Manufacturers have even begun advertising some products as "BPA-free." But a recent study found that most plastic products leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals even if they're labeled "BPA-free!"
The scientists found that 70 percent of common plastic products tested positive for estrogenic activity, and that number rose to 95 percent when the products were subject to real-world conditions such as dishwashing or microwaving.
Time Magazine reports:
"BPA is particularly worrisome simply because it is so common. Nearly every American has some amount of BPA in his or her body, in part because plastics are so ubiquitous."
You would think labeling a product "BPA-Free" would be some measure of protection against ingesting this toxic plastic by-product, but it turns out that tests on plastics using this label have not been conducted under real-world conditions like running the plastics through a dishwasher or heating them in a microwave.
In the "real-world", 95 percent of all plastic products in the study above tested positive for estrogenic activity, meaning they can still disrupt your hormones even if they carry a BPA-Free label. Even more disconcerting is the finding that BPA-Free plastics in some cases leached more BPA than the non-BPA free plastics.
Does this mean there is no safe plastic when it comes to storing or serving your food or drinks?
In a word, yes, that's what it means.
I suppose you could research exactly which five percent of commercial plastic products did not leach BPA in the study mentioned above, but my guess is you'll never be able to identify which products contain this very specific variation of plastic, because commercial products are not required to list details like that on their labels.
This is another study in a long line of scientific studies that highlight the fact that eating or drinking out of plastic containers will deposit residual BPA into your body, potentially causing a whole host of health problems that I will list in more detail below.
What is BPA?
BPA or Bisphenol A is a estrogenic plastic by-product used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics. It can leach into food or drinks from the plastic containers holding them. Canada in September 2010 declared BPA as a toxic substance, but to date no other country has followed suit, although BPA has been banned in baby bottles in Europe and the US (although they may still be sold in EU countries until June 2011).
BPA has been linked to estrogen mimicking compounds since the 1930s and has been widely reported in the media as being a suspected disruptor of your body's hormones. BPA's proponents argue that the substance does not accumulate in your body and therefore is not harmful, even though BPA has been found in 98 percent of all people tested in the US and is commonly found in the umbilical cords of babies in utero.
The suspected health hazards of BPA are many, listed in detail below.
BPA is Especially Harmful to Infants and Pregnant Women
Plastic chemicals are among the most potentially damaging toxins for a fetus, so if you're pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, now is the time to start limiting your exposure.
This includes BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it mimics your body's natural hormones and can trigger major changes in your body. Of 115 published animal studies, 81 percent found significant effects from even low-level exposure to BPA.
BPA first caught researchers' attention after normal mice began to display uncommon genetic abnormalities. The defects were linked to plastic cages and water bottles that had been cleaned with a harsh detergent, causing BPA to leach out of the plastic. After determining how much BPA the mice had been exposed to, the researchers realized even an extremely small dose of 20 parts per billion daily, for just five to seven days, was enough to produce effects.
Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life exposure to BPA, which can lead to chromosomal errors in your developing fetus, causing spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage. And exposure to just 0.23 parts per billion of BPA is enough to disrupt the effect of estrogen in your baby's developing brain.
Again, if you are a woman of childbearing age or pregnant, you should be especially diligent about avoiding this toxin, because just like it sounds, .23 parts per billion is not very much BPA.
Other BPA Health Risks
No one is immune to the health risks of BPA. Research has linked BPA to:
Structural damage to your brain Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning Increased fat formation and risk of obesity Altered immune function Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, and ovarian dysfunction Changes in gender-specific behavior, and abnormal sexual behavior Stimulation of prostate cancer cells Increased prostate size, and decreased sperm production Diabetes Heart disease Liver damage
As it stands, BPA is one of the world's highest production-volume chemicals and is widely used in the production of:
Plastic water bottles Tooth sealants Plastic gallon milk bottles Canned foods and soda cans (most have plastic lining in the cans) Plastic microwavable plates, ovenware, and utensils Baby toys, bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups
Avoiding these items is an important step to limit your BPA exposure, and you can find even more tips in this past article.
Phthlates: Another Plasticizer Chemical to Avoid
Phthalates, or "plasticizers," are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They're also one of the most pervasive endocrine disrupters so far discovered.
These chemicals have increasingly become associated with changes in the development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults.
Phthalates are found in, among other things:
Processed food packaging Lubricant and adhesives Hoses Detergents Raincoats Beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, shampoo, deodorants, and fragrances Shower curtains Toys Vinyl flooring and wall coverings
The Bottom Line about Plastics
Plastics are everywhere in the modern world, and much of it is designed to either go into your mouth or into your children's mouth, or serve as a vessel for things that go into your mouth (food and drinks). A sensible approach to limiting your exposure to BPA and phthlates would be to not put things into your mouth that are made from or come out of plastic.
This includes limiting water you drink from plastic bottles, avoiding foods that come from plastic containers and never microwaving foods in plastic containers. Processed foods are notorious for coming packaged in plastic, especially foods that go straight from the supermarket shelf into the microwave. Another major source of processed foods containing BPA are soups and canned goods, which I also advise you to avoid.
By the way, never microwaving your food will also help your health in other ways as well.
A good replacement for bottled water is making your own superior quality filtered water using a point of use reverse osmosis filter. The few dollars this filter will cost you will more than make up for its purchase price as you safely make hundreds of gallons of pure water from your home tap – water that is much safer than any you can buy in a plastic bottle, and certainly much safer than the water that usually flows out of your home tap!
You can also store your superior home-based point of use filtered water in glass containers, which will not leach toxins into your water. For taking your water on the go, a good option is to tote it in stainless steel containers, which are available at many retail outlets. With a little work you can just say no to bottled water and all the BPA and phthlates associated with long-term bottled water use.
10 Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to BPA
To be fair, you probably can no longer completely eliminate your exposure to BPA (since it's likely in our air, water, and food, too) but you can certainly reduce your exposure dramatically.
The following tips will not only reduce your exposure to BPA, but also to many of the other dangerous plastics chemicals as well.
Only use glass baby bottles and dishes for your baby Give your baby natural fabric toys instead of plastic ones Store your food and beverages in glass -- NOT plastic -- containers IF you choose to use a microwave, don't microwave food in a plastic container Stop buying and consuming canned foods and drinks Avoid using plastic wrap (and never microwave anything covered in it) Get rid of your plastic dishes and cups, and replace them with glass If you opt to use plastic kitchenware, at least get rid of the older, scratched-up varieties, avoid putting them in the dishwasher, and don't wash them with harsh detergents Avoid using bottled water; filter your own using a reverse osmosis filter Before allowing a dental sealant to be applied to you, or your children's, teeth, ask your dentist to verify that it does not contain BPA
In the event that you do opt to use plastic containers for your food, be sure to avoid those marked on the bottom with the recycling label No. 7, or the letters PC, as these varieties are most likely to contain BPA.