In celebration of the release of The Body Toxic in paperback, Nena Baker read from her book at Powell’s Thursday night. Nena touched on a few of the major players making up the chemical soup of our everyday lives. She briefly introduced phthalates and PFOA, but focused the evening’s talk on BPA. BPA is present in many plastic products, but there have been some new developments since the book’s hardback release. A few manufacturers have eliminated BPA from baby bottles and sports water bottles. Even though there has been no federal legislation (in the U.S.) banning BPA, it has been replaced by manufacturers as a result of public pressure. But, BPA is still present in many other products. The concerns about the presence of BPA in the lining of canned foods (except Eden Foods) have been gaining momentum recently. This is an area that still requires public pressure and/or federal legislation.
Nena did take a drink from a SIGG water bottle and an audience member asked her the brand. She explained that it was from SIGG and that it was made from stainless steel with an inner lining. SIGG has provided documentation on their website that testing results have proven that liquids stored in SIGG bottles were free from leached BPA from the lining. I went to a presentation last year by a staff member from the Oregon Center for Environmental Health (OCEH) at the Green Sprouts event in Portland (coming up again 09/26/09).
The OCEH presenter explained that even though SIGG offered documentation that liquids stored in their bottles were free from leached BPA, that they would not disclose the chemical components of their water bottle lining. That sounded dishonest to me. I was glad that I had switched to Klean Kanteen when I had phased out our plastic bottles a few years ago. But, Klean Kanteen did not make a sippy at that time and I switched Henrik from an Avent sippy to a SIGG sippy. I thought I was making a safer choice. Klean Kanteen did eventually release a sippy bottle and we replaced the SIGG.
As a follow up to the SIGG question, I posed the following question to Nena. I asked, “What do we know about the chemicals that have replaced BPA in water bottles?” Her response was, “Nothing.” She then elaborated by explaining that testing in Canada (where BPA has been banned) have shown that BPA is still present in “BPA free” bottles. This was news to me. So, the marketplace if offering us bottles that are advertised as BPA free, but that still contain BPA and a new era of plastics that have entered the consumer market without an established track record.
Just yesterday, I read on the SIGG website that prior to the release of their new lining in August 2008, the lining of SIGG bottles did contain BPA. But, they still maintain that their previous testing proved that the BPA present in the lining did not leach into the liquid in the bottle. This development reminds me how important it is to know as much as possible about the products I bring home to my family. Our current legislation allows corporations to claim that their chemical components are protected as “trade secrets”. PBS showed a great documentary a while ago, Trade Secrets, that highlighted this loophole. SIGG’s sidestep is an environmental misstep.
Nena also touched briefly on the importance of utilizing the Precautionary Principle. I first learned of the Precautionary Principle when I read Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber. This was one of the first books we read in my Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program at The Evergreen State College (TESC). Living Downstream started me on my current journey to learn everything I can about the toxins around us and how to make the best choices possible to avoid them. Dr. Steingraber participated in the conference that developed the Precautionary Principle, which explains that, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
Nena highlighted the work of the EU in implementing the Precautionary Principle in their legislation when banning toxic chemicals. When the EU utilizes the Precautionary Principle the burden of proof falls on the producer to establish that the product is safe for humans and the environment. We currently live with a system where the burden rests on the consumer to prove, usually once damage has been done, that a product is dangerous. The Precautionary Principle should be implemented in the U.S. on the federal level to protect humans and the environment from dangerous chemicals.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to hear Nena speak. The Body Toxic is well researched and well written. Nena clearly explained, in the book and in person, many of the complexities of the omnipresence of the chemicals surrounding us. I especially appreciate how Nena impressed upon the audience the urgent need to pass legislation to protect people and the environment from the toxic chemicals in “everyday things” (Baker, 08/20/09). Nena’s upcoming appearances are listed on her website.