This article was originally submitted for publication on August 9, 2010 and has since been updated and revised as additional information on BPA could be verified.
Take the number one and double it. Now take the number two and double it. And with the number four you now have the easy to remember formula to your “possible” good health. But not so fast. These three numbers, one, two and four, so-called “resin identification code” numbers found within the ubiquitous triangle on most, not all, plastic pieces were the brainchild of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 for the environmental purpose of recycling. They stand in contrast to the numbers three, five, six and seven and what makes these three numbers “safe numbers” is their lack of the toxic chemical Bisphenol A, (BPA for short), which is inherent in the remaining four numbers.
BPA, a synthetic estrogen having industrial and dental applications, is the chemical that has been shown to leach into food including baby foods and formulas from BPA plastics and cans that are lined with BPA. This writer will not pretend to offer expertise on the subject. I have none. However, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), claireformulasale as of this writing, each post online over 300 technical entries on BPA. I’m sure other federal agencies may also address this serious matter of public health concern. The most comprehensive non-technical reporting on Bisphenol A is provided by the donation funded Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) and the search engine of the Center For Science In the Public Interest (CSPINET.org) also provides topics of concern on Bisphenol A while maverick physicians like Joseph Mercola, D.O. (mercola.com) openly discuss online the hazards posed by BPA.
In a random, non-scientific inquiry I inventoried my own home only to discover shocking results. Naturally my first inclination was to inventory any type of plastic that was even remotely connected to foods and beverages. Real old plastic containers used for food leftovers, like Rubbermaid for instance, understandably lack the numbered triangle. Instead, wiseloaded some pieces may have a number within a circle, the meaning of which is unknown. On to the post 1988 products and my first, and somewhat surprising item, is a Styrofoam carton housing a dozen eggs which bears the number six (6), a BPA-containing carton. I can’t help but wonder if somehow this toxic chemical can permeate a porous eggshell barrier over a given period of time so my egg purchases today come in sturdy cardboard cartons that have no possible adverse effects on eggs and are very safe to recycle.
From an egg carton I move on to the colorless plastic bottles used for juices such as Tropicana. I have several of these, different brands and sizes. I routinely use them to refrigerate filtered tap water and they all seem to have the number one (1), but I’m dismayed when, under magnification, I examine their hard, colored plastic bottle caps but find no resin identification codes. I force myself to avoid speculation.
I have two food containing tubs in the fridge, a Kraft Philadelphia Whipped Cream Cheese, a must for my customary lox and bagel breakfast, and Stonyfield’s Oikos Organic Greek (nonfat) Yogurt, my occasional health food lunch. They bear the numbers seven (7) and five (5) respectively and I’m too miffed to check the lids!
Over the years I somehow managed to accumulate those hard plastic water bottles with company logos that conveniently rest in automobile cup holders and often contain hot beverages. Now alarm sets in. All but two “safe” bottles, from the National Medical Association and G. H. Bass Clothing, bear the number five (5), but two findings compound the problem. None of the plastic caps have resin identification codes and all were manufactured in China, which notoriously manufactures merchandise having lead based paint. Add hot coffee, tea or other hot beverage to these vessels and the resulting chemical interaction could conceivably be harmful, even toxic, to a chemical sensitive person.
So it’s off to the fast food joints but only to check the take-out beverage fountain cups, not the Styrofoam food containing dishes. None of these cups can be used for hot beverages. They’re strictly cold beverage containers, some are of the Styrofoam variety, the others are the more rigid type. It makes no difference. The numbers I encounter are either five (5) or Styrofoam Six (6). I don’t bother to check the lids. At this point I’m so disgusted the lids could be made of bazoonga for all I care. At home I come across two rigid plastic 64 ounce advertising cups, one from the major Cola manufacturer, the other from 7 Eleven and their respective numbers are five (5) and two (2) which, thanks to 7 Eleven, proves that each and every one of these cups can and should be made of BPA free plastic. I can’t help but wonder if sodas are harmful to teeth enamel what sort of reaction occurs between BPA plastic and soda and then what is that resulting effect on teeth and the body? Could it also be that the plastics industry charges the food industry less money for BPA-coated plastic containers than for BPA-free products?