BPA: Does Calling it Safe Make it So?

plastic bottles
Bisphenol A (BPA): Other than a good if not suggestive acronym, what is it?
If you’re someone who has children or reheats leftovers in Tupperware, then you may be familiar with this synthetic material, as it is widely available and in common use today. For most of us, though, we are only vaguely aware of it as something having to do with plastic, and you probably have an inkling that it is harmful to us in some form or fashion, but that the science concerning this mystery acronym is still ongoing.
Despite its engineered material stability, like many materials BPA is susceptible to the following degradation mechanisms: leaching, friability and thermal softening.
  • Leaching: Put two materials in contact for a long period of time and some molecules of material A are going to pass into material B and vice versa. It may be a very small number of molecules but some leaching will occur, with time in contact being the determining variable—think canned food storage and that metallic aftertaste.
  • Friability: Rub a plastic bottle with a nail file for a couple of minutes; notice the light clear flecks on the nail file—those are friable particles.
  • Thermal stability: Take a plastic bottle and put it in the dishwater several times; notice how the plastic bottle softens and is deformed. You have now thermally fatigued the plastic bottle.
BPA, like almost all thermal polymers, is subject to all three of these deterioration mechanisms. And because BPA is prevalent in food packag­ing, it is almost inevitable that some amount of BPA will mix with food or drink and be ingested into the human body, even if the amounts are incredibly small or at the molecular level.
So what happens when small amounts of this synthetic material, BPA, are ingested into our bodies? It accumulates.
The second key thing to note about BPA is that the scientific and medical communities have classified it as a xenoestrogen, in that it exhibits estrogen-mimicking behavior in the human biological system.
When we interact with it; it enters our bodies in minute quantities; it is chemically stable and difficult to break down; it behaves in our bodies as if it were a hormone; and thus it interacts with our endocrine systems.
BPA has been investigated and evaluated as a synthetic hormone for at least the past eighty years. In the late 1930s, it was evaluated as a synthetic estrogen and found to be approximately 1/37,000th as effective as estradiol, the naturally produced form of estrogen, prescribed as a hormone replacement for women experiencing menopause.
This potential interaction as a synthetic hormone is a primary reason why many consumer advocacy groups have raised issues about the com­mon usage of BPA and why it has been studied extensively for the past twenty years by the various food, health and medical safety organizations across the globe.
Here is the challenge that we have with BPA and many other synthetic materials that we interact with regularly. We have a lot of clues or circumstantial evidence that BPA is probably not something we want to be ingesting into our bodies in large quantities—call it common sense or intuition. Yet the scientific, health and safety administrations of our respective governments label it “safe.” The formal official published science deems the material as safe for human consumption in small amounts, after producing acceptable test results in laboratory rodents.
BPA makes plastic harder and tougher without losing transparency, so plastic bottles and food storage containers are the main sources. Use glass instead of plastic for food storage and avoid beverages sold in plastic bottles; minimize the use of foods in plastic-lined cans. Flexible plastic wrap does not contain BPA.
Cold temperatures reduce the migration of chemicals, so storage of soups, broth, etc. in the freezer is probably OK. Let these foods cool completely before transferring them to plastic containers.
Babies are likely to be particularly sensitive to the hormone-mimicking effects of BPA. Use glass bottles and a stainless steel sippy cup. Do not give babies baby food packaged in plastic.
Most cash register receipts are thermal paper containing BPA! It’s unlikely that the chemical will transfer through your skin, but it could aerosolize if the receipt is crushed or folded. . . so handle receipts with care!
Article adapted from

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