Plastic chemical found in canned foods
UPdate Summer 2007

Hormone disrupting chemicals have been discovered in cans of infant formula, soup, pasta and other popular canned goods. It’s the latest real life episode of Toxic Chemical Survivors - a day in the life of the average North American. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group found Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical which functions like a synthetic estrogen, was present in 57 out of 95 of the canned foods tested, from beans to fruits to drinks. Levels were highest in pasta, soup and infant formula. One of every three cans (33%) of infant formula, contained BPA at levels where a single serving would expose an infant to more than 200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals, according to the EWG report. The chemical is leaching from epoxy resins used to line cans.

BPA isn’t only present in canned food and drinks. BPA is the main ingredient in polycarbonate plastic, the hard see-through plastic used for most 5-gallon bottled water containers, sports water bottles, baby bottles, and water filtration systems. BPA has been found to leach out of containers, especially after they have been used a number of times. BPA is also found in microwavable plastic containers, sippy cups for infants, hard plastic tableware, dental sealants, and car parts.

Oddly, neither the Canadian nor US governments have established safety levels for BPA in foods, although evidence of its toxicity has been known since the 1930s. Since 1997, research has shown overwhelming evidence of danger from this estrogen-mimicking chemical.

Bisphenol A is considered one of the most hazardous chemicals presently in use. BPA has been shown to interfere with more than 200 genes. At some of the very lowest doses, studies found that BPA caused permanent alterations of breast and prostate cells that precede cancer, insulin resistance (linked to diabetes), and chromosomal damage linked to recurrent miscarriage and a wide range of birth defects including Down's syndrome (vom Saal 2005.) More than 100 peer-reviewed research studies have found Bisphenol A to be toxic at extremely low doses.

BPA has been found in the bodies of 95% of people studied in the US, sometimes at levels which in laboratory tests caused harm. Ottawa has begun a similar study to determine levels of BPA in the bodies of Canadians.

Government scientists have labeled BPA as “inherently toxic.” Last year, Environment Canada and Health Canada named BPA one of the 200 chemicals of potentially greatest risk. It is among the first fifteen chemicals up for review in Canada’s chemical management process, which has just gotten underway. The process will require producers of BPA to prove that it is safe.

Environmental Defense Canada has called on the government to ban Bisphenol A immediately. Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director of Environmental Defense argues, “The case for a federal ban on this chemical has never been stronger.” Smith notes that the chemical management process will take years to come to a conclusion about BPA, during which time Canadians will continue to be exposed to it.

Manufacturers of BPA claim it is not harmful at low doses. Although more than 100 independent research studies found low dose exposure to BPA caused serious, long lasting, harmful effects, a dozen industry funded studies found nothing to worry about from low doses of the chemical.

Over a billion tons of BPA are used every year, which makes BPA one of the highest volume chemicals in the world. Bisphenol A is often contained in plastic which carries the recycling number 7.

Bisphenol A is not the only hormone disrupting chemicals found in consumer products. Phthalates are another class of chemical with estrogenic effects. Phthalates are found in personal care products and synthetic fragrances as well many types of soft plastics. Dozens of other hormone disrupting chemicals remain unregulated and in common use.

Related articles:

Reproductive health: “Our bodies are the piano, the hands are the environment”

Scientists shatter old truths about toxins and health

Missing boys ­ Are chemicals the culprit?

Pesticides, fertilizer threaten brain development


Helpful Hints

Looking for food storage containers which aren’t plastic? Keep your eye out for wide mouth canning jars this summer. The half-cup, one cup and two cup sizes are perfect for storing leftovers. They make it easy to pack an interesting lunch, and can be used in the microwave, remove the lid first, without risk of leaching plastic into your food. At less than $10.00 for a dozen, they’re affordable and can be reused for years. As a bonus, you can see what goodies are inside the container without opening the top.

Instead of baby bottles containing Bisphenol A, EHANS’ Guide to Less Toxic Products recommends:

The best option is tempered glass bottles with silicone nipples. Both are widely available in pharmacies and department stores. Glass bottles are easily cleaned and sterilized, and can be handed down from baby to baby.


Evenflo - tempered glass bottles, silicone nipples

Gerber - silicone nipples

Playtex - silicone nipples

Of course, the absolute best packaging for milk is the human breast.