What’s So Bad About…Bisphenol A (BPA)

What’s So Bad About…Bisphenol A (BPA)

If you’ve ever faced a wall of baby bottles, sippy cups and teethers, chances are you automatically reached for the glass options or the Bisphenol A (BPA) free plastics. But do you know what’s behind that automatic response?  In 2008, Canada became the first country to ban BPA in baby bottles (China also did so last month, though the US has yet to impose a national ban). So why the ban here? And why just baby bottles? If it is bad for babies, isn’t it bad for

Bisphenol A has been around since the 1890s.  It is largely used to make polycarbonate plastic (hard, clear plastic, generally stamped  #7) and epoxy resins.  The problem with BPA is that it leeches from the plastic or tinned food liners and mimics estrogen in our bodies (endocrine disruption is their primary sin).  According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. …Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.”

 Canada led the way in banning BPA  in baby bottles, but that is where the ban ended. One of the other great offenders of BPA leeching into our food system is through our tinned products. While endocrine disruptors sound pretty bad to me, three years after the ban in baby bottles, the great BPA debate continues.  Scott Belcher is an endocrine biologist at the University of Cincinnati who, in an article in Scientific America, says “[BPA] work well … but based on my knowledge of the scientific data, there is reason for caution.  I have made a decision for myself not to use them.” On the other hand you have Professor Richard Sharpe from the University of Edinburgh who last November said the following of BPA: “I would be happy for a baby of mine to be bottle fed from a polycarbonate bottle containing bisphenol A…Personally I think the ban is an overreaction but if satisfactory replacement chemicals are available then it can be put in place to placate those calling for action.  But scientifically it’s a retrograde step.”

Really? Both Belcher and Sharpe must be looking at similar, if not the same data.  How can they come to such disparate conclusions?  Thankfully the Canadian government has settled the debate for us, at least with regard to baby bottles.  But what about tins? I have to admit some relief when I read Professor Sharpe’s comments. But mine is a neurosis too persistent to go away just because Sharpe says there’s nothing to the BPA scare.

I’m not an expert, but here’s my take.  Our bodies can handle chemicals from our environment, food and water, but there is a limit. It’s like a glass:  you fill it and eventually it overflows. Our bodies aren’t much different.  You fill it up with toxic or what are considered “safe” chemicals and eventually it will no longer be able to cope.  Avoiding BPA and other chemicals in your food will help you keep that glass half full.

So while the experts battle it out over BPA, here are a few painless ways to avoid or reduce BPA in your food:

Reduce the amount of tinned foods or beverages you consume (if there is a glass or cardboard option choose it).  Alternatively, find manufactures that do not use BPA.  (Eden Foods does not use BPA in most of its tin liners and they are organic to boot.  However, the Eden Foods tomatoes are packed in a can that do have minute amounts of BPA. Tomatoes are a particular worry as their acid intensifies the leeching of BPA).

Use a stainless steel reusable canteen for portable drinking water. Save some money, help preserve the environment and avoid BPA. Everyone wins.

Never heat food in plastic containers.

Switch from plastic tupperware to glass for food storage.

Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.

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  1. Michelle
    April 05, 20:10 Reply

    My husband is an environmental scientist. He was deeply unhappy about the UK’s refusal to ban BPA from baby bottles, as the reason for BPA leaching out is the frequency of hot water being poured into it, and them being microwaved on a regular basis. I did it myself (not microwaving, but adding boiling hot water into bottles) By the time the research on BPA came out, my kid was already off bottles, so it was too late. I wish I had known about this earlier, I really would have done things differently.

    If you do not heat BPA plastics or tins, you should be fine, as the majority of the leaching happens when tins etc are heated.

    That said, I am still glad that Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles.

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