If you've found yourself perusing down any kitchen or storage aisle lately (or just been alive for the last few years), no doubt you've seen the phrase 'BPA Free'. So what exactly is BPA and what's the big deal?
BPA stands for bisphenol A and is a synthetic chemical compound used in the manufacture of plastics- think water bottles, plastic containers, disposable cutlery etc. The softer the plastic, generally the more likely it is to contain BPA. It's also found in epoxy resins which are used to coat the linings of cans and tins (e.g tinned tomatoes, canned fish) and used as a coating on most cash register receipts.
The problem with BPA is it's a known endocrine/hormone disruptor that has the ability to mimic oestrogen. BPA can leach from food and beverage containers and is then consumed. The harmful effects of BPA have been demonstrated in many studies. Areas of prime concern are reproductive health and neurodevelopment in children. BPA has also been associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease. breast cancer and behavioural troubles.
In 2012, the USA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles due to safety concerns. This sparked much of the 'BPA Free' frenzy. HOWEVER many BPA free products have now been replaced with BPS - a chemical currently not regulated with a very similar chemical structure to BPA. A 2012 study, examined human exposure to BPS by studying 315 urine samples and found 81% of samples contained BPS. Recent studies show BPS is just as harmful of BPA and also not resistant to leeching from plastic.
Sooo what can we do to minimise exposure to BPA and BPS?
- Use glass containers - where possible opt for glass food containers to store food. When plastic is heated (such as in the microwave), this can cause additional leaching of BPA/BPS so it's best to stick to glass. Kmart has caught on and has been selling them for for a few dollars in lots of size ranges.
- Avoid plastic water bottles - choose glass bottles or stainless steel. VOSS bottles sold at Australian supermarkets are a couple of dollars and you'll get endless reuse from them. I'm also a passionate supporter of avoiding plastic water bottles from an environmental and recycling standpoint- 50% of plastic ends up in landfills and another large percentage in the ocean. Yuk. Reuse.
- Try to avoid handling cash register/ATM receipts: studies have shown high BPA exposure after handling receipts and residue on fingers was detectable unto 2 hours after exposure! It's tough not to handle receipts so ask the checkout chick to chuck it in the bag for you and avoid putting in your wallet as this has been shown to contaminate any money in the wallet.
- Finally, if you have to use plastic, try choose the ones with the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5. Those labelled 6 and 7 are very likely to contain BPA.
Fortunately we all must keep living our lives and cannot completely eradicate our exposure levels to toxins such as BPA/BPS; however it's important to be aware of them so with a few changes, we can reduce our exposure load.
Eladak, S et al 2015, 'A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound', Fertility & Sterility, vol. 103 no. 1,
Liao, C 2012, 'Bisphenol S in urine from the United States and seven Asian countries: occurrence and human exposures', Environ Sci Tech, vol. 46, no.12
Vogel, S, 2009, 'The Politics of Plastic', Am Journal of Public Health, vol. 99, no. 3