BPA exposure and health

Cashier receipts, canned food and bicycle helmets all include BPA.

The largest source of human exposure to BPA is from food and beverage packaging. Image source: Food and Drug Administration
The largest source of human exposure to BPA is from food and beverage packaging. Image source: Food and Drug Administration

What is it and where is it found?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical used in the production of a variety of consumer products. BPA has been found to be useful in giving shape and durability to plastics and provides a barrier between food and metal cans. Cashier receipts printed on thermal paper, dental composites and sports equipment are some of the commonly cited sources of BPA. The largest source of human exposure is from food and beverage packaging which is due to the compound leaching into packaged contents from container linings. In a national survey of donated food and beverages, the National Workgroup for Safe Markets found BPA in 46 of 50 – that’s 92 percent of canned food sampled. Findings revealed levels of BPA were inconsistent between identical products. For example, two different cans of the same brand of peas contained different levels of BPA.

The history of BPA dates back to the 1930’s when a British researcher identified the estrogen-like properties of BPA. The compound, diethylstilbestrol (DES) was used as a medical treatment among women to help relieve a variety of “female problems.” Physicians prescribed DES until 1971 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified DES as a cause of cancer among women and girls who were exposed in the womb.

Health implications associated with BPA

BPA is considered a public health concern due to its widespread presence throughout the environment. In a 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 93 percent of the people tested, age six and above, had detectable bisphenol A in their urine; females had slightly higher levels than males. BPA is considered an endocrine disruptor because it mimics estrogen, a natural hormone.

The health effects of bisphenol A have been disputed for the last several years. Results of studies in rodents, have found linkages between BPA exposure and a variety of health issues that include breast and prostate cancer, chromosomal abnormalities, brain and behavioral abnormalities, metabolic disorders, obesity and precocious, or early puberty. The FDA is the federal agency responsible for regulating BPA and in 2008, stated that BPA poses no human health risks at current levels of exposure. In early 2014, the FDA commissioned a study to further examine health controversies associated with BPA exposure. The 2014 study results supported the 2008 claim that BPA is “safe as currently used.”

How to reduce exposure

Despite the safety claims, the FDA supports recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services on how to reduce exposure among families and parents. The National Institute of Environmental Sciences also suggests the following tips targeting parents and caregivers for reducing exposure.

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures. Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes number “three” or “seven” may be made with BPA.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.

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