Sept. 21, 2011 -- An advocacy group committed to exposing and eliminating environmental risks for breast cancer has taken aim at canned foods popular among kids, reheating the debate on bisphenol A.
A new report from the Breast Cancer Fund reveals 12 canned soups and pastas found to contain BPA -- an estrogen-like chemical raising concern among experts for its potential health effects in children, infants and fetuses.
Topping the list was Campbell's Disney Princess Cool Shapes with 148 parts per billion. The average level across all 12 cans was 49 parts per billion.
"The findings of this report outline the urgent need to remove BPA from food packaging -- a major source of exposure to this toxic hormone disruptor -- especially in foods marketed to children," the report states.
BPA, a key ingredient in hard plastics and resins used to coat metal cans, made headlines in 2008 when it was shown to leach out of plastic when heated. The Canadian government responded by banning the chemical from baby bottles. In the United States, the federal government has not followed suit, but several local governments have and leading U.S. baby bottle manufacturers went BPA-free voluntarily. But the chemical continues to line the country's cans.
"I think they're definitely right in trying to get this chemical out of canned foods," said Dr. John Spangler, professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. "We can't do anything about past exposures but we can do something about current exposures."
When it comes to the health effects of BPA, the jury's still out, according to the World Health Organization. Laboratory studies in cells and animals have linked the chemical to cancer, infertility, diabetes and obesity. But the consequences of chronic exposure in humans remain unclear. Nevertheless, many experts and parents err on the side of caution.
"There are things we can do to minimize our exposure to BPA," Spangler said. "We can use fresh or dried pasta and sauce in jars. We can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer canned foods."
Spangler said he hopes the Breast Cancer Fund report persuades canned food manufacturers to look for alternatives to BPA.
But Campbell Soup Company spokesman Anthony Sanzio said the company is confident in the safety of its products.
"The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that the use of BPA in can lining poses no threat to human health," he said. "That being said, we understand that consumers may have concerns about it. We're very aware of the debate and we're watching it intently."
In 2009 the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences allotted $30 million in funding to study the health effects of BPA -- a splurge expected to yield results next fall.
In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration is "facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA," according to its website. A spokesman for the FDA did not respond to ABC News requests for a comment on the Breast Cancer Fund report or the status of BPA research.
In a campaign called "Cans Not Cancer," the Breast Cancer Fund urges canned food manufacturers to substitute BPA with something safer -- a feat Campbell's Sanzio said is easier said than done.
"I think statements such as this, that there all alternatives and companies can just flip a switch, it's just not accurate," said Sanzio. "At this point the industry has not identified a reliable alternative to BPA for large scale production."
States Not Waiting on BPA
Though the FDA has opted to wait for more evidence before taking action on BPA, several states including Connecticut and Minnesota have enacted their own laws banning the sale of baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and drink containers that contain it. And Pennsylvania might be next.
Rep. Lawrence Curry is holding a public hearing today on BPA in baby products. Rebecca Roberts, a scientist and mother of three, is testifying in support of a ban.
"BPA needs to be regulated so that those products are no longer used in this country," said Roberts, an assistant professor of biology at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. "There are alternatives; we just need to do it."
In 2007, Roberts published a first-person editorial in PLoS Biology on her experience with BPA as a scientist and a mother.
"The mother in me still waits anxiously for the regulatory agencies and the legislature to catch up with the research on BPA that the scientist in me appreciates," Roberts wrote. "I have switched my brand of sippy cups to one that doesn't contain BPA (a quick Internet search will yield many sites describing these and other BPA-free baby products).
"Nevertheless, while I feel proactive as I watch my daughter happily drink her water, I still cringe a little bit when she drops the sippy cup, toddles over to her toy bin, and starts to gnaw on her plastic turtle instead."