Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA and Your Health

You have probably heard of BPA, or bisphenol A, a chemical used in the production of certain plastics and epoxy resins that are widely used in the food packaging industry. If you have heard of BPA, then you most likely have heard of the negative health effects this chemical can have on human health.

Unfortunately, it is hard to avoid this ubiquitous chemical—it is estimated that more than seven billion pounds of BPA is produced each year[1] and it is found in everything from municipal water pipes, water bottles and baby bottles to plastic flatware and the plastic work bowls of food processors and blenders. BPA is also used to make the epoxy resins used to line food and beverage cans, bottle tops, aseptic containers, boxed frozen foods, microwaveable food containers and even dental sealant. The chemical is also found in medical equipment, sports equipment and electronics.[2] [3] It is everywhere, including our bodies. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 93 percent of the American population has detectable levels of BPA in their blood.[4] [5] [6]

The problem with BPA is that it is a xenoestrogen, which means that it mimics the effects of the hormone estrogen in our bodies. Scientists first discovered that BPA was a synthetic estrogen in 1938[7], and before the chemical industry began using BPA in the 40s and 50s to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, it was used as a pharmaceutical hormone.[8] But since then, hundreds of animal studies have shown that even at low-level doses[9], BPA can lead to miscarriages, birth defects and mental retardation, early puberty, infertility, breast and prostate cancers and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.[10] [11] [12]

Results from the first human study, conducted in China, were released in late 2009 and showed that male factory workers who worked in epoxy resin and BPA manufacturing facilities had lower sperm counts and higher rates of impotence and infertility compared to men who were not regularly exposed to the chemical. Some workers experienced these changes within just a few months on the job.[13]

The FDA and BPA

The FDA had long maintained that BPA is safe, relying largely on two studies funded by the chemical industry.[14] But the agency was called out by its own panel of independent science advisers in 2008, which said its position on BPA was scientifically flawed because it ignored more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that raised health concerns about BPA.[15]

In early 2010, the FDA reversed its position on the safety of BPA, saying it is particularly concerned about BPA’s effect on the development of fetuses, infants and young children. Currently, BPA is approved as a “food additive,” which means manufacturers are not required to tell the government which products contain BPA and in what amounts. The agency wants to reclassify it as a “food contact material,” which would require greater disclosure from manufacturers and would allow the FDA to take fast action if it determined that the material posed a health risk.[16]

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is “investing in important new health studies in both animals and humans to better determine and evaluate the potential health effects of BPA exposure, including $30 million in studies at the National Institutes of Health.” The results of these studies are expected in 18 to 24 months.[17]

Canned Foods, Just the Tip of the BPA Iceberg

If you are aware of the controversy surrounding BPA, then you are probably aware of the concern over canned food as a source of the chemical. While canned foods are indeed a source of BPA, they are just one among hundreds of sources of exposure. It is important to be aware of all of the sources of BPA, including canned food, but taking into consideration the hundreds of consumer products that contain BPA, it is imperative to look at the big picture and pressure industry to find a safe alternative to this toxic chemical.

Natural Grocers has encouraged all of the manufacturers we work with to find an alternative to BPA. Additionally, we have worked to ensure that our plastic produce bags and our plastic bulk bags are BPA-free.

Ultimately, consumers will best be served by contacting manufacturers directly with their concerns about BPA. Only when there is enough pressure from consumers will industry practices change.

Currently, there is a bill pending in Congress that would ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage containers, but in the mean time, there are things you can do to lessen your exposure:

  • Eat more organic fruit and vegetables—they contain compounds that support the body’s natural detoxification processes, helping the body to get rid of toxic chemicals like BPA.
  • To further avoid artificial hormones, choose naturally-raised meats.
  • When possible, avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food, as these typically contain BPA. Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2, and #4 are generally safer choices and do not contain BPA.
  • Replace plastic with glass when possible.
  • Discard baby bottles, infant “sippy” cups and any food containers that are scratched, as this may lead to greater leaching of BPA.
  • If you eat canned food, rinse the food before you eat it—this can help reduce levels of BPA.
  • Never microwave foods in plastic.
  • Don’t wash polycarbonate containers in the dishwasher, as high temperatures increase leaching of BPA.
  • Follow a natural foods diet—eat more whole, fresh foods and fewer packaged foods.

The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009 is sponsored Rep. Edward Market, D-Mass. in the House and by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. in the Senate. In the House it is H.R. 1523. In the Senate it is S.593.

Find the full text of the bill at www.govtrack.us. To find contact information for the House of Representatives go to: www.house.gov and for the Senate: www.senate.gov.


References

[1] “Concern over canned foods.” Consumer Reports, December 2009; p. 54

[2] “Concern over canned foods.” Consumer Reports, December 2009; p. 54

[3] “Clearly Concerning: Do common plastics and resins carry risks?” Janet Raloff, Science News Online, September 29, 2007; vol. 172, no. 13

[4] Calafat AM et al. “Urinary concentrations of bisphenol-A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol in a human reference population.” Environ Health Perspect. 2005;113(4): 391-395

[5] Calafat AM et al. “Exposure of the U.S. population to bisphenol-A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol: 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(1): 39-44

[6] Vandenberg LN, et al. “Human exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA). Reprod Toxicol. 2007;24(2): 139-177

[7] Dodds, EC and Lawson W. “Molecular structure in relation to oestrogenic activity. Compounds without a phenanthrene nucleus.” Proc Royal Soc Lon, 1938;125: 222-232

[8] http://www.ewg.org/reports/bpatimeline

[9] Welshons WV, Nagel SC, vom Saal FS. Large effects from small exposures, III: endocrine mechanisms mediating effects of bisphenol A at levels of human exposure. Endocrinology. 2006;147(6)(suppl):S56-S69

[10] Takeuchi T, Tsutsumi O, Ikezuki Y, Takai Y, Taketani Y. Positive relationship between androgen and the endocrine disruptor, bisphenol A, in normal women and women with ovarian dysfunction. Endocr J. 2004;51(2):165-169

[11] http://www.ewg.org/node/20937

[12] Goodman JE, McConnell EE, Sipes IG; et al. An updated weight of the evidence evaluation of reproductive and developmental effects of low doses of bisphenol A. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2006;36(5):387-457

[13] He Y et al. “Occupational exposure levels of bisphenol-A among Chinese workers.” J Occup Health. 2009;51(5): 432-436 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19706995)

[14]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/01/15/AR2010011504070.html?hpid=topnews

[15]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/01/15/AR2010011504070.html?hpid=topnews

[16]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/01/15/AR2010011504070.html?hpid=topnews

[17] http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa/