Update on BPA by Guest Blogger, December 20 2010, 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of Alicia Voorhies via Flickr.

Find yourself frequently drinking from a plastic bottle, eating canned goods or shopping till you drop? As you may know, certain plastics and the lining of aluminum cans are known to contain Bisphenol A (BPA). But now shopping receipts might also be a threat. Before you go ahead and sip that water or grab your receipt and throw it in your (hopefully reusable) bag, read on for the latest news and research on the potentially harmful chemical.

BPA is an organic compound used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It acts as a monomer in plastic and is a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, dimensional stability, optical clarity, high heat resistance and excellent electrical resistance, hence why it's used in so many products. Epoxy resins containing BPA are found on the inside of most plastics and cans that contain food in order to help preserve the food within. BPA has also been found in much more than just plastic bottles. This includes fungicides, thermal paper and PVC piping.

Some health issues associated with exposure to BPA include: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver and reproductive system problems. A growing concern has been the exposure of BPA to babies and infants, as humans who are still developing do not have as high of a tolerance to toxic products as adults. Organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have listened to different groups protesting the use of the chemical due to its possible toxicity to human health. The verdict? More research is required before a ban on the product can be initiated in the US. But the European Union recently came to a conclusion that the chemical is indeed toxic, and has banned BPA in baby bottles, to become effective in March 2011 for bottles manufactured in the EU, and June 2011 for imports. For American parents, there's still some hope. Six US baby bottle manufacturers have eliminated the chemical from their products, including Gerber and Disney First Years.

Exposure can occur in a number of ways. For one, you can ingest water that contains the chemical. Testing for BPA involves placing water in a BPA container and seeing how much of the chemical leeches off of the bottle into the water. The company SIGG has come under criticism for claiming it makes "BPA-free" bottles when in reality the bottles do contain BPA, it just doesn’t leach into your water. Another exposure route that has recently come to public attention has been via skin contact. Notably, receipts printed on thermal paper contain large amounts of BPA that is capable of penetrating underneath the outer layer of the skin.

Avoiding BPA in your life can be done in various ways. Obviously avoiding BPA products altogether is the best method. But if you're not ready to give up canned goods or shopping (and important receipts), here are some pointers on how to best limit your exposure.

  • Avoid polycarbonate plastics, which are hard and transparent. Usually they are recyclable under plastics #7. Products that are recyclable under #1, #2 and #4, do not contain any BPA.
  • Clean off food items from cans before you eat them since canned foods can contain much higher concentrations of BPA.
  • Wash your hands right after handling store receipts, especially those in grocery stores. Do not use hand sanitizers, as they can increase the speed of absorption of the chemical into the skin.
  • Choose BPA-free bottles for babies, if you are concerned that the bottle contains BPA. Be sure to avoid pouring hot liquids such as milk into the bottle as heat can contribute to leaching. Another option: use powdered baby formula.

Even though Canada banned the use of the chemical in early 2008, the United States still permits it.Companies that choose to not use the chemical have to do so voluntarily. With more and more companies seeing the marketing benefit of going BPA free, it’s getting easier to find baby products that do not contain the chemical. As far as receipts go, Appleton Papers produce BPA-free receipts that can be identified by red specks. Few companies have developed BPA-free liners and implemented them into their products. Many are in the process of phasing it out. A report detailing the progress can be found here.

While more research is needed on the issue, BPA may or may not be phased out of our lives in the near future. If not though, you can always move to Canada...

Guest Blogger: Mike Greenwald