BPA questions and answers: is it safe?

BPA is no longer used on baby bottles, but it’s in almost everything else. Photo: Kin Cheung/AP

WASHINGTON, January 6, 2014— Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in a variety of industries including the manufacture of plastic beverage bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans. After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressed “some concerns” in 2010 about the effects of BPA on young children, most companies stopped marketing baby bottles and infant drinking cups that contained the chemical.

However, the effects of BPA on adults have not been adequately studied, and given their ubiquity in everyday life, they should be.

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BPA is used to make epoxy resins, which coat the inside of metal cans and food containers; and polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic used to make a number of consumer products. In commercial use since 1957, BPA can be found on plastic bottles, DVDs, in the lining of water pipes, food and beverage cans, cash register receipts, and dental products.

A 2003-2004 survey conducted by the centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of the 2,517 urine samples it tested from people six years and older.

Since its approval by FDA in the 1960s as an indirect food additive or food contact substance, a variety of tests in the U.S. and abroad confirmed BPA’s safety in low doses. However, more advanced studies after 2008 began showing developmental and behavioral responses to BPA in laboratory animals at very low doses.   

In a 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (NTP), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers conveyed “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

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Sources of exposure to BPA include air, water and dust, but the main source of BPA exposure is through diet. BPA can leach into food from the epoxy coating in cans, and polycarbonate used to make plastic bottles, baby bottles, plastic tableware, and food containers.


According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the degree to which BPA leaches on to food or drinks has more to do with the temperature of the contents or containers than with the age of the container.

Even though FDA’s current position is that BPA is safe at low doses, the agency is conducting research on the possible risks of BPA.

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In the meantime, FDA says it “is taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply” by helping to find alternative materials, supporting a stricter regulatory framework for BPA, and calling on external sources to expand knowledge of BPA’s effects on human health.

In 2012-2013, FDA issued a final rule to ban the use of polycarbonate resins in baby bottles and infant feeding cups. The rule change was not based on any actual findings of danger to human health, however, but on “abandonment.”

For FDA to change a rule concerning a food additive based on abandonment, the product must no longer be used for a particular purpose. On the petition of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, FDA was able to determine that BPA was no longer used in the manufacturing of baby bottles destined for the U.S. market, and therefore banned its use for this purpose. 

The FDA, NIEHS, NTP, and other agencies are working together to find more information on BPA’s possible health risks. This includes a $30 million investment in a five-year program to study the long-term health effects of the chemical. Some studies have been completed and others are still ongoing.

“The results from these new studies so far support FDA’s assessment that the use of BPA in food packaging and containers is safe,” states FDA on its BPA information page. “FDA will continue its review of BPA, including supporting ongoing studies; reviewing all new science bearing on the safety of the chemical; and seeking input from the public, other experts, and other agencies. Meanwhile, the agency acknowledges the food and packaging industries’ efforts, in response to consumer demand, to provide products that are BPA-free.”

There have been a number of recent studies that point to alarming possibilities, however. Some studies, for example, have found a link between early BPA exposure and higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity and prostate cancer.

A 2012 study found that low exposures of BPA in pregnant female monkeys caused egg formation defects in their offspring. Similar studies found prenatal BPA exposure led to abnormal development of the brain, lungs, and reproductive tract in the same monkeys.

Despite the controversy, global BPA sales are expected to rise by 44 percent to $18.8 billion in 2019—up from $13.2 billion in 2012—reports Transparency Market Research.

Bayer AG and Dow Chemical Company produce “the bulk of BPA in the world,” according to a 2012 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report.

As more data is gathered and FDA makes a final decision on the safety of BPA, following are a few tips to reduce BPA exposure:

  • Check baby bottles and infant tableware for a disclaimer that they are made without BPA.
  • Temperature is very important: Do not microwave or heat foods in polycarbonate food containers. Even though polycarbonate is durable, it breaks down over time and exposure to high temperatures.
  • Check recycle codes: many plastic products are stamped with plastic recycling codes on the bottom or back of the product. Products marked with codes of 3 and 7 may contain BPA.
  • Decrease consumption of canned foods.
  • Use glass, stainless steel, or porcelain containers when possible, especially when heating foods or for hot foods.
  • If baby bottles, infant feeding cups, or any other plastic or tableware looks worn or scratched, discard immediately. Scratches on plastic harbor germs, and may release small amounts of BPA.
  • Check labels: use only items labeled “microwave safe” in the microwave and those labeled “dishwasher safe” in the dishwasher.


READ MORE: A World in Our Backyard by Laura Sesana

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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