First, the good news: There are plentiful alternatives to Bisphenol A (BPA), that pesky chemical menace that sneaks from plastics and cans into our food and drink, and is found in 90 percent of our bodies. And it just got another bad report card. Long suspected of interfering with normal hormonal and nervous system development, BPA is newly linked to higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in a study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). And, in its final report on BPA issued earlier this month, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed earlier findings that the chemical is of "some concern for effects on development of the prostate gland and brain and for behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children," per NIH's announcement. To read the full report, click here.

On a five-point scale of levels of concern, "some concern" falls exactly at mid-point. "We are expressing this level of concern because we see developmental changes occurring in some animals at BPA exposures similar to those experienced by humans," said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP associate director. In other words, we are now being exposed to BPA in comparable amounts to those causing health problems in animals.

Wondering what it would take to really raise NTP's eyebrows, we conclude that we'd rather not wait for more bad news before taking steps to sweep BPA out of our daily lives.

AS many concerned consumers know, principal sources of BPA include polycarbonate (Lexan, recycling code #7) sports and baby bottles, and the linings of nearly all canned foods and infant formulas. The latter, according to studies by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others, leach more BPA than plastic bottles do. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, tend to leach most.

Quick avoidance tips:

While there's no need to panic, try to reduce consumption of canned foods, or buy your favorites in aseptic cartons, which are lined with polyethylene (PETE) and BPA-free. For more tips on cans, click here.

Watch out for hard, clear plastic containers (Tritan, below, is an exception to this rule). For the most part, flexible, semi-opaque plastics don't have BPA.

Choose Tritan plastic reusable water bottles, just as pretty and durable as Nalgene's Lexan, which the company is discontinuing. Or, choose unlined stainless steel (some epoxy lined metal water bottles may contain BPA , EWG says).

Choose tempered glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles. In addition to its BPA-free plastic bottles, Medela is introducing new glass bottles, which are dishwasher and microwave safe, in sets of 2 bottles, nipples, lids, caps and a microwave steaming bag, for $16.99. The 8-oz bottles will be available at the end of this month; for where to buy, click here.  

As a general rule, use non-leaching plastics with recycling codes #4 or #5, including most Tupperware, for storing food and drink. Do not heat or microwave foods in plastic.

Postscript: Also this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its draft assessment on BPA contradicted NTP's cautionary report by declaring that BPA is safe at current levels found in food and beverage containers. Not so confusing, perhaps, in light of the fact that FDA relied on industry data, as the Wall St. Journal reported. Until government regulates (if ever) this unnecessary chemical, we'll have to take matters into our own hands, as concerned consumers, by making BPA-free choices, with a little help from some responsive companies.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008