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Eco Etiquette: How Do I Avoid The Sneakiest Sources Of BPA?

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Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

My daughter opened up my pantry the other day and said that all the canned soups I eat every day for lunch have the chemical BPA in them. Is this true? What else has BPA in it that I don't know about?

-Eve

For those concerned about serious health conditions (breast and prostate cancer, sexual development abnormalities, and now heart disease) linked to packaging additive bisphenol A (BPA), there's promising news: Earlier this month, the FDA reversed its stance on the chemical, saying it is now "taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply." It's a monumental first step, as is the move by cities and states around the country to ban the suspected endocrine disruptor from baby products like formula cans and sippy cups. It could still be years, though, before we see BPA removed from thousands of other products on the market -- including those canned soups that you enjoy every day for lunch (more on that later).

What has upset me most about the BPA issue is that we consumers haven't been granted the knowledge to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to buy products that are packaged with it. As with genetically modified foods, it's a consumer guessing game: To date, there are still no labeling requirements for thousands of industrial chemicals like BPA that turn up in our food stuffs and packaging. Of course, there's calorie, fat, and sodium information clearly printed on the package of every last Keebler cookie, but say you want to know if there's a toxic chemical in your can of bean soup that could to lead to breast cancer? Forget it folks, you're on your own.

Well, not any longer. Stick to these tips, and eliminate even the sneakiest sources of BPA from your diet.

Swap out your soup. A recent Consumer Reports test found BPA in 19 name-brand foods; the highest levels were in canned soup, including Campbell's chicken noodle -- not the therapeutic effect you want for someone fighting off a cold. I've since switched to Dr. McDougall's BPA-free soups packaged in FSC-certified cartons, or I make my own from scratch. Which brings me to my next tip...

Beware the beans. Don't reach for canned beans to whip up that batch of black bean chili, unless you're going to buy Eden Organic -- amazingly, the only brand on the market to use BPA-free cans. Westbrae Natural, for instance, says on its website that the lining of its cans is "a type of food-grade epoxy...the simplest earth friendly coating available." But, it was revealed in a follow-up phone call that its cans do, in fact, contain trace amounts of BPA. Dried beans are a safe bet, plus they're considerably cheaper.

Toss the tomatoes and tuna. You may love making pasta sauce from scratch, but even that innocent looking little can of tomato paste likely has BPA lurking in its lining. All the more reason to plant your own tomatoes, or check out the Bionaturae brand of tomato paste, which comes in a nifty little glass jar. Canned tuna, and even my favorite health food, sardines, aren't safe either. You can find tuna in glass as well, though it's pricey (but thanks to the mercury content, you shouldn't be eating it that often anyway).

Gossip, don't drink at, the water cooler. It's been well publicized that polycarbonate water bottles leach BPA, which is why Nalgene phased it out of its sports bottles. But how many of you have reached for the office water cooler to fill up your Kleen Kanteen, or have bottled water delivery at home because you think the water is "safer" than tap? Surprise -- those cooler bottles are made from the same BPA-laden No. 7 plastic that was used for the original Nalgene bottles. Invest in a water filtration system or switch to a Brita pitcher, which is BPA-free.

Ditch the Diet Coke.
And the regular Coke. And the Pepsi, Sprite, Fanta, Mountain Dew, and any other soda or energy drink that comes in a can, while you're at it (as if you needed more motivation to stop guzzling liquid candy, anyway): A study last year by Health Canada found that the majority of soft drinks contain BPA. If you have to get your pop fix, at least enjoy it the old-fashioned way: in a glass bottle.

Protect those pearly whites. If you wind up at the dentist with a cavity thanks to all that soda pop, make sure you ask about the sealant he's using -- there is evidence that some dental sealants may contribute to BPA exposure.

Remember: When in doubt, ask. Even companies implying that they offer BPA-free products can't be trusted, as so many of us learned when reusable water bottle maker Sigg came clean earlier this year about the BPA in its liners. And if it turns out that BPA is in the product of the company you're contacting, don't be afraid to say that you'll no longer be buying that product. Until the laws change, consumer demand is the only leverage we have.

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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