BPA: Fact vs. Myth

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical that is primarily used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that line the inside of metal cans. BPA has been the focus of many new studies regarding the health and safety of the chemical, and several municipalities have banned its use particularly in products that children will handle. Manufacturers that use BPA maintain that it is well studied and safe to use. Who is right?

Myth: It Is Unsafe to Heat Plastic Bottles in the Microwave

Fact: A recent small-scale study was conducted at the University of Cincinnati that claimed that BPA was released from polycarbonate plastic bottles when filled with boiling water. The American Chemical Society agrees that this occurrence is a natural phenomenon, and that chemical migration levels are known to increase with rising temperatures. The study went on to presume that the chemical levels remained high, even when the bottle was subsequently filled with room-temperature water, making the bottle unsafe after only one heating incident.

To disprove this theory, a Dutch research organization released the results of their independent study in 2008 that used 18 different polycarbonate baby bottles sold in Europe. They were heated and cooled repeatedly, and BPA levels measured at each cycle. Microwave heating showed no effect on the migration of BPA from the bottles into the drinking liquid.

Myth: BPA Degrades during Normal Use

Fact: Along with the concern that BPA breaks down with heating, it is a concern that using the dishwasher would degrade the plastic at the high heat used in the sterilizing and drying cycles. Studies have found this not to be the case, and BPA migration is not affected by normal use of a polycarbonate plastic product.

Myth: BPA Accumulates in the Body

Fact: It is known that about 90% of the U.S. population has detectable levels of BPA in the body, particularly in urine samples which are typically used in studies to measure long-term exposure. The American Chemical Society, however, refers to studies on human volunteers that indicate that the metabolites of BPA are broken down and eliminated within 24 hours.

Myth: BPA Causes Cancer

Fact: A 2008 comprehensive assessment by the European Union found that BPA does not possess any significant carcinogenic potential. However, BPA acts like the female hormone estrogen in the body, so it is cause for concern in cancers of the breast and ovaries. Other areas of concern with chemicals that have hormonal properties are reproductive issues, such as infertility in women and erectile dysfunction in men. Because children have smaller bodies and chemical accumulation can occur at smaller doses, hormonal activity is a significant concern.

What’s Next for BPA?

In January 2010, the FDA updated its stand on BPA saying it now supports an assessment from toxicologists that there is cause for “some concern.”  The agency will conduct extensive research into the safety of the chemicals use in any plastic container that would store food or liquid for consumption.  The studies will involve both animal and human research and will be funded by economic stimulus money.


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