What is it?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical used since the 1950s in the manufacture of certain plastics. It's ubiquitous in the environment and in people too,1 and despite widespread public concern about its use, BPA is still one of the world's highest production volume chemicals.2
What's wrong with it?
The main worry with BPA is that it can leach from food and drink packaging into the product inside, so we end up ingesting it. In fact, studies of populations around the world have detected BPA in people's saliva, urine, blood and breast milk.3 It's safe to say that most of us have BPA in our bodies.4 Inhalation (via dust) and skin contact are other possible routes of exposure.
While regulatory authorities keep insisting that the amounts we're exposed to are nothing to worry about, the science is stacking up to say quite the opposite. It's well known that BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical, and even low levels of exposure have been linked to a diverse range of harmful effects in both animals and humans (see box, left).5
Where can you find it?
Although the European Union and Canada have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) no longer authorizes of the use of BPA in baby bottles or infant formula packaging, the chemical can be found in the epoxy resins that line food and drink cans as well as in polycarbonate plastics used for water bottles, food packaging and storage containers, children's toys, adhesives and electronics. Sales receipts and dental sealants may also contain BPA.
What can you do about it?
Many manufacturers have now abandoned the use of BPA in their products due to the health worries, but there are fresh concerns about some of the chemicals used in its place.6 So choosing 'BPA-free' products doesn't necessarily mean they're safe. Your best bet is to choose alternatives to plastic as much as possible, especially when it comes to food, and eat fresh produce rather than canned. See the box, right, for our top tips to reduce your exposure to BPA and other similar chemicals.
Studies of BPA exposure in people have linked the chemical to a broad range of health effects and conditions, including:
• Heart disease1
• Type 2 diabetes2
• Polycystic ovary syndrome5
• Sex hormone abnormalities6
Animal and test tube studies have shown BPA to:
• Encourage the growth of breast cancer cells7
• Increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer8
• Disrupt thyroid hormones9
• Alter mammary glands and the female genital tract10
• Reduce sperm quality11
How to reduce your exposure to BPA
• Consume fresh, unprocessed foods and steer clear of canned foods as much as possible.
• Limit the amount of packaged foods you eat. Shop at local farmers' markets, green grocers and zero-waste stores, or try a plastic-free online food delivery company like the Plastic Free Pantry (www.plasticfreepantry.co.uk) or the Zero Waste Club (www.zero-waste-club.com).
• If you do eat canned food, rinse the food in water first, and never heat food in the can.
• Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles. Invest in a reusable glass bottle and use filtered water.
• Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave. Ceramic and glass are good alternatives.
• Avoid storing food and drink in plastic containers. Glass and stainless steel are better, safer choices.
• Don't take sales receipts if you don't need them. If you do, avoid touching them as much as you can and don't store them in your wallet, bag or purse.
• Choose non-plastic children's toys as much as possible.