What is BPA?

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an industrial chemical that is used to make plastics called polycarbonates.  Manufacturers use BPA becuase it allows them to produce material with important mechanical attributes.  BPA allows for the economical production of plastics that are clear, strong, durable, lightweight and shatterproof .  This makes them well suited for use in a myriad of household products like CDs and sunglasses.  However, BPA has been a source of concern because of its use in food storage containers and water bottles.  Epoxy resins containing BPA are even used to line aluminum cans to keep packaged foods like canned soups and tomato products from tasting metallic. water bottleCredit: By Vi..Cult... (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Why the Concern?

The concern about BPA lies in the belief that the chemical leaches from the plastic into the food or liquid in the container, and is then consumed.  This belief is strongly supported by a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) study found BPA present in the urine samples of 95% of the adults and 93% of the children in their study population [1].  

BPA is an endocrine disruptor and mimics estrogen in the body.  While chemical industry organizations maintain the safety of BPA, numerous studies continue to demonstrate that it has harmful effects, particularly in children, that include but are not limited to; impaired brain function and development, heart disease, reproductive disorders, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and asthma.  Studies have even suggested that BPA may inhibit the efficacy of chemotherapy in cancer patients [1].  Further, recent studies have demonstrated that BPA is toxic at doses much lower than was previously thought [2].  

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) went so far as to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and childrens drink cups in 2012.  While this ban has survived industry challenges.  Despite the limited ban and availability of BPA free alternatives in the market, the wide spread use of BPA in the manufacture of food storage products and containers continues without hindrance.

How Can You Limit BPA Exposure?

Plastics are so ubiquitous that it would extremely difficult, if not impossible to completely eliminate exposure to BPA.  Plastic bottles and containers that are advertised as BPA Free are now widely available.  I’ve also seen it suggested that if you avoid plastic products with recycled codes 3 and 7 (see images below, the recycle code can usually be found on the bottom of the item) that you’ll protect yourself from exposure.  I’m leary of these solutions for two reasons.  First, these steps only make it more likely that you’ll reduce your exposure.  Even plastics without recycle codes 3 and 7, may still contain some amount of BPA.  Second, I’m fearful that the pressure of the market to simply trade our current products for those made of plastics without BPA causes us to lose perspective of the larger issue.  Plastics are synthetic products, and their manufacture requires use of volatile chemicals.  In our rush to just eliminate BPA we may be involuntarily opting to use other plastics that we discover years from now contain even more toxic substances.  

Recycle Code 3Credit: By User:Tomia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsRecycle Code 7Credit: By User:Tomia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

With that being said, there are some common sense steps you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA.           

1) Avoid heating plastics, and never heat them when they contain or are in contact with food.  Do not microwave food in a plastic dish or covered in plastic wrap.  This includes dishes that purport to be “microwave safe”. That simply means the dish won't melt in the microwave, not that your food won’t be contaminated with BPA.  If you have a plastic water bottle, don’t leave it in the car on a hot day and continue to drink from it.  Also avoid putting plastic dishes or food containers in the dishwasher.  Instead, opt to clean them by hand.  

2) Reduce your consumption of canned foods.  Aluminum cans are typically lined with an epoxy resin that contains BPA.  This is used to protect the food and keep it from being contaminated by the aluminum (which brings with it another set of risks) and giving the food a metallic taste.  I understand that for those of us with families and a busy schedule that this is easier said than done.  If you can’t eliminate canned foods completely, then definitely try to reduce or eliminate consumption of canned foods that are highly acidic (like tomatoes).  The acid accelerates the breakdown of the BPA in the lining and can cause more contamination than is found in pH neutral foods.    

3) Switch to glass.  Instead of buying BPA free plastic containers, start using reusable glass containers.  Glass food storage containers are easy to clean, and are extremely convenient because you can throw them right in the microwave.  You can buy a six pack of Aquasana reusable glass water bottles on Amazon for under $30.  You can clean them in the dishwasher and you’ll never have to throw one out because you left it in a parked car that was roasting in the August sun.  You can also look for glass packed substitutes to canned foods as well.  I’ve even found crushed tomatoes packed in a glass jar instead of a BPA lined aluminum can.