Bisphenol A and the Facts

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A lot has been going on in the news about BPA, or Bisphenol A, which is found in certain types of plastic bottles. Only 1 type of plastic is affected.

The first time I heard about it was in an article in Discover Magazine from March 2008 (published online a month later on April 18, 2008). Scientists were doing a study looking for cancer in rats. BPA was leaching from water bottles and causing problems in both the experimental AND control groups. Here is the actual text.

"In 1998 another synthetic estrogen leached from animal cages and bottles in a different lab—this was the now-infamous BPA. Patricia Hunt (then working at Case Western Reserve University) was studying the endocrine environment of the aging ovary in mice. Suddenly, as in Soto’s lab, “our control data went nuts,” Hunt says. “We saw chromosomal abnormalities that would lead to pregnancy loss and birth defects. It turned out that all of our cages and water bottles were contaminated by the BPA in the polycarbonate plastic, which was being sterilized at high temperatures. We set about proving this contamination was coming from the water bottles and cages.” They published that work in 2003. In 2007 Hunt and her colleagues published a paper in PLoS Genetics demonstrating that BPA exposure in utero disrupts the earliest stages of egg development. The fetuses of pregnant mice exposed to low doses of BPA, Hunt says, had “gross aberrations. We were stunned to see the effects of this estrogenic substance."
(Here's another article about BPA from Discover Magazine.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Which plastics contain BPA?
Only polycarbonates marked with the recycle symbol "7". This includes some Nalgene brand water bottles mainly used for camping, and some baby bottles.

How many people have been exposed to BPA?
"...the Centers for Disease Control reported that researchers there had found BPA—-the United States produces 6 billion pounds of it yearly—-in 93 percent of urine samples from 2,500 Americans aged 6 to 85. Children under age 12 had the highest concentrations."

Other Facts

  1. BPA was studied as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s and abandoned in favor of DES (which was used as an anti-miscarriage medicine through about 1970).
  2. Some studies show BPA leaches when the plastic is heated. Other studies do not require heat to show BPA leaching.


- Bisphenol A (BPA) Update (April 20, 2008)

* The National Institutes of Health on April 15th (2008) released a draft of its conclusions about BPA, expressing concern over the safety of the chemical. The public can submit comments. (For more details, see below.)

* Health Canada on April 18th (2008) announced a 60 day public comment period on whether to ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles which contain bisphenol A.

* Nalgene Outdoor Products on April 18th announced that it will phase out production of its Outdoor line of Nalgene polycarbonate containers that include BPA.

* Wal-Mart on April 17th (2008) announced that it will stop selling baby bottles with BPA by early next year.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) evaluation of the safety of bisphenol A

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, which is part of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is conducting an evaluation of bisphenol A.

As part of the process, it released on April 15, 2008, a draft Brief on bisphenol A that contains the NTP's conclusions and the scientific basis about whether or not exposure to this chemical presents a concern for human reproduction or the development of children. The full draft can be accessed here.

Here are NTP's conclusions:

The NTP concurs with the conclusion of the CERHR Expert Panel on Bisphenol A that there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females.

Reduce your Exposure

  1. Don't microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. BPA is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures.

  2. Avoid plastic containers with the #7 on the bottom.

  3. Don't wash polycarbonate plastic containers in the dishwasher with harsh detergents.

  4. Reduce your use of canned foods*. Eat fresh or frozen foods. (*=not all canned food uses plastic liners containing BPA. Acidic foods tend to use liners, like for tomatoes and green beans. But I have seen canned chili: some brands use plastic liners and some don't.)

  5. When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.

  6. Consider alternatives to products that contain BPA, such as PETE (polyethylene terephthalate, ID code #1).

  7. Use infant formula bottles that are BPA free and look for toys that are labeled BPA-free. (Keep in mind that some Chinese crayons sold in the US were labeled "lead free" but in fact, were not.)