BPA – the bad chemical in our plastic food containers
From water bottles to the lining of food tins, the chemical BPA is present in most plastics.
Canada and several US states have banned it in plastic baby bottles. But despite numerous studies showing the potential health risks both the EU and UK governments have dismissed concerns from both leading scientists and Breast Cancer UK, who want the chemical banned.
What is BPA?
Almost every piece of plastic containing food or drink has the chemical Bispjenol A also known as BPA. It’s used for drinking bottles, babies bottles, it’s in the lacquer lining of aluminium cans, and all kinds of plastic food containers. It’s even used by dentists for teeth composites and sealants.
It’s main job is to make plastic shatterproof, so, in the world of plastic manufacturing, it’s a an unbelievably useful ingredient. The trouble is, that since the 1930’s it’s been linked to all sorts of health problems.
What kind of health problems has BPA been linked with?
BPA is what’s known as a suspected endocrine disruptor. This basically means it can mimic the body’s hormone system, potentially creating all sorts of reproductive health problems, with possible links to cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, (the IARC), hasn’t evaluated BPA. But in animal studies, like this one from the University School of Medicine in Boston, BPA has been shown to alter the development and tissue organisation of mammary glands.
Check out Breast Cancer UK’s film on BPA and Endocrine Disruptors and their response to the lack of government action.
BPA has also been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart beat disorders and fertility problems.
It has also been linked to mood related disorders, child developmental issues and even ADHD.
Harvard School of Public Health study…
An interesting study was done recently by the Harvard School of Public Health and the National Centre for Environmental Health.
The research team wanted to see whether BPA was ingested by the body after drinking liquid stored in polycarbonate plastic.
77 students were asked to drink from stainless steel containers for one week and BPA polycarbonate plastic bottles the next.
Urine samples were taken throughout and the results showed that BPA concentrations increased by two-thirds, following the use of plastic bottles.
This research was the first of its kind to illustrate a definitive link between the chemical and the human body.
Research has shown the chemical is more potent when the plastic is warmed and can potentially leach from plastic containers and bottles after washing and boiling.
It’s this research that lead Canada to ban the substance from babies bottles in 2008, along with US states Minnesota and Connecticut.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently conducted a safety review on the chemical and admits to having “some concern”.
Find out more:
The latest BPA research, on Sciencefriday to find out what happens when the plastic is heated.
Check out this story on About.com for some in depth info on baby bottles.
Read the Environmental Health Perspectives study, carried out last year.
2005 Japanese study, linking the chemical to miscarriage.
2008 study on child development issues National Academy of Sciences of the USA.
Article in the Washington Post about the effects of BPA on monkeys.
What are the concerns of the US government – the FDA?
The recent FDA report, states the chemical is ‘of particular concern for fetuses, babies and young children.’ This means babies bottles, toddler cups, and even the plastic lining inside glass baby food jars could be a problem.
Find out more:
- The FDA report showing “some concern.”
- Check out this 2005 study which looks at BPA exposure in the womb.
What is happening in the UK?
On this side of the pond, however, it’s a different story. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) remain convinced of its safety, despite mounting concern in North America.
Breast Cancer UK has recently launched a campaign, along with a number of influential UK scientists, challenging our government’s views – which are in sharp contrast to the opinions of health authorities in the US and Canada.
The FSA responded to a letter sent by some of the UK’s leading scientists with a mere five paragraphs, reaffirming their view that “exposure of UK consumers to BPA from all sources, including food contact materials, was well below levels considered harmful”.
Find out more
Breast Cancer UK’s report on BPA
The Ecologist’s dismay over EU refusal to ban the chemical in baby bottles.
Join the Breast Cancer UK, in their recently launched “No More BPA” campaign.
How can I avoid BPA?
Watch out for this symbol on your plastic containers: this means the plastic does contain BPA.
Numbers 1,2,4,5, and 6 do not contain it – but number 3 might.
There are also plenty of baby bottle manufacturers who manufacture BPA free bottles, including Born Free, Medela, and Green to Grow.
And to say no to plastic bottles on the run. Check out our feature on the top ten BPA free bottles and food containers.
Photo credit: Brokinhrt2, Klearchos Kapoutis.
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