What is BPA?
Bisphenol A is used primarily to make plastics, and products containing bisphenol A-based plastics have been in commerce for more than 50 years. It is a key ingredient in the most common form of polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate plastic, which is clear and nearly shatter-proof, is used to make a variety of common products including baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs, and household electronics. Epoxy resins containing bisphenol A are used as coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans.
Why should you be concerned?
Bisphenol A functions as a xenoestrogen and is an endocrine disruptor, which can mimic the body’s own sex hormone estrogen and may lead to negative health effects.
By mimicking the effects of oestrogen, it interferes with hormone levels and cell signalling systems and elevates the risk of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate and breast cancer, infertility, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Early development appears to be the period of greatest sensitivity to BPA’s effects.
Regulatory bodies have determined safety levels for humans, but these safety levels are currently being questioned or under review as a result of new scientific studies.
A 2008 report by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) expressed “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A,” and “minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” The NTP had “negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.”
BPA can contaminate the environment either directly or through degradation of products containing BPA, such as ocean-born plastic trash. Once in the environment, BPA has been shown to affect reproduction in all studied animal groups, to impair development in crustaceans and amphibians and to induce genetic aberrations. (Please recycle your plastic!)
It seems chemical manufacturers using tricks straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook in an attempt to downplay the hazards of BPA.
How am I exposed to BPA?
Bisphenol A has been known to leach from the plastic lining of canned foods and drinks, and, to a lesser degree, polycarbonate plastics, especially those that are cleaned with harsh detergents or used to contain acidic or high-temperature liquids.
Infants fed with liquid formula are among the most exposed, and those fed formula from polycarbonate bottles can consume up to 13 micrograms of bisphenol A per kg of body weight per day.
How can I lower my exposure to BPA?
Avoid polycarbonate plastic containers (which shares resin identification code 7 with many other plastics) unless the packaging indicates the plastic is bisphenol A-free. This includes Bottled Water! Buy a reusable stainless steel water container instead.
Only use polyethylene or polypropylene plastics, which have the recycling code #1, #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE), and #5 (PP). Recycling code #7 may mean the product contains BPA, though alternative products made from plants such as corn also carry the recycling code #7.
Avoid canned food – eat fresh or frozen vegetables instead.
Avoid heating plastic containers – Plastic that is boiled, put in the microwave or dishwasher, or left in the car are especially problematic because heating them repeatedly causes high amounts of BPA to leak out).
Avoid using harsh detergents when washing plastics.
Do not reuse Plastic Water and Soda Bottles.
Another bad choice for water bottles, reusable or otherwise, is plastic #3 (polyvinyl chloride/PVC), which can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into the liquids they are storing and will release synthetic carcinogens into the environment when incinerated. Plastic #6 (polystyrene/PS), has been shown to leach styrene, a probable human carcinogen, into food and drinks as well.
Recycle your plastic! Incinerating plastic bottles releases toxic chemicals.
By lobbying government to protect citizens from untoward exposure to BPA.
But why do they keep using it if it’s not safe?
That’s a bit like asking the tobacco industry why they still make cigarettes! BPA alone is worth at least a million dollars every hour. (Source: University of Missouri Wade Welshons, in “Tackling Plastics’ Toxic Health Threat”, DISCOVER, May 2008, pg 51)
Some other reasons they keep using it:
- Out of patent
- Relatively cheap to make
- Antioxidant in plastics
- Colourless, tasteless, odorless
Who is responding to this?
WHO announced in November 2009 that it would organize an expert consultation in 2010 to assess BPA safety.
The federal government of Canada formally declared bisphenol A a hazardous substance as of October 2008 and is now placed on its list of toxic substances. Health officials wrote in Canada Gazette that “It is concluded that bisphenol A be considered as a substance that may be entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.” The federal ministries of health and the environment announced they would seek to restrict imports, sales and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.
On 22 December 2009 the EU Environment ministers released a statement expressing concerns over recent studies showing adverse effects of exposure to endocrine disrupters. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is scheduled to release another opinion on BPA by May 2010.
In May 2009, the Danish parliament passed a resolution to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles, which was enacted in March 2010.
In March 2010, Belgian senator Philippe Mahoux proposed legislation to ban BPA in food contact plastics.
On 24 March 2010 the French Senate unanimously approved a proposition of law to ban BPA from baby bottles, the proposition still depends of Assembly approval.
On 29 March 2010 the US Environmental Protection Agency said it will investigate the impact of the chemical Bisphenol-A on the U.S. water supply and other parts of the environment.
Watch this video, then decide for yourself:
If you need more information…
For an in depth article on BPA, please read: “The Real Story Behind Bisphenol A – How a handful of consultants used Big Tobacco’s tactics to sow doubt about science and hold off regulation of BPA”
For a recent study, please read: “A new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that participants who drank for a week from polycarbonate bottles — the popular, hard-plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles — showed a two-thirds increase in their urine of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA)”