Should You be Concerned about BPA (Bisphenol A)?

The foods and beverages we ingest and even the air we breathe are contaminated with all sorts of chemicals that pollute not only our planet, but also our very bodies. Increasingly, people are demanding to know what additives are in the goods they consume and searching for healthier alternatives. Read today’s article to learn more about a popular substance that affects practically everyone, but most people are unaware of.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the answer is no.  But what exactly is BPA, and why has it caused an uproar in the food and drug industry? BPA is an acronym for bisphenol A, which is an additive in a hard, clear plastic known as polycarbonate.  This chemical is widely used in food storage containers, such as water bottles.  It is also commonly used in paper for printed cash register receipts and could be found in sealants of metal canned foods.  However, the public cause for alarm reached a deafening pitch when it was discovered that many baby products, such as pacifiers, bottles, and cups, contained the substance. This was of particular concern because several studies indicated that BPA could negatively affect brain and reproductive development in fetuses, infants, and children. Consequently, the FDA banned the use of BPA in the production of baby bottles in 2012.

In response to the FDA’s decision, the food industry began to display “BPA FREE” labeling on many food products for both adults and children.  While on its face, the removal of BPA from food containers seems like a good thing, there is still plenty of reason for continued vigilance.  First, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, BPA was found in the urine of 93% of Americans, meaning only a very small portion of the population has not already been exposed to the chemical.  Second, it is believed that the additive used to replace BPA may be just as harmful as BPA itself.  

Specifically, bisphenol S or BPS, was chosen to replace BPS.  According to Scientific American, the problem with BPA was that excess BPA leached into food and beverages from containers due to incomplete consumption during the reaction used to make polycarbonate plastic. BPS was believed to be more resistant to leaching, thereby preventing the contamination of food and drinks.  Notwithstanding, a study shows that 81% of Americans have BPS in their urine, and the substance has similar effects on the body as BPA, such as asthma, birth defects, cancer, and metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity.  

That said, according to the FDA’s website, which was last updated on June 27, 2018, the “FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. Based on FDA’s ongoing safety review of scientific evidence, the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”  The FDA sites its own research as proof that the chemical is safe for human consumption.  For example, one research study pursued by the FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research “found evidence in rodent studies that the level of the active form of BPA passed from expectant mothers to their unborn offspring, following oral exposure, was so low it could not be measured.  The study orally dosed pregnant rodents with 100-1000 times more BPA than people are exposed to through food, and could not detect the active form of BPA in the fetus 8 hours after the mother’s exposure.”  The study also found that oral consumption of BPA results in rapid metabolism of the substance into an inactive form.  It is unclear whether or not BPA usage will become widespread again in light of the FDA’s most recent determination.  

On the other hand, although the CDC acknowledges on its website that nearly all Americans it tested had BPA in their urine, the agency went on to state that, “Human health effects from BPA at low environmental exposures are unknown. BPA has been shown to affect the reproductive systems of laboratory animals.  More research is needed to understand the human health effects of exposure to BPA.”  In January 2018, the CDC published an article on its website regarding the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (hereinafter NIOSH) findings concerning BPA.  

NIOSH conducted its study in the wake of Chinese research which found that factory workers handling BPA experienced reproductive health effects. The NIOSH found a similar result in urinary samples taken from American workers with urine, air, and skin exposure to BPA.  According to the research, the participants in the study had levels which were 70 times higher than those reported by the CDC. The CDC also acknowledged in the publication that BPA “weakly mimics the hormone estrogen.”  

If the government’s assurances about the safety of BPA bring you little comfort, you are not alone.  Others, including the Sierra Club, feel the same and have developed tips and guidelines to assist the public in reducing its exposure to BPA.  

  1. When you cook or microwave using plastic, choose a brand that is microwave safe or made for cooking sous vide.  Microwave safe bags are made from polyethylene.  Do not microwave plastic containers made with polyvinyl chloride as they contain phthalates.  Consequently, they are not deemed safe.  For cooking, use Saran wrap, oven bags, or bags that zip close.  Many of the popular brands that zip close are considered safe for cooking.  
  1. Polycarbonate plastic is considered safe for freezing your food, but it is unsafe to cook or microwave with.  
  1. When feasible, avoid heating food and drinks in plastic containers altogether as this causes BPA to leak and contaminate food and beverages.  Instead, use glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers.
  1. Do not put plastics made of polycarbonate in the dishwasher as the heat could result in leaching of BPA, which could later be absorbed in your food or beverages.  Always wash them by hand instead.
  1. Never use baby bottles manufactured before 2012 as they may contain BPA, which could be harmful to infants.
  1. Avoid canned foods.  Purchase frozen or fresh foods instead.  Not only will this limit your potential exposure to BPA, but it’s also better for your overall health as it will result in a decrease in other artificial colors, sweeteners, and food additives, which could have negative effects on your health.  You can also buy prepackaged food in glass, ceramic, or cardboard packaging.  
  1. Read the labels carefully!  Look for the BPA FREE label on containers when making your purchases.  When using recycled plastic containers, check for the numbers 1, 2, or 5 inside the recycle symbol.  If those numbers are inside the symbol, the plastic is BPA free.  However, you should avoid recycled plastics with a 7 in the recycle symbol.
  1. Throw away damaged plastic containers.  Cracks and scratches in polycarbonate containers can result in BPA leaching into food and drinks.
  1. Avoid plastic water bottles and use glass or unlined stainless steel bottles as an alternative.
  1. Wash your hands with soap and water after receiving a paper receipt, especially before preparing food and beverages for consumption.

For more information, visit the Sierra Club’s website at https://www.sierraclub.org/michigan/bpa#.Wr2keIh7FB0.email.

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