May 18, 2010 -- A small study suggests people may be routinely exposed to the chemical bisphenol A through everyday consumption of canned goods.
Bisphenol A, also known in BPA, is widely used in plastics and as a lining for cans holding everything from soup to fruit to sardines. It has come under intense scrutiny in recent years because in addition to preserving food, it also mimics human hormones and has been classified as an endocrine disruptor.
Five states and several municipalities have restricted the use of BPA in baby products and infant formula cans because of concerns that exposure may be dangerous for young children. Tuesday's study, though small, suggests the chemical may be widely consumed by children and adults in everyday groceries.
A study conducted by a coalition of consumer and food safety groups found detectable levels of BPA in 46 of 50 grocery store cans tested. The results suggest BPA routinely leaches from can linings into food.
BPA has been associated with a variety of health problems in laboratory animals, including cancers, early puberty, and developmental problems.
The highest BPA level detected was 1,140 parts per billion, found in a can of Del Monte French Style Green Beans obtained from the pantry of a study participant in Wisconsin.
"We should not set a place for bisphenol A at the dinner table," Elizabeth Hitchcock, a public health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Consumer advocates are backing moves in Congress to ban BPA. Such a ban could be considered when the Senate takes up broad food safety legislation in the coming weeks.
"I no longer eat food out of cans. I no longer buy cans, I look for jars," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Feinstein is sponsoring a bill banning BPA from food packaging but also allows for a one-year delay in the ban as manufacturers shift to other packaging materials.
"It's amazing to me that everybody doesn't jump quick to do this," said Feinstein, who pointed out that Maryland, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington have all restricted the sale of baby and infant products containing BPA.
Industry groups oppose any such restrictions or bans. In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers of America noted "BPA has been used for over 30 years" in food and beverage packaging, including cans.
"Scientists and regulatory agencies who have reviewed BPA have concluded that BPA is safe for use in these products," the group stated.
In another statement, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance pointed out that governments in Japan, Australia, and Europe have concluded BPA is safe for humans at low doses.
Feinstein pointed out that U.S. law doesn't require companies to prove chemicals like BPA are safe before using them in a way that exposes the food supply. Feinstein said she'd back legislation forcing companies to prove the safety of the chemicals they use before they reach grocery stores.