Eco Etiquette: How Do I Avoid The Sneakiest Sources Of BPA? (Part 2)

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

I received an outpouring of emails in response to last week's column about how to avoid less-than-obvious sources of the packaging additive bisphenol A (BPA). I take this as a good sign: A lot of you out there are concerned about exposure to this estrogen-mimicking chemical that's been linked to heart disease, cancer, and other serious diseases, and it's clear from your letters that you're forging forward as informed consumers, regardless of when Congress or the FDA decides to ban the chemical.

Some of you had questions as to where else BPA could be hiding; others directed my attention to additional and even sneakier sources. Either way, last week's 800-words-or-less proved insufficient, given the ubiquity of the chemical. (By the by, BPA is one of the highest production-volume chemicals in the world, with more than 2 million metric tons produced each year.) Herewith, I offer you how to avoid the sneakiest sources of BPA, part deux.

Canners, be cautious. One of the surest ways to minimize BPA exposure is to favor fresh fruits and vegetables over canned goods like tomatoes, since BPA is found in nearly all can linings. And what better way to enjoy fresh produce than to plant your own garden? It's a cruel irony, however, that gardeners looking to preserve a bumper crop of beets may unknowingly be using BPA-laden home canning products: Jarden Home Brands uses BPA in the manufacture of its lids for Ball and Kerr jars. For a BPA-free option, take a look at the Weck canning jars with glass lids that are popular in Europe.

No receipt, thank you. Amazingly, the greatest threat of BPA exposure may be something we handle nearly every day: receipts. According to the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry's John Warner in a Science News article last year, "The average cash register receipt that's out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA." Milligrams? By comparison, the amount deemed worrisome enough by reusable water bottle manufacturer Nalgene to eliminate the chemical from its polycarbonate bottles was measured in nanograms (that's one-millionth of a milligram).

What's especially scary about the receipt scenario is that there's no way to control all the possibilities for exposure -- picture waiters delivering plates of food after handling customers' checks, or shaking hands with someone who just put a receipt in his wallet. What you can control: Decline a receipt if you don't need one (save more trees, too), and wash your hands frequently (good hygiene during flu season, anyway).

Eat that pizza at the parlor. Thanks to all those BPA-laced receipts, those pizzas you order in for movie night may also be tainted, courtesy of the recycled cardboard pizza boxes they were delivered in. Surprise: The BPA doesn't magically disappear when those receipts are recycled into other paper products. (Another source of the BPA in those pizza boxes is recycled newspaper, since newspaper ink also contains BPA.) I'm not saying we should do away with pizza boxes made from recycled materials, since the environmental damage from not saving all those trees would be arguably greater than the minimal, if any, exposure to BPA from the average pepperoni pie; but if you're the type who has Domino's on speed dial, you might want to consider stopping by your local pizza joint once in a while for a slice or two at the counter.

Bottle for beer, you're in the clear. If you do wind up having that pizza delivered, at least make sure that the six-pack you serve with it is BPA-free by choosing bottled beer over cans. It's true that the majority of canned soda pop contains BPA, but beer poses even more of a risk, due to the high solubility of BPA in alcohol. Wine isn't a completely safe choice, either: BPA is also found in the epoxy linings of some wine vats used during fermentation. Short of contacting the vineyard, making your own wine, or becoming a teetotaler, there's no way to avoid this exposure, unfortunately (take comfort in the fact that the French drink four times the wine that Americans do, and live, on average, 3.5 years longer).

With BPA having seemingly infiltrated the most benign of objects, it's easy to adopt a "screw it, we're all screwed" mentality. But my goal here is not to make you an obsessive hand washer who runs screaming at the sight of a pizza box; it's to highlight just how pervasive the chemical has become, and how important it is that we consumers stand up and demand action. If a 165-pound man can consume 80 times the "safe" amount of BPA from one serving of canned green beans, then what disastrous health effects are we putting ourselves at risk for once you factor in the soup cans, the polycarbonate bottles, the soda pop, and the credit card receipts?