BPA Safety Science Update

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastic (clear, rigid, shatter-proof plastic) and epoxy resins. It is found in plastic containers, food and beverage cans, cash register receipts, some dental sealants and composites, medical devices, and other metal and plastic products. Exposure occurs when BPA leaches into foods, especially if containers are heated or washed with harsh detergents. It is estimated that 93 percent of Americans age 6 and over are exposed to BPA. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that BPA is safe, despite concerns about the chemical’s toxicity.

Caution: “BPA-Free” Plastics

“BPA-free” labeled plastic products using BPS also might pose concerns. The Center for Environmental Health tested 35 BPA-free plastic toddler drinking cups, and found that nine exhibited estrogenic activity (chemicals that mimic estrogen and can lead to adverse health effects.) All nine cups were labeled “BPA-free.” As an alternative to plastic cups, Klean Kanteen makes a stainless-steel, BPS- and BPA-free cup for toddlers.

Concerns. The FDA is in agreement with the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which expressed some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses and young children. A 2013 review published in Reproductive Toxicology concluded that, “the growing human literature correlating environmental BPA exposure to adverse effects in humans, along with laboratory studies in many species including primates, provides increasing support that environmental BPA exposure can be harmful to humans, especially in regards to behavioral and other effects in children.” A 2014 review article published in Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology highlights detrimental effects of BPA on male reproductive function during in utero exposure, including feminization of male fetuses, atrophy of the testes, and increased prostate size.

To better understand BPA risks, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (through the NTP) and the FDA initiated the Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on the Toxicity of BPA research program.Areas of study include: breast and prostate cancer, learning and behavior, immune function, male urogenital abnormalities, ovarian function, brain and thyroid development, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The study is expected to conclude in 2015.

What to Do Now? While additional research is being conducted, consumers who wish to avoid BPA can take the following steps:

  • Avoid food containers, cups, and dishes marked with the letters “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Also included in category #7 are plastics that contain bisphenol S (BPS), the primary chemical alternative to BPA, which may also have negative health effects (see Caution: “BPA-Free” Plastics).
  • Revamp your food storage. Buy packaged foods in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. Glass, ceramic, and stainless steel are great food-storage materials that can go from stove to freezer easily.
  • Buy fewer processed foods. Most processed foods in supermarkets come in plastic packaging.
  • Bring Your Own. Take the next step to reusable shopping bags by using reusable produce bags. You can find cotton produce bags at www.ecobags.com.
  • For more suggestions on how to avoid BPA, see: http://www.ewg.org/bpa.

— Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RD

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