Poison Packaging

As though breaking through the labeling chaos on the processed foods we buy were not enough of a challenge, the packaging material itself must be a source of concern for individuals and for families.At least two potentially harmful chemicals—bisphenolA, or BPA, and the phthalate, DEHP, have been implicated in cancers, heart disease, and brain disorders and more.

These chemicals are known to disrupt hormonal systems in the bodies of both animals and people, leading to developmental and reproductive problems. Both of them appear in a wide range of food packaging materials.

93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA–the endocrine-disrupting chemical already linked to obesity, diabetes, erectile disfunction, reproductive disorders, cancers and heart disease. But the FDA sides with the chemical lobby.


First synthesized in 1891, bisphenol A came into use as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. (Yes, a synthetic estrogen.) The shape and size of BPA allows it to fit into, and fool, the receptors in our bodies that recognize estrogen. With the discovery in the 1960s that BPA could be combined with other compounds (like the toxic gas, phosgene) to produce stiff, shatter-resistant plastic, the chemical suddenly had new and almost unlimited potential. Since then it has been used to produce a host of products calling for a clear polycarbonate plastic. Headlights for cars, lenses for eyeglasses, and bottles for babies were a few of them. See-thru pet cages were another. That’s where Patricia Hunt comes in.

In 1998, while working on genetics research at Washington State University, Hunt observed that control mice kept in polycarbonate cages had an unusually high number of chromosomally abnormal eggs. The lab’s investigation revealed that a janitor had been scrubbing the cages, releasing bisphenolA into the animals’ environment. Hunt became a whistle-blower for the dangers of BPA and one of the world’s leading researchers on aneuploidy, the error in cell division that causes spontaneous miscarriages and human birth defects, including Down syndrome. Her research inspired others to experiment with rat models and in the next years BPA was implicated in behavior disorders, heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and the prostate and neural development of fetuses, infants and children.

In 2006, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) looked at the growing body of evidence on BPA and pronounced the chemical safe, but the next year investigative journalists for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided to take their own look. Their review of 258 studies found that the NTP had missed or selectively ignored many readily available studies which cited harm from BPA while including and giving extra weight to industry-funded studies. Even the financial consultant hired to compile the studies had financial ties to companies that made BPA.

In 2008, the FDA doubled down, declaring again that BPA was safe. But amid the outcry of health advocates and some lawmakers, and in light of additional research associating BPA exposure to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver enzyme abnormalities in adults, the FDA announced in 2009 that it would review 100 newer studies. In 2010, the agency reversed its earlier stance, citing “some concern” about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children, and promising to “take steps” to get BPA out of infant formula cans and baby bottles.

While Canada, the European Union countries, Japan, China, and Malaysia have imposed bans on BPA, its use is still legal in all US products.

Research For Fighting Back

Breast Cancer Fund
Nonprofit working to expose and eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer.

Safer Chemicals
National coalition working to protect families from toxic chemicals.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center
Public health organization promoting human health and safer chemicals in a sustainable economy.

More Links & News

UN, WHO Panel Calls Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals a Global Threat
Environmental Health News, Feb 19, 2013

BPA May be Linked with Heart Disease
Time, February 24, 2012

Study Links Food Packaging Chemical to Obesity in Girls
USA Today, June 12, 2012

FDA Wrong Not to Ban BPA Health Advocates Say
Huffington Post, March 30, 2012

BPA Changes Hormones that Control Puberty
Environmental Health News, February 18, 2009