What is bisphenol A (BPA)?

bpa free“What is BPA?” is a top topic over at Mamapedia.  And, today I got asked again what bisphenol A (BPA) by a colleague at work. And since I thought that I talked incessantly about BPA, lead and other chemicals at work and that everybody already knew what it was, it surprised me. So, I thought I would answer the question “what is BPA” in the context of parenting.

And I promise only a little tiny bit of chemisty.

Basically, BPA is an organic compound.  It is a basic monomer, or building block, of polycarbonate plastic.  Polycarbonate plastic is a clear, shatterproof hard plastic used for lots of things, including food storage containers and often baby bottles. For example, most 5 gallon water jugs are polycarbonate plastic. 

BPA is also used in epoxy resins. Epoxy resins are used, among other uses, to line virtually all canned foods and beverages in the United States. 

We are exposed to BPA when it leaches into our food from the linings. Migration of BPA from the linings of canned foods has be well documented. BPA also leaches from polycarbonate plastic, particularly when the storage container is heated or hot food stuff is added to the storage container, when harsh detergents are used, or when acidic substances are stored in polycarbonate. 

BPA is also an endocrine disruptor, which means basically that it interferes with the body’s hormone signaling system.  It mimics the hormone estrogen. In fact, for some history, BPA was investigated along with DES in the 1930’s as a synthetic hormone treatment for various conditions, but DES was chosen over BPA. 

Virtually all Americans have BPA in their systems.  The Centers of Disease Control’s biomonitoring has shown that 93% of us have BPA in us. Whether the low levels are sufficient to cause harm has been the subject of must debate, which I’ve blogged about repeatedly.  The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has found “some concern” (a 3 on the NTP’s 5 point scale) for effects on the brain, behavior and prostrate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current levels of exposure.  The FDA’s conclusion that BPA is safe has been roundly criticized, including by the board of scientific experts convened by the FDA to assess FDA’s report. The experts accused FDA of creating a false sense of security by overlooking a wide range of important studies. 

In addition to being an endocrine disruptor, a large study of humans found the exposure to high levels of BPA increases the risk of diabetes 2 and heart disease. 

So that’s basically what BPA is, and where you are most likely to find it.  And a little bit about the debate over BPA’s safety. If you want more on the science of doubt and the BPA, I urge you to read Fast Company’s great article.  

If you want to minimize your exposure to BPA, you need to skip polycarbonate plastic.  Not sure how to identify polycarbonate plastic? Polycarbonate plastic falls in the #7 recycling code (really a resin identification code).  Number 7 means “other plastic” (meaning other than plastics 1 through 6). So polycarbonate plastic will be identified by #7, but not all #7 is polycarbonate. In place of polycarbonate plastic, try glass or stainless steel instead for food storage and drink containers, like Kleen Kanteen. For 5 gallon water jugs, you can try glass if you have it in your community.  I’ve got some simple steps to reduce your baby’s exposure to BPA.  But, for baby and kid products, I urge you to use Z Recommends guide for evaluating safer products.  

For canned foods and beverages, some Eden’s Food canned goods (not the tomato products) are BPA free. Instead of canned, use fresh, frozen, dried, or jarred. It sounds like it is hard, but trust me, you can get almost anything in a container other than polycarbonate plastic.

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