Last year, at ZDNet Healthcare, I did a series of stories about BPA (right), a chemical used to harden plastics, about its potential as a health hazard, and about how makers of plastic bottles were getting rid of it.
This past September our Andrew Nusca continued that discussion here at Smartplanet, focusing on the possibility that the chemical, and others like it, may be making us fat.
This week, Consumer Reports is turning the scare dial up further, with a feature in its December print issue saying that canned goods also contain BPA.
This does not surprise me, because plastic coatings are frequently sprayed inside metal containers, both soft pouches and cans, in order to create an antiseptic barrier between the food going in and the metal they're housed in.
For your protection.
This news is scarier because we really don't know how much BPA results in damage. Current studies on that question are several decades old.
All this may make those who tossed their Nalgene bottles after the first BPA scare feel silly. You thought you were making yourself safer replacing plastic with metal. But what if the metal were sprayed with plastic, for your protection?
There are no simple answers here.
- We need research on plasticizers, to find a chemical that's safe for food containment.
- Factories and canning facilities will have to be retrofitted to use the new chemical stat.
- And what do our food companies do in the meantime?
- We need to know just how much damage has already been done, what BPA levels deliver how much danger.
Then there are the legal questions. Is BPA going to be the new asbestos? The same companies that created BPA are going to be relied upon to do the research on its replacement.
Finally there is also the question of time. The replacement of CFCs with other chemicals in refrigerators, to protect the ozone layer, was a multi-decade process. And we already had replacements available.
The lesson here is that science, regulators, and producers should never get complacent. In 2007 there was enormous pushback from manufacturers claiming (without ample evidence) that BPA was completely safe. Now panic has set in.
Maybe if we had a scientific level of uncertainty on the front end we could avoid these panics on the back end.