Japanese scientists have found preliminary evidence indicating that Bisphenol A (BPA) has been found along shorelines of 20 countries in staggering concentrations. The EPA officially designated BPA a ‘chemical of concern’ a couple of weeks ago. Environment Canada just a couple of years ago announced BPA as a toxic substance and considers the water pollution limit for industry to be 1.75 parts per billion (ppb). The Japanese researchers found BPA in the oceans and sand in amounts ranging from 10 ppb to 50,000 ppb. Dr. Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri, said that it is “a scary finding that the levels in the ocean could already be at levels where you would not want to swim…This is shocking” (quoted from the globe and mail)
As we all know, BPA is an industrial chemical used in hard plastics and found in a range of products from canned foods, baby bottles, plastic food storage containers, and plastic reusable water bottles. BPA increases bodily concentration of estrogen from low parts per trillion to, as the research showed in oceans, 10 parts per billion. This results in lowered sperm count and fertility, high occurrence of breast cancer, prostate growth, early puberty in children, heart disease, and diabetes.
Why are we finding these concentrations in the oceans? Well, floating in a circular motion in the middle of the pacific ocean (between British Columbia and Japan) is a concentration of garbage two times the size of Texas or France. Found there are thousands of water bottles, plastic bags, soft plastic, and plastic containers floating and apparently releasing chemicals such as BPA. Remember that only 23-25% of plastic is recycled meaning that an unprecedented amount of plastic waste makes its way into the oceans. The EPA estimates that more than 450,000 kg of BPA are released into the environment annually, out of the 2.7 million kg produced.
This is one of a growing number of issues that are illustrating the connection between ecological and social sustainability; social referring to health issues. Despite warnings of the health issues associated with BPA, few companies have made the changes necessary to weed out these products from their shelves (MEC is an exception) while consumers continue to purchase these products.
A colleague of mind said that he would never drink tap water because of the amount of fluoride put into the water. Is this perspective a bit oversimplified? Shouldn’t he consider the more complex implications of purchasing bottled water on future generations having to deal with the mess this will create from both an environmental and health point of view?