Report highlights harmful chemical in cans: WITH VIDEO

Nonprofits sound alarm on BPA risk from food cans

  • Cans of Eden Organic beans are marked with a BPA-free notification Wednesday at River Valley Co-op in Northampton. SARA CROSBY

Published: 3/31/2016 12:33:55 AM

HADLEY — A report released Wednesday found that five of six food cans purchased at the Wal-Mart on Route 9 in Hadley tested positive for bisphenol A, a controversial chemical known as BPA that is a building block for plastics and resins.

The six cans tested locally were among about 200 tested from retail outlets and grocery stores across the country as part of a national effort to focus attention on BPA, a chemical believed by many health experts and activists to cause health problems, including breast cancer. Of those tested, 67 percent contained BPA.

Another big problem, according to authors of the report, is that efforts to remove BPA from packaging products are leading companies to use alternatives that can be just as harmful.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not taken a hard stance on the chemical, though the agency banned the use of BPA-based polycarbonate resins in baby bottles and sippy cups, as well as BPA-based epoxy resins in baby formula packaging.

Massachusetts is one of 14 states that place restrictions on the use of BPA in products. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health classified children’s food containers containing BPA as “banned hazardous substances.” Several states have similar regulations on reusable containers for children, and Connecticut took it a step further than the rest by banning the use of BPA in register receipt paper.

And increasingly more companies are abandoning the chemical in response to consumer demand.

Authors of the study released Wednesday said its purpose was to “follow up on the promises made by major national brands and retailers” in the years since public opinion began mounting against the chemical, which has found its way into food packaging since the 1960s.

Certain foods, the study found, are more likely to have BPA in their packaging. According to the report, 100 percent of Campbell’s products, 50 percent of General Mills cans and 71 percent of Del Monte cans sampled nationally contained BPA. All cans containing broth and gravy tested positive for BPA as well as 85 percent of canned milks.

BPA was least prevalent in the corn and peas categories, whose packaging often contains oleoresin, plant-based substitute.

The report calls on manufacturers and stores to stop selling products containing BPA, to take steps toward replacing the chemical and to be transparent about the process. It also calls on Congress to pass the Ban Poisonous Additives Act, which according to the report’s authors would “reform the FDA’s fatally flawed system for reviewing and approving the safety of packaging materials.”

Wal-Mart refers requests by reporters to a request form on the corporation’s website, and it did not return a request for comment.

The report, titled “Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food,” was sponsored by several national nonprofits, including the Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Clean Production Action, Ecology Center and Mind the Store Campaign.

‘The toxic treadmill’

Cindy Luppi of Clean Water Action, a Massachusetts group involved heavily in the research, said the investigation illustrates concerns about companies using BPA alternatives that can be just as harmful.

“We call it the toxic treadmill,” said Luppi, referring to the cycle of replacing one harmful chemical with another. “Obviously that’s not the goal or the point — the point is to make sure people aren’t exposed to toxic chems that could damage their health.”

Luppi said the chemical is a known endocrine disrupter and that it negatively impacts women.

“A lot of our members see this is a women’s health issues,” Luppi said, referring to relationships associated between the chemical and breast cancer as well as early puberty in girls. “It’s still a chemical that’s very much being discussed by scientists.”

Luppi said although there has been action at the state level, it’s time for federal regulation.

“I think our laws have big loopholes that allow us to be continuously exposed to these types of chemicals,” she said. “It’s time to update our laws and establish more of a principle — it’s been a long slog.”

Laura Vandenberg, assistant professor in environmental health sciences at UMass, said she has been studying BPA for 10 years, which is why the report’s organizers asked her to be part of its external review team.

She said exposure to BPA is endemic in our society.

“Exposure in the general population is widespread,” Vandenberg said. “At least 90 percent of us have detectable BPA in our bodily fluids and 99 percent have exposure at some point every day.”

Vandenberg said exposure to BPA is harmful even in small doses, with associated impacts such as cardiovascular disease, infertility, and behavioral issues.

“It’s like asking how much poison does it take to poison you?” Vandenberg asked of the dose necessary to see negative health impacts.

Vandenberg said there’s strong evidence in rodents showing a relationship between BPA exposure and mammary cancer.

“BPA alters the development of the gland,” she said. “In some rat strains BPA alone can induce mammary cancer.”

Vandenberg said there’s enough evidence to warrant more action.

“We have sufficient information to make better decisions than we are,” she said. “We could study any single chemical until we know every possible thing about it, but that’s an academic exercise, not a public health exercise.”

Health food stores

According to the Whole Foods website, the company was the first national retailer to ban BPA-containing baby bottles and cups.

Meanwhile, employees and customers at River Valley Co-op in Northampton saidWednesday they have been aware for many years about concerns over BPA.

Rochelle Prunty, general manager at River Valley Co-op, said the market switched to BPA-free receipt paper five years ago. Many products on the shelves were also labeled with some sort of BPA-free indicator.

“This is nothing new,” said Prunty. “Natural and organic food manufacturers have been dealing with this topic for decades. What is new is that finally other manufacturers are having to pay attention to BPA because customers are becoming more knowledgeable.”

Dee Dee Niswonger of Williamsburg said she routinely buys low-salt products, which may keep her from being exposed to BPA because they are more health-conscious.

“I wish (food manufacturers) would all be responsible, know what they’re doing, and then do the right thing,” said Niswonger.

Dan Emery of Northfield said he used to work in the sporting industry, and has been actively avoiding BPA for seven or eight years after hearing about the dangers in plastic water bottles. He said he quickly switched to stainless steel water bottles and glass mason jars.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at

Sarah Crosby can be contacted at

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