From BPA to BPS   Leave a comment

This past November news came out that the BPA-free receipt paper currently being marketed may be no better or only slightly better than the receipt paper containing BPA (bisphenyl A). The new receipt paper is made using bisphenyl S, which is a slightly less potent hormone mimicking compound that is more persistent and less studied.

I’ve been waiting for this shoe to fall on the whole BPA thing. From the very beginning the conversation has been very frustrating to me and I’ve tried to stay out of it because it has been almost entirely focussed on one chemical, and not the class of chemicals. It’s been frustrating seeing “BPA-free” plastic hailed as green with no regard for the fact that plastics contain other problematic chemicals as well. It’s been frustrating seeing environmental organizations talk only about the concerns with BPA without also educating the public about estrogenic activity in general. There were a few refreshing bits of fresh air (like the Sigg water bottle issue, where one of the concerns voiced online was that they are only testing or releasing results for the new lining for BPA, not estrogenic activity), but it has been a very focussed campaign.

So when I read the news about the new receipt paper, I had a bittersweet laugh. Laughter because that’s my response to everything (I’m one of those people who can’t suppress the giggles at funerals, or in response to uncomfortable statements), and this inevitable news deserved it. Bittersweet because it is a big deal and something needs to be done, but really, are we going to take a couple of years to make grassroots campaigns to eliminate all of the thousands of harmful chemicals ONE AT A TIME? That’s why we need to incorporate the Precautionary Principle into our systems. That’s why we need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act (It was introduced in the Senate in April 2010 and currently is in committee).

This is not the first time in our history that we’ve replaced something with a more “environmentally-friendly” alternative to later find that the replacement is very environmentally unfriendly. One great example is MTBE, which was added to gasoline when lead was removed. Unfortunately, MTBE is very mobile in the subsurface and now large plumes of MTBE contamination in groundwater are common around fueling facilities with leaking tanks or spill histories. In the BPA/BPS issue, the thing that stands out the most to me is that BPS is more persistent. Persistency is just what it sounds like. It means that the chemical will be around in the environment for along time because, for whatever reason, it is difficult or slow to degrade/denature it. For example: pesticides that were banned in the US decades ago but that are still detected in some places in soil and animal tissue.

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Posted January 3, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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