exposure to BPA. Another helpful measure is to purchase canned foods that say they are "BPA-free." For plastic water bottles it is best to stick with the numbers 2, 4 or 5 on the bottom, and certainly avoid bottles with the number 7, which are manufactured with polycarbonate and contains BPA. 

On April 19, The American Chemistry Council's (ACC) was granted a preliminary injunction against the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's decision to add BPA to the Prop 65 list, effectively removing BPA from the list after all, until at least a decision is made. 

"We do not believe there is a scientific basis for including BPA on the Proposition 65 list and we look forward to our case being heard on the merits sometime this summer," said Steve Hentges, executive director of ACC's polycarbonate and BPA global group. 

The suit from the ACC maintains that California EPA officials made the decision to put BPA on Prop 65 by "circumventing the state's scientific process by allowing administrative staff to override the decision of a scientific panel from 2009." The California judge agreed with the plaintiff and granted the injunction. 

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