Alphabet Soup (Cans)

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Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 1.39.31 PMIf you follow BPA (bisphenol-A) on your Google news alert, no one would blame you for being surprised that you actually woke up the next morning.

BPA, which is reacted with another chemical to form ubiquitous polycarbonate plastics, and also used as is on cash register receipts, may be the most studied substance ever, which is especially ironic, since no one has ever found any evidence of an adverse effect on human health.

But careers have been built on demonizing BPA, and if you can come up with some new theoretical risk, your funding potential will go through the roof.

Fact check: Keep in mind that the plastics made from BPA do not contain the chemical, rather a polymer of it, which has no health risk whatsoever. All of the scares come from the fact that under certain sets of conditions, the polymer (plastic) breaks down a bit and releases very small amounts of BPA in the process. Even this is rapidly metabolized and excreted in the urine, so it does not build up in your body.

It is not surprising that companies are salivating at the prospect of exploiting consumer fears by marketing BPA-free products, much to the delight of environmental and consumer groups, who have turned this farce into something real.

So, now what do you use to seal your cans of soup? Nothing? Another plastic? Fairy dust?

Enter bisphenol-S (BPS), which is used for the exact same reason to produce plastics, and when the BPS-polycarbonate plastics degrade they form (you guessed it) traces of BPS itself. It is any better? Worse? Never anything to worry about in the first place?

Next time you look at the ingredients of a BPA-free product, check for BPS. You ll probably find it. Excellent marketing, but lousy science.

Speaking of which, the always reliable Dr. Mehmet Oz (who just happened to recently tout the cancer-preventing vitamin E, just about the same time a large study came out showing that the opposite is true) may want to take some time off, because he is having a pretty bad week.

Here is part of what he had to say: The effects of hormone disrupters? They can trigger developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune problems. So we suggest you reduce your exposure to BPA and BPS by cooking and microwaving food only in glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers.

ACSH s Josh Bloom is somewhat perplexed by this. He says, Please poke me to see if I m awake, but did I just hear Dr. Oz suggest that we microwave food in steel containers? Despite any expertise in microwaves or electronics (and especially cooking, for that matter), this seems like a rather bad idea. What s his next suggestion? Warming up hand grenades in your toaster? And people take medical advice from this guy.

At ACSH, we have been saying the same thing for years. When you remove a chemical from a product especially one that has been used safely forever you are almost certainly going to replace it with another one which is less-studied. Does this really make any sense?

Didn t think so.