Bisphenol-A and
Aluminum Cans
The Can Manufacturers Institute is, not surprisingly, addicted to discussing the benefits of aluminum. The organization infinitely recycles its line about aluminum being infinitely recyclable.The CMI also extols every other virtue of the can: it's cheap, stackable, eminently shippable, and safe --- all of which was evident by the conclusion of Can School. The organization announces that cans prevent light and UV penetration better than glass or plastic bottles, that cans cool down faster than glass or plastic, that they keep out oxygen better. It points out that food-borne bacteria kill 5,000 people a year and hospitalize another 350,000, averaging $1,850 annually per US citizen. Affirming that no such illness has resulted from a can for thirty years, it praises the greatness of the can. Remember, it insists, that a fifth of all American dinners include something from a can. When BPA concerns are raised, they cite studies they maintain confirm that BPA levels in cans are safe.

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance similarly dismisses the importance of BPA. In a 2011 press release, NAMPA urged policy makers and media to "take heed of a decisive analysis by independent toxicologists that concludes bisphenol-A (BPA) poses no risk to human health." NAMPA's chairman, John Rost, has called coatings critical and safe, and encouraged decision-making restraint to keep any legislator from acting with haste. Rost, a trained chemist, is also a lobbyist. BPA coatings, he has said, provide superior performance, without even a "marginal health risk," and have been reviewed by health agencies. That, and there's no readily available alternative.

The American Chemistry Council, too, seeks to allay worries over BPA. At the websites Bisphenol-A ( and Facts About BPA (, which were registered by the ACC, the group debunks nine BPA myths, mostly by pointing to the lack of a "sound scientific basis."

Ball employees haven't developed a coherent strategy. Some attempt a mild deception, by calling the epoxies "organic coatings." Of course, aldrin and dioxin are organic, too --- and toxic in minute quantities. Others employ a few more syllables, calling the epoxies "water-based polymers." Mention BPA, and everyone at Ball seems to get tense. Scott Brendecke, the corrosion engineer, stammered so after I mentioned BPA that he lost his train of thought. Paul DiLucchio said BPA is perfectly fine and that everybody refuses to understand as much. Another employee shrugged suggestively, raising one eyebrow at the mention of BPA. All he said was, "Hey, intent." With that --- wink wink, nudge nudge --- he walked away. To that end, I heard one employee call Ball a "practical provider of solutions," and another say he just provided options.

Can makers argue that modern society offers plenty of exposure to BPA outside of cans, and that it's been deemed safe; that the quantity of BPA in each can is minuscule; that even less migrates into beverages; that the quantity detected in humans is even smaller ("extremely small"); and that, regardless, any absorbed BPA gets expelled daily in urine. "There is a danger of over-reaction to issues relating to migration if the available data is not put into the context of the actual low levels to which consumers are exposed," writes the can consultant Bev Page. They say that the relationship between BPA and health effects is associative at best, and furthermore, that studies on mice aren't relevant in people, and that the results of many such studies are not reproducible. Finally, they say that major regulatory bodies in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States agree that current levels of BPA exposure are safe, and that one, the European Food Safety Authority, recently recommended increasing the tolerable daily intake of BPA by a factor of five.

"Agree" and "safe," though, are at odds with the opinion of the US Health and Human Services Department. HHS has said that parents should do all they can to limit BPA exposure in their infants. "Concern over potential harm from BPA is highest for young children," the agency warns, "because their bodies are early in development and have immature systems for detoxifying chemicals." The National Toxicology Program takes a similar stance: "The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A." It ranks concern on a five-step scale, from negligible concern, to minimal concern, to some concern, to regular concern, to serious concern. It has some. The American Medical Association feels the same way. Even the FDA recently declared: "Results of recent studies using novel approaches and different endpoints describe BPA effects in laboratory animals at very low doses corresponding to some estimated human exposures. Many of these new studies evaluated developmental or behavioral effects that are not typically assessed in standardized tests."

Frederick vom Saal, who has been studying hormones as long as Scheuerman has been studying cans, has found that BPA is as potent as DES, able to act far below the FDA's threshold, below 1 part per trillion (ppt). In 2004 the CDC found that of 2,517 people six years and older, 93 percent of them had BPA in their urine. A 2012 study in Ontario found that workers in food canning (not can making) had twice the risk of breast cancer than the general population, fivefold if they were premenopausal. A 2008 study in Shanghai found a threefold risk, as did a 2000 study in British Columbia. The authors wrote, "It is plausible that they were exposed to BPA from can linings."

While Americans debated uncertainties, other countries made decisions. Canada added BPA to the list of toxic chemicals under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. France voted to continue with a ban on BPA-based polycarbonate bottles. Denmark voted to continue with a ban on BPA in food packaging meant for children under age three. Japan has nearly eliminated BPA can coatings. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization convened a four-day joint meeting on the subject. Yet a commonly held View in America is that best expressed by Governor Paul LePage of Maine. "The only thing that I've heard," he told the Bangor Daily News,

    is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards.

--- From Rust: The Longest War
Jonathan Waldman
©2015, Simon & Schuster
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