Is BPA Less Dangerous Than We Thought?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reaffirmed its position on Bisphenol A (BPA), stating that the chemical—a structural component in polycarbonate beverage bottles (e.g. reusable water bottles) and a component in the coatings of metal cans—is safe at current levels that occur in foods. The FDA asserts that, based on its ongoing safety review of scientific evidence which included a four-year review (completed in the Fall of 2014) of more than 300 scientific studies, the available information continues to support BPA's safety for currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.
In response to two petitions, the FDA recently amended its food additive regulations to no longer provide for the use of certain BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging because these uses have been abandoned. According to the FDA, amending such regulations is not based on safety, but is based on the fact that the regulatory authorization is no longer necessary for the specific use of the food additive because that use has been permanently and completely abandoned.
Not everyone agrees that BPA is safe. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. The EPA asserts that BPA has been linked to a lot of ills including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioral changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments. In a recent article, the EWG criticized the FDA for its reliance on traditional methods of studying the toxicity of chemicals like BPA. It also asserted that the study upon which the FDA based its recent safety determination "suffered from methodological problems and unintentionally exposed its control animals to low doses of BPA, making it impossible to draw any conclusions about the safety of everyday BPA exposures for Americans." (To read more about the EWG's position on this, click here.)
As mentioned in a previous Scoop on Food post, recent studies suggest that BPA exposure in childhood can contribute to health risks including obesity in girls and accelerated growth in some young children. Being exposed to BPA prenatally also has been linked with diminished lung function and wheezing in young children as well as with increased behavior problems in school age boys. Another study posited that prenatal exposure to BPA and high-molecular-weight phthalates—chemicals used in hundreds of products including plastics—might also increase the risk of asthma symptoms and respiratory tract infections throughout childhood.
Although the FDA vows to continue to learn about BPA and to consult with federal agencies including the EWG, the National Institutes of Health (and the National Toxicology Program) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as international regulatory and public health counterparts, as a parent you may very well have concerns about BPA, especially when it comes to your children We have a lot left to learn about BPA and its potential effects and it's prudent to at least be aware of its presence in food packaging and to limit the exposure our families—especially growing children—have to it.
To reduce exposure to BPA, the EPA recommends the following:
- Buy baby formula in plastic, glass or other non-metal containers. When possible, choose powdered formula because the packaging contains less BPA and because the powder is diluted with fresh water. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
- Limit intake of canned foods, especially if you are pregnant. If you do buy it, look for cans labeled as BPA-free or buy food packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. A few small companies sell cans lined with non-BPA alternatives (although findings from a recent animal study suggest that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer).
- Repurpose old hard plastic containers including baby bottles, cups, dishes and food containers marked with the letters "PC," for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. (Not all #7 products are polycarbonate, but they may be.)
- Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
- Because store receipts can contain BPA, say no to them if possible. If you do keep receipts, put them in an envelope and don't allow kids to hold or play with them. Wash hands before preparing or eating food after handling receipts. And don't recycle receipts and other thermal paper to avoid contamination of recycled paper with BPA residues.
The FDA also recommends not putting very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA since levels of the chemical rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food. The agency also suggests discarding all bottles with scratches, as these may harbor bacteria and, if BPA-containing, lead to greater release of BPA.
Do you avoid BPA?
Image of BPA sign via shutterstock.