A study among Chinese factory workers shows exposure to high doses of Bisphenol A at their jobs resulted in an increase of erectile dysfuntion.

Compared to the other workers, men with high BPA exposure were about four times as likely to report trouble achieving erections, about seven times as likely to say they had difficulty ejaculating, and about four times as likely to report low sex drive or low satisfaction with their sex lives.

Well, that should get the public’s attention.

I’ve written about Bisphenol A before. BPA is a chemical that is used to harden plastics, and many public health experts have started to worry more and more that it might be causing health problems.

For example, some people have linked it with metabolic syndrome (obesity/diabetes/hypertension). Is the world wide epidemic of diabetes and obesity from the fact we now have enough to eat, or is it due to chemicals in our food, or is  a combination of both? Enquiring minds want to know.

But there are other troubling questions, since other studies suggested it might lead to subtle brain changes if fed to baby monkeys.

Since the chemical tends to leach out if water (or milk) is heated in such a bottle, this last part was quite worrisome to moms who often heated their baby’s milk in one of these plastic bottles, so many countries and companies banned the chemical in products that are used for children.

The problem with Bisphenol A and other chemicals is that they mimic estrogens, so theoretically if your body absorbs a lot of the chemical, it would be similar to taking estrogen. Is this one reason for the many birth defects in animals? Does it affect human babies developing in the womb, or as a newborn?

The science in all of this is not as easy as you think, since the men having problems with their love life did get exposed to quite a bit of the BPA:

Li said the workers probably were exposed not only through inhalation and skin contamination but also by swallowing BPA powder that contaminated their food. He said he didn’t know which route was most prominent in the Chinese factories.

So this is more about unsafe manufacturing rather than BPA per se.

But it is a worry that this Consumer Reports finds Bisphenol A in a lot of popular foods, even though the actual level is small.From NPR:

Standouts, in a bad way, were Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans with an average BPA of 123.5 parts per billion in the samples tested, and Progresso Vegetable Soup with BPA of 92.3 parts per billion.

But what does this mean in the real world?

Parts per billion of anything doesn’t sound like much, but Rangan says the amounts found could lead a person with a modest appetite to blow right through the levels the Food and Drug Administration figures Americans are ingesting. That possibility plus Consumers Union’s view that the BPA is pretty dangerous stuff leads them to argue BPA exposure limits should be tightened.

I agree. There needs to be strict BPA exposure limits, and the amount of BPA used needs to be limited to places where no other alternative is available. Indeed, one needs to replace BPA as soon as an alternative is found.

But since it took years to discover the problems with low level BPA exposure, remember, any “new” chemical used might have similar (or worse) problems that won’t be found for years.

Welcome to the modern world.

Excuse me for being cynical, but all of this is not an “all nothing” decision.

Ban plastic packaging, and you will end up with a lot more food discarded, and an increase in the price of food, which could mean a lot more poor people unable to eat or to buy food.

Having lived in various levels of modernization in third world countries, I have seen the problems of “natural” living, with it’s lack of food, contaminated water, one third of the harvest eaten by vermin, and liver cancer from molds growing on stored crops.

Balance please.

Indeed, Nicolas Kristoff, who should know better, writes in his editorial in the New York Times :

In my family, we’re cutting down on the use of those plastic containers that contain BPA to store or microwave food, and I’m drinking water out of a metal bottle now.

Yes, and all you will end up with is risking lead poisoning if your metal bottle was made in a Chinese factory.

However, it is probably a good idea to breast feed, eat natural foods, and avoid modern processed foods if you are rich enough to afford it and have a good refrigerator.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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