Pass The Bottle — But Be Careful!


Sometimes the most accurate answer is “maybe.”

Sometimes if there is a lot of scientific data about something, and someone wants to know what is real and what is not real, what is dangerous and what is not dangerous, you can look at all of the data and come up with something complex .

Perhaps something is dangerous in some situations, not in others — watch this and not that.

This is science for adults, not Beakman’s World — as much as I love his show.  I admit, I’m out there shouting “I love science” at the top of my lungs right along with Dr. Beakman.

But this is more serious. It is also not politics, not a love-have question.  Not a “get every atom of this compound out of here” plea, nor a “it is safe and just fine so let’s stop worrying” answer, either.

The compound I’m talking about is Bisphenol A, known as BPA. Depending on who you believe, it was first synthesized in either the late 19th or early 20th century, from acetone and phenol. This makes the basis of a “thermoplastic,” one of the easy-to-work-with plastics that is used for containers you see everywhere.

Containers made out of polycarbonate or related plastics have a “7” on the bottom meaning “other” kind of plastic.  This seems acceptable, as these plastics are indeed, at the very least, “mostly harmless,” and may even be “totally harmless.”

The only problem seems to be that it is pretty impossible to prove that anything is “totally harmless.”

There are plenty of standardized tests to determine if something is toxic.   BPA seems to have passed them all with flying colors. The big worry about this is whether the material can be dissolved into foodstuffs and thus enter the body. After all, it is a clear plastic used to make containers, and used to line cans of things like tomatoes that can get pretty acidic, even on a good day.

Standardized tests say, not in any significant amount. This scientific site is basically funded by the international (American, European, Japanese) plastics industry, so it is resoundingly in favor of  BPA.  Their attitude is, “Been around for a long time; no real problems.” It also gives a summary of the international rulings on BPA, without saying who likes it and who does not.  The only people who seem to have a maybe accurate list are our friends at Wikipedia. As for Wikipedia – where anybody can contribute or edit an article — you never know for sure, but I do know about our neighbors to the North and the Health Canada ruling.

They are one of the many countries that do not want this stuff used to make baby bottles, or other containers of stuff for little babies. The reason is that BPA has been known since the 1930’s to have an estrogen-like activity.

Hormone-like substances are most likely to have effects on babies, and such effects may not show up until much later in life. Nobody is going to scrape up the money to test a hypothesis about a substance that has so little evidence of here-and-now toxicity, to see what it does to people several years down the road.  And yet, the possibility of developing tardive diskinesia (involuntary muscle twitches, movement of limbs, etc.) is not a fabrication.

I think about the people I helped transgendering, and all of the diagnoses such as chromosome abnormalities or hormonal (usually estrogenic) preparations given during pregnancy that may have had profound effects on sexuality down the road, obligating people to find themselves as the end of complex hormonal journeys. I remember several people opining back then about “environmental chemicals.”

I certainly do not expect the people who make this class of chemicals to raise the question on this one — but I have to. I am delighted to report that the American resolution, at least for now, seems to make sense.

Parents who want additional protection for their infants from this formula certainly have the ability to avoid anything in containers that have a “7” on the bottom, to go for the organic and wholesome. Of course, they would have to pay more for it. If a child needs formula to live and thrive, it might well be very wrong to eliminate permanently something useful just because there is a “7” on the bottle.  If the bottle is not scratched or too old or too overheated, maybe there is no danger at all.

We all live in the same world and nobody should do anything to mess it up for all the other people who have to live on this earth, too – not individuals, no corporations, not even governments. My motto is: Do as much good stuff as you can, and try not to do too much bad stuff.

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