The discovery of the negative effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) in animal studies over 10 years ago has spurred much research over the past decade in an effort to explore the human health impacts of BPA and other toxic chemicals from plastics. BPA is a chemical used to manufacture many products such as polycarbonate plastics, food cans and dental composites and sealants.
Because BPA is considered a synthetic estrogen, it has a potential to effect reproduction and growth in children (both girls and boys) and has been correlated to infertility and cancers in adults. Currently, eight states have banned BPA in baby products such as baby bottles, sippy cups, and canned baby formula (but does not include other canned foods or beverages).
It’s not surprising that marketing is now focused on products that are “BPA-free”. From water bottles to food containers, consumers feel safer purchasing BPA-free products. But is it really safe?
A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) tested for estrogenic activity (EA) in many commercially available plastic materials, including products advertised as BPA-free. The researchers chose over 450 plastic items specifically for food storage, ranging from plastic bags to baby bottles and deli packaging.
The alarming results revealed that over 70% of the plastic items tested positive for EA. Then the researchers subjected the materials to “stress” by microwave heating, moist heat, and UV light in order to simulate real world conditions of the microwave, dishwasher or sunlight. After the stress, 95% of the products leached chemicals with EA. In addition, the researchers noted: “In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more estrogenic activity than BPA-containing products.”
So what to do with this information? Although the results from the study are highly suggestive, it’s important to note that the study above is just one study. Not to mention, one of the authors, George Bittner, has a financial interest in the testing lab used in the study and the company that is working to develop EA-free products.
Further research is now being conducted to assess the potential health risks of plastic chemicals that are used in BPA-free products. The preliminary results don’t look too promising for those chemicals either.
For those who have become slightly chemophobic after reading this post, you may want to follow some simple tips to minimize the plastics altogether. Consider using glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers; bring your own reusable bags to the supermarket; and try avoid bagging every single food item in a plastic bag. If you find that you really can’t part with the plastic, remember that heating or placing hot liquid or food in plastic only increases the chance of chemicals leached into the food.