Ordonez: Dangerous chemicals available in a store near you

Ordonez argues that consumers must be more aware of the things they buy.

Laura Ordonez

Laura OrdonezA can of SpaghettiOs is a must-have for long study sessions, inclement weather and visitors. It is delicious, cheap and easy to make. Everyone knows this.

What is less known is that SpaghettiOs cans are made with Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes in adults.

This chemical is targeted at a specific type of consumer, the incautious one. But we, as consumers, need to stay aware and act to ensure our safety.

The Breast Cancer Fund reports that “nearly 200 scientific studies show that exposures to low doses of BPA, particularly during prenatal development and early infancy, are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects in later life.”

There are subtle threats to the human health that a critical consumer base, Temple students included, is capable of avoiding. This imperceptible — yet common — chemical is just one of those threats.

The studies cited by the Breast Cancer Fund define BPA as an endocrine disruptor. Simply put, it disrupts the hormones and glands that are in charge of our body growth, production of insulin, behavior and other vital functions. It’s a scary label considering the number of products made with this chemical.

Other than in Campbell’s soups, BPA is also found on the linings of food and beverage cans, plastic wrappers, hard plastic bottles, ATM receipts and until recently, baby bottles and sippy cups.

Throughout time, BPA leaches into the food and liquids that are contained in cans and plastic containers, especially when these containers are microwaved or cleaned in a dishwasher.

The production process behind BPA, largely the same as it was back in the 1960s when it was introduced to domestic products, is finally being questioned by the federal government. But what exactly is Capitol Hill doing about it?

The Food and Drug Administration considered BPA to be safe up until 2008. It was not until July, and by request of the American Chemistry Council, that the FDA banned the use of BPA in the production of baby bottles and children’s drinking cups due to “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.” A bit too late for us grown-up Temple students.

As for adults’ safety, the FDA has deemed the current BPA levels in products to be safe. Yet there are multiple sources of exposure, and sometimes many of these products surpass the BPA limit set by the FDA.

Progresso, Del Monte and Campbell canned foods have the highest BPA levels out of the 19 name-brand foods that were tested in an independent study conducted by Cosumer Reports in 2009.

The aforementioned brands dominate the shelves at Fresh Grocer and 7-Eleven, and are certainly stacked high in college dorms and apartments.

Still, the FDA is hesitant to banish all these BPA-containing products.

Why is the FDA so stubborn? A plausible answer is the lobbying effort of big chemical companies to obstruct any advance toward strict regulation. Nothing new really, tobacco companies made similar efforts in the past.

As doomed as all this sounds, we are in a position to induce rapid change. Luckily, there are a few ways to do so. I suggest three.

As consumers, we can boycott Campbell, Progresso and other companies that do not demonstrate rigorous safety regulations.

As citizens, we can place this issue on the national agenda by supporting laws intended to protect our health. There is one so far, the Chemical Safety Act passed in late July by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This law intends to regulate the safety of chemicals used in the production of everyday products.

Lastly, we can opt for fresh food and reusable glass bottles and stainless steel containers.

We must depend on informed decisions in order to avoid profits to be placed above our safety. Our parents did not, how could they? They didn’t know. But we have a chance to choose differently.

Laura Ordonez can be reached at laura.ordonez@temple.edu.

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