Green Glossary: Bisphenol A (BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that’s been used for more than 40 years. BPA is normally produced in large quantities, 7 billion pounds+ per year actually, for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins – in such products as hard plastic food containers, baby bottles, sippy cups, cell phones, bath toys and other plastic toys, reusable water bottles and the lining of metal food and beverage cans, including canned liquid infant formula.

Most people are exposed to BPA through their diet. While air, dust, and water are other possible sources of exposure, BPA in food and beverages accounts for the majority of daily human exposure. BPA is known to leach into food from the protective internal epoxy resin coatings of canned foods and from consumer products such as the products noted above – baby bottles, cans, etc). So far much research notes that the rate and amount of BPA that leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid might depend on the temperature of the liquid or bottle.

Human exposure to BPA is extremely widespread. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) conducted by the CDC found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of all urine samples from people six years and older. However, the EWG notes that the levels and amounts of BPA found by the CDC in babies is underestimated, meaning other studies have found much more BPA in babies. The EWG has also found that chemicals and pollutants easily pass through umbilical cord blood. Some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA and BPA is also found in breast milk. Additionally, it’s easy to be exposed. One report notes that 77 volunteers experienced a nearly 70% increase in urinary levels of bisphenol A (BPA), after drinking cold beverages from BPA-laden polycarbonate bottles for just one week.

Basically if you’ve managed to avoid BPA, you’re likely living in a cave far away from canned food, toys, plastics, and many other modern conveniences.

Known problems related to BPA and folks who suggest avoiding BPA:

June 16, 2009 – The Endocrine Society issued its first-ever scientific statement on endocrine disrupting chemicals (pdf) at its Annual meeting noting that BPA is an example of an endocrine-disrupting chemical. The Endocrine Society notes that an endocrine-disrupting substance “Is a compound, either natural or synthetic, which through environmental or inappropriate developmental exposures alters the hormonal and homeostatic systems that enable the organism to communicate with and respond to its environment.

The Endocrine Society further note that the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals are long lasting and may be transmitted to further generations through reproduction. The Endocrine Society’s position is that BPA research has clear evidence that exposure to BPA can cause adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) and can cause negative affects on the endocrine systems, including thyroid, neuroendocrine, obesity and metabolism, and insulin and glucose homeostasis.

2010 – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offer parents multiple tips for avoiding BPA although they caution that parents should not give a baby homemade condensed milk formulas or soy or goat milk because they’re worried about BPA in cans. The AAP notes that the risks of homemade formulas pose a, “Far greater risk than the potential effects of BPA.

2010 – The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is not on board with BPA noting research that shows how BPA exposure has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and trigger a wide variety of disorders, including chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy. The EWG notes…

Bisphenol A may cause changes in cells in breasts, the uterus, and the prostate which can increase risk of cancers. In addition, BPA has been associated with increases in developmental disorders of the brain and nervous system in animals. These developmental disorders in animals are like problems such as ADHD (attention deficit hyper-reactivity disorder) in humans.

2008 – Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance and banned BPA in baby bottles and restricts its use in infant formula cans.

2010 – Denmark banned BPA from all infant feeding and food packaging.

2010 – Five states including Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin and Maryland and five localities have adopted legislation to more strictly regulate BPA in food and beverage containers.There’s legislation to regulate BPA-containing products in 31 states and localities.

The Breast Cancer Fund is not on board with BPA. Some other groups not on board include; Clean Water Action, Clean New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Consumer Reports, Oregon Toxics Alliance and many others including the President’s Cancer Panel (pdf).

Folks who currently think BPA is safe:

Folks who can’t make up their mind if BPA is safe or not:

2008 – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a review of various toxicology research and determined that food-related materials containing BPA is safe. They’ve semi changed their tune, but not by much.

2010 – The Department of Health and Human Services through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — is currently evaluating the potential negative health effects of BPA exposure and the FDA’s current recommendation is to limit exposure to BPA. The FDA’s current stance is wishy washy. The FDA notes that they do feel that there’s concerns the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.

The FDA also notes that they feel these concerns have substantial uncertainties. Basically the FDA won’t take a stance. They admit that people should take, “Reasonable steps to reduce exposure to BPA” and that’s about it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just mimics whatever the FDA says; pretty much as all government health organizations do – i.e. like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health – they’re both riding the, “We’re not sure about BPA” train.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is all over the place with regards to BPA. The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A; minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A; negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring; negligible concern that exposure to bisphenol A will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings. The AAP formally disagrees (pdf) with the NTP’s “negligible concern” as related to pregnant women exposure and reproductive effects.


More resources & tips for parents:

Are you on board with BPA or are you playing it safe and avoiding BPA when you can?

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