Volume 18 Issue 39
If you own a water bottle, you may have seen the phrase, “BPA- Free”, usually printed in tiny black letters or perhaps with some flashy letters on a sticker pressed onto a new bottle. This phrase is just one of many that consumers see and trust immediately. BPA-free joins the ranks of “not treated with artificial growth hormone” and other phrases that seem important, but are rarely understood. However, BPA-free could turn out to be a dangerous phrase.
First, what is “BPA” and why do we not want it in our water bottles? Bisphenol A is the full name of the actual chemical compound, and it was first used by Bayer and General Electric in the 1950s to link together other compounds. The result was a polycarbonate chain that creates a hard, highly versatile plastic. Soon, BPA was found everywhere, from water bottles to grocery receipts, and to dental sealants. However, what the scientists didn’t realize was that BPA is also an incredible endocrine-disrupting compound. It was found that BPA could act like a hormone and disrupt the vital functions that hormones in our body carry out every day. With further research, scientists discovered just how dangerous BPA could be on the reproductive system, growth and development, and metabolism of many animals, including humans. Even more frightening, in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003-2004, 93% of the 2,317 subjects involved had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Based on the research that had been conducted, the FDA banned the use of BPA in many baby products such as sippy cups, and companies began placing the now familiar BPA-free label on their products.
This should have been the end of the story, case closed. BPA-free products left us with a warm “all is well” feeling, but it shouldn’t have. Instead of using BPA in their products, companies began using an alphabet soup of alternatives such as BPP, BPZ, BPAF, and others. While these seemed to be better, safer alternatives, geneticist Patricia Hunt of Washington State University may have accidentally discovered that they are quite the opposite. While studying the effects of BPA on mice, Hunt’s control group of mice, housed in a BPA-free cage, began experiencing the genetic results of mice damaged by BPA. Something in the plastics of the BPA-free cages was causing similar damage as the BPA cages. Although something may be BPA-free, it may not be endocrine disrupting free. Hunt’s research indicated that although no BPA was present, other compounds acted in the same dangerous manner as BPA.
So what should a well-informed consumer do? Until more research is conducted, it is probably a wise choice to also avoid BPA-free plastics, usually labeled with recycling codes of 3, 6, and 7. Some safe alternatives to plastics are glass and stainless steel, which are now commonly used in water bottles and other products. In addition, when you can, avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher or the microwave. These two actions have been shown to leach increased amounts of BPA and its alternative compounds.
It took twenty years for most companies to switch from BPA to BPA-free products. Hopefully, it will not take manufacturers that long to switch from BPA-free to being free of ANY harmful BPA compounds. Maybe, if enough people stop purchasing these products, they will no longer be manufactured. Then again, that would be an uphill battle considering the inexpensive, lightweight, and fairly unbreakable plastic products we have become so accustomed to using. Here’s hoping for a SAFE plastic.
Wei-Hass, Maya. “Why BPA Free May Not Mean a Plastic Product is Safe.” National Geographic. National Geographic. September 13, 2018. Web. September 18, 2018.