Steamboat Springs To drink or not to drink - that is the question many of us are asking ourselves as we reach for plastic bottles.
Depending on what you read, one ingredient found in many hard, polycarbonate plastics is either perfectly safe or a dangerous health risk.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a synthetic compound that is quickly becoming a household name while provoking vigorous debate in the scientific world.
Produced in vast quantities every year, BPA is found in plastics used to make some water bottles and baby bottles. It also is contained in the lining of food cans, soda cans and possibly wine vats. BPA can leach out of these cans and bottles and enter into the food or drink contained in them, especially when the containers or contents are heated to high temperatures.
This is of particular concern to parents of infants or young children who drink milk, formula or other liquids from plastic bottles. The bottles sometimes are heated in the microwave or on the stove with the liquids inside.
Our smallest, most helpless population - developing fetuses, newborn babies and young children - are most at risk for exposure.
"As a medical provider and a mother of two young children, I think it's important for pregnant and new mothers to look at the information regarding BPA," said physician assistant Kim Boyce, who is in private medical practice with obstetrician and gynecologist James Summers, DO, in Steamboat Springs. "I have made the choice to avoid using products with BPA. To me, it's not worth the risk."
BPA is raising concerns because it appears to mimic the effects of estrogen, interfering with hormone levels. These hormones control the development of the brain and reproductive system in the developing fetus. Studies have shown people exposed to high levels of BPA have a greater risk of developing uterine fibroids, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts and prostate cancer.
How concerned should we be? That depends on whom you listen to. The plastics industry says BPA is harmless. Many scientists think that, based on animal test results, exposure to BPA in the womb raises the risk of certain cancers, decreases fertility and could contribute to childhood behavioral problems such as hyperactivity.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that human exposure to Bisphenol A is very low and poses no known risk to human health.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the chemical is completely safe unless you ingest 1,300 pounds of canned and bottled food daily.
So, the controversy continues. As we wait for more research, here are several ways you and your family can reduce exposure to BPA:
Because heat makes BPA leach out faster, use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and hot liquids. Avoid putting any plastic in the microwave or dishwasher.
Look for cracks or cloudiness on your reusable clear plastic bottles; discard damaged containers.
Use glass baby bottles or plastic bag inserts made of polyethylene, or switch to "BPA-free" baby bottles. Locally, these bottles may be found at Bamboo Market and Building for Health. Nationally, retailers such as Wal-Mart have said they are withdrawing baby products made with BPA. Nalgene, the maker of a popular sports bottle, also has announced it will stop using BPA.
Use powdered formula rather than liquid from cans.
Choose soups, milk and soy products packaged in cardboard cartons that are made of safer layers of aluminum and polyethylene, which also are recyclable.
Eat fresh foods in season or use frozen vegetables; save canned foods for convenience or emergencies.
Buy or can your own fruits and vegetables in safe glass jars.
Be aware some wines have been found to contain up to six times the BPA of canned foods.
Lisa A. Bankard coordinates wellness and community education programs at Yampa Valley Medical Center.