Bisphenol A is a component of several types of plastics and epoxy resins used in food and liquid containers. Bisphenol-A is usually abbreviated as BPA. In April 2008, the Canadian government banned its use in polycarbonate baby bottles due to safety concerns. You may be using products that could be leaching Bisphenol A into your food and beverages.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is primarily used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy coating used to line the inside of canned goods. Polycarbonate plastic is a hard, usually clear plastic that has been used in baby bottles, sippy cups and a variety of sports bottles, including the popular Nalgene bottles. Health concerns about high exposure to BPA include breast cancer, prostate cancer, early puberty onset, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other affects including reduced sperm count and fertility.
Here is the scary part. Studies conducted by the CDC from 2003 to 2004 found BPA in the urine of 93% of the people sampled in the study. While the US Government has not banned the use of BPA, the Canadian government declared Bisphenol-A a toxic substance in October of 2008. Since the Canadian ban, most responsible manufacturers of plastic beverage containers have switched to the use of other materials.
Polycarbonate plastics have been used in a wide variety of products for more than 50 years. It is used to produce CDc, DVDs, plastic eyeglasses, and other very useful products that require hard, translucent, and almost unbreakable materials. BPA exposure is not an issue unless the products are used to contain food or water, or otherwise end up in your mouth. BPA is a key component of polycarbonate plastics and is also used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. My dentist also mentioned that there is growing concern about BPA in white dental fillings and dental sealants.
BPA has a low acute toxicity, which means it doesn’t directly make you sick, but it is a endocrine disruptor, which means it mimics the body’s hormones, which can create undesirable side-effects. The possible side-effects are the cause for the growing concern.
The best way to determine is a product you are using contains polycarbonate plastic is to look for the recycling symbol. Polycarbonate plastics fit into the “other” category for plastics and will likely be labeled with a recycling code of 7. Several other types of plastics also use this same category, so this is not a definitive way to determine that the plastic is polycarbonate. Sometimes polycarbonate plastics will have the initials PC under the recycling symbol.
BPA is also used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics as a polymerization inhibitor. PVC plastics are labeled with a recycling code of 3. PVC is known for giving off toxic fumes when burned and should never be used to contain beverages.
While it is easy to replace your baby and beverage bottles, it is not so easy to avoid BPA exposure if you eat a lot of canned goods. BPA is widely used in the epoxy resin liners in almost all canned goods, including many sold as organic products.
What if a beverage container does not have a recycling code?
Many older containers do not have recycling symbols. Nalgene lexan containers used to be made from polycarbonate plastic, but the new versions reportedly are not. Look for the recycling symbol on new versions and if in doubt, replace the container with a new model.
We had concerns about BPA in our Brita water filtering container, which does not contain a recycling symbol. According to others who have spoken with Brita about the BPA issue, Brita containers are made from two different types of plastics, neither of which contains BPA.
What can I do to reduce exposure to BPA?
- Because BPA is used in the epoxy resin coating inside almost all canned goods, your can eliminate most canned products from your diet and buy products in glass jars. Acidic foods, such as tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce, are particularly likely to absorb BPA. You can also switch to frozen vegetables, rather than canned vegetables.
- Always check the recycling code on the bottom of a plastic beverage bottle to see if the product may contain BPA. The recycling codes for plastics most likely to contain BPA are 3 and 7. You can also looks for products that are labeled as “BPA Free.”
- Get rid of all old baby bottles and sports bottles that may be made of polycarbonate (code 7) or polyvinyl chloride (code 3) plastics. Nalgene and almost all plastic beverage bottle manufacturers are now producing PBA-free bottles made of different types of plastics.
- Never heat or microwave liquids or food products in polycarbonate plastics. Better yet, do not heat foods in plastics at all. Even though some plastics, such as PETE (recycling code 1) are considered to be safe, it is much safer to remove frozen vegetables and TV dinners from the plastic trays and cook them in a small glass casserole dish or on a microwave safe plate. All plastics give off fumes and leach chemicals when heated.
- Do not wash polycarbonate beverage containers in the dishwasher. That causes the plastic to begin to break down, which means it will leach more PBA.
The US Food and Drug Administration is investigating the Biphenol A issue and has thus far taken the position that current exposure to BPA is within safe levels. That may be their current position, but the real concern is the effect on infants. In 2006 the European Union banned the use of BPA in all products made for children under the age of 3. This was followed by the Canadian ban and a BPA ban by several other countries. At this point, the issue regarding BPA exposure remains controversial. Nonetheless, several US states have passed legislation limiting the use of BPA plastics.
So, is BPA something that you should be concerned about? Perhaps. But for years we were told that products made with Teflon™ were safe to cook on and in the 1950s, people were told that smoking was good for their health. If you are concerned about your health and the health of your family, it may be wiser to take simple steps to eliminate Bisphenol A products from your kitchen, than to suffer possible side-effects later.