Runners and other exercisers regularly swig water from plastic bottles. For the most part, we’re aware of the dangers of using drink bottles containing BPA, and more than likely, you choose to drink out of a BPA-free plastic bottle.
Many manufacturers are aware of our fear of exposure to BPA, and our fear of exposing our children to BPA. BPA-free has become a marketing mantra.
We all slavishly buy drink bottles which are BPA free so that we’re not consuming those nasty chemicals, and we all send our kids off to school secure in the knowledge that they are packing the latest BPA-free drink bottle in their holster!
Drink bottles are not the only products that contain BPA however, and BPA is not the only chemical contained in plastics that we should be wary of.
What is BPA?
BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical used in the manufacture of two common synthetic products
- Polycarnbonate – that’s the clear, rigid plastic found in a large number of consumer products including food containers and drink bottles
- Epoxy resins – used in industrial adhesives and coatings. Epoxy coating lines most of the food and drink cans you buy in the supermarket
Other BPA containing products
- Certain thermal paper products such as cash register receipts
- BPAs may also be used in toys and some dental sealants and composites
BPA is a synthetic oestrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system. Even small levels of BPA in the body has been linked to conditions such as infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioural changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments. http://www.ewg.org/bpa/
But Are BPAs really harmful?
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG) asserts that BPA can seep into food and drinks from containers, and into your body when you handle products made with BPA. “This is well researched and widely acknowledged” They say that even low levels of BPA in the body has been linked to fertility issues, diabetes, obesity, early puberty, behavioural changes in children and breast and reproductive system cancer.
- The American Chemistry Council contends that BPA poses no threat to human health. The American Chemistry Council represents plastics manufacturers. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bpa/AN01955
- The US Dept of Health and Human Services has “some concern’ about the health effects of BPA on the brain, behaviour and prostate glands of fetuses, infants and children. “ Some concern” is the middle of its five point scale which ranges from serious to negligible.
- The US FDA is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply by finding alternatives to BPA in food containers, but is it enough to limit our exposure to BPA containing products?
But I Use BPA-Free Plastic…….so I’m right, right?
Research shows that BPA –free plastics also release chemicals which mimic oestrogen, ie they have Oestrogen Activity (EA)
In a 2011 study, more than 500 BPA-free consumer products were tested for chemicals similar to BPA. 92 percent of the products released potentially hazardous compounds after undergoing wear and tear, such as through dishwashing, microwaving, or exposure to sunlight.
The research reports that many BPA-free products, from baby bottles to plastic food wrap, had more oestrogen activity – which is linked to birth defects, cancers, and other health issues – than those products containing BPA.
“We found that exposure to one or more common-use stresses often increases the leaching of chemicals having EA. In fact, our data suggest that almost all commercially available plastic items would leach detectable amounts of chemicals having EA once such items are exposed to boiling water, sunlight (UV), and/or microwaving. Our findings are consistent with recently published reports that PET products release chemicals having EA (Wagner and Oehlmann 2009) and that different PET products leach different amounts of EA”. Chun Z. Yang,1Stuart I. Yaniger,2V. Craig Jordan,3Daniel J. Klein,2 and George D. Bittne
Recent studies on chemicals having EA show these chemicals produce changes in various cells, organs and behaviours, and that chemicals having EA produce measurable changes in the health of human populations. Chemicals having EA have also been shown to change the structure and function of many human cell types, often at very low doses. (Yang et al)
How to Limit Your Exposure to BPAs and Other Similar Chemicals
- Use BPA free products Not necessarily as easy as it sounds! Most aluminium cans or bottles have linings that contain BPA. Steel bottles or cans do not. In reality, this means reducing your use of canned foods, as most of our foods come in aluminium cans. Look for cans labelled BPA free-good luck!
- Polycarbonate plastic is generally hard, clear and lightweight. Plastics with recycling symbols should have a number in the middle of the symbol. Those with the number 7 are usually made from polyarbonates. Check the recycling symbol, and avoid food storage containers with the number 7. This will steer you away from BPA containing plastic, but not necessarily plastic which contains other chemicals which can leach into the food inside.
- Stay away from receipts and other carbonless paper which often contain BPA. If you handle large numbers of receipts, wash your hands or wear gloves
- Do not microwave any plastic containers, even if they are BPA free. Many plastic containers do have the words “microwave safe” printed on them, but that just means that the container won’t get wrecked in the microwave. It doesn’t take into account whether or not it’s safe for humans to continue using them once the harmful chemicals in the plastic have been liberated.
- Similarly, do not leave plastics out in the sunlight, or in your car where they can heat up.
- Avoid washing plastics in your dishwasher where the material can be heated to high temperatures and be exposed to harsh detergents.
- Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers.
A look on the bright side.
Yang et al, in their 2011 study concluded that plastics having comparable physical properties to the plastics we already use, but that do not release chemicals having detectable EA could be produced at a minimal additional cost. Now we just need to convince the food manufacturers!