TIM, DES MOINES, IA asked:
How worried should I be about BPA?
It’s smart to be vigilant, but you don’t need to be fitted for a hazmat suit. CDC research shows that as an average American, you carry a certain amount of BPA and other potentially toxic chemicals in your blood and fat. This is known as your “body burden,” and it can be measured through a series of blood, breath, urine, and hair tests. The downside is that these tests are expensive and raise more questions than answers, in large part because researchers don’t yet know what levels of exposure cause problems. “Body-burden testing isn’t something I would routinely recommend,” says Leonardo Trasande, M.D., an associate professor of environmental medicine and health policy at New York University. “However, if you can recall exposure to specific chemicals and are suffering from vague, chronic symptoms that have stumped doctors, it’s worth consulting an environmental health expert.” (Find one at aoec.org/directory.htm.) In the meantime, here’s how to minimize the amount of new chemicals creeping in.
BPA (bisphenol A)
THE THREAT Studies have linked BPA exposure to hypertension, diabetes, and reduced sperm quality.
WHERE IT LURKS Bisphenol A has been found in plastic water bottles, plastic food containers, and canned foods. To limit your exposure, buy cans labeled “BPA-free,” says Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., science director of the Science & Environmental Health Network. Look for BPA-free plastics, but be aware that even BPA-free items can leak estrogen-like chemicals, according to a recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives. Never heat any plastic in the microwave; that promotes chemical leaching of BPA.
PBDEs (polybrominated diphenylethers)
THE THREAT These chemical flame retardants may disrupt thyroid function.
WHERE THEY LURK Flame-resistant upholstered furniture, computers, and electronics can harbor PBDEs. Since you can’t tell for sure if your sofa has flame retardants, eliminate what you can by keeping the dust in your home under control. “Dust becomes a repository for the flame retardants that have migrated out of products,” says Dr. Schettler.
PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid)
THE THREAT Studies have linked high blood concentrations of PFOA, used to produce coatings such as Teflon, to high cholesterol and disruption of thyroid function.
WHERE IT LURKS PFOA may be in nonstick cookware and some food packaging, such as popcorn bags and pizza boxes. Make popcorn in an air popper or on the stovetop, and when you order pizza tell the delivery guy you don’t want a nonstick box. If you get one anyway, remove your pizza promptly, Dr. Schettler says. PFOA may migrate from the packaging to the pie, so you may be able to reduce your exposure by limiting contact time.
THE THREAT Researchers have found that phthalates can interfere with testosterone production and may be linked to weight gain and insulin resistance.
WHERE THEY LURK Shower curtains made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), plastic food containers, personal-care products, and fragrances can all have phthalates. If a plastic container’s recycling symbol shows the number 3, then it’s PVC. If the plastic has any degree of pliability, it may contain phthalates and you should avoid it, says Dr. Schettler. Choose grooming products that are phthalate-free; check the ingredient list. Fragrances and any products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient could also have phthalates. Go scentless.