21st Century’s Biggest Challenge Found in a Casserole

Ah, the holiday season! We gather with friends and family, and wonder if the pot-luck meals are going to kill us – if not by design, then by carelessness or ignorance. Does Aunt Alpha dismiss your worries over chemicals? Does Uncle Beta laugh as he shovels in another helping of some comfort-casserole first baked during the Great Depression?

I ran across an interesting article at slate.com about BPA, a chemical commonly added to plastics in contact with food to prevent corrosion or suppress bacteria. In high enough doses it can “cause adverse health effects by interfering with how our normal hormone systems work.” The author, Michael Holsapple, is a professor at Michigan State who studies food safety. He’s written an interesting article and I hope you’ll read it for yourself.

Holsapple reminds us of an important detail:

When considering the safety of any substance, it is important to understand what is known as a ‘dose-response relationship.’

As the dose of a potentially harmful chemical we are exposed to increases, so, too, does the severity of the harmful response. This means the relative safety of almost every substance—even water or oxygen—is a function of the dose to which we are exposed. Importantly, this also means that the mere presence of a chemical does not mean it will be harmful.

Consumer fears about BPA have led some food companies to replace it with other chemicals that are not well understood, just so they can boast “BPA-free” on their products. Their replacements could turn out to be more dangerous than BPA since

A 70 kg person, or about 154 pounds, would have to consume over 14 cans of cream of mushroom soup, or over 64 cans of green beans per day to be vulnerable to adverse health effects associated with exposure to BPA.

We live in a world flooded with misinformation, but it’s impossible for any individual to research everything that pops up on their favorite news site or – even more questionable – blog. There was a time when we looked to experts in academia or government to sort through it all for us, but public faith in such sources is low. RF_Alum has grappled with this issue at Rocky Flats, and his first-hand, personal knowledge doesn’t seem to comfort people once their fears are aroused – just check out the book reviews he mentioned here.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.” A statement we can all endorse. But finding those facts and getting us all to share them may be the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.

BTW – it’s pretty well established that daily overeating and a couch-potato lifestyle will hurt you, so keep that green bean and mushroom soup casserole as only an annual treat.

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About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

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