Over the past few years, more and more products—bottles, pacifiers, rubber ducks, and water bottle—are being touted as BPA-free. It almost always sounds great when something is advertised as being “free” of a potentially harmful substance, but what is BPA anyway?
BPA is short for bisphenol A, a chemical used to make certain plastics and resins since 1957. Other countries, particularly Canada and the European Union, banned the use of BPA in the production of baby bottles in 2008. While the US did not ban the chemical, manufacturers felt pressured and no longer use BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. While the United States FDA asserts that evidence against BPA is not compelling enough to completely ban its use, Canada declared it a “toxic substance” in 2010.
BPA is found in a multitude of products, making complete avoidance of the chemical difficult. It can be found in food storage containers, CDs and DVDs, as a coating for metal products like baby formula cans and water supply lines, in thermal paper products like cash register receipts, in certain medical devices, and even in some dental sealants. It’s widely accepted that small levels of BPA can leach into food and beverages. What’s not agreed upon is the effect this leaching can have on a human body, particularly a young human body.
Proponents of BPA suggest that minimal amounts of exposure are harmless. Yet critics note that BPA mimics estrogen, which can lead to problems in the endocrine system. The endocrine system is responsible for brain development, growth, metabolism, and function of the reproductive system. Problems are especially pronounced if exposure occurs during development, either in the womb or during childhood. Moreover, theories abound linking BPA exposure to early menstruation in girls, increased obesity rates, ADHD, autism, and an increased risk for prostate and breast cancer.
The US currently does not require that manufacturers disclose if BPA is present in its product. Some companies, like Campbell’s, have voluntarily eliminated use of BPA linings in their products. Others feel little need to do so. Aside from labels proclaiming products as BPA free, consumers don’t know if BPA is present in a product or not. However, there are some guidelines that can be used to limit BPA exposure:
- Steel bottles and cans generally don’t have linings comprised of BPA, while aluminum cans and bottles do.
- Glass, porcelain, or stainless steel does not contain BPA.
- Canned foods may or may not contain BPA, depending on the company. Frozen food that comes in a plastic wrapper is fine.
- Toys, baby bottles, or cups manufactured outside the US, Canada, or Europe may contain BPA.
- Polycarbonate plastic, the kind with the No. 7 recycling symbol, is made with BPA.
- Microwaving polycarbonate plastic can cause the chemical to leach into foods. Moreover, repeated use or microwaving of polycarbonate plastic causes the plastic to break down, causing higher levels of leaching.
Right now, the FDA has no plans to ban the use of BPA until conclusive evidence links it to harmful effects; however, concerns still exist. The Department of Health and Human Services has officially noted concerns regarding the effects of BPA exposure on fetuses, infants, and children. While studies continue, it’s up to parents to decide what steps to take to limit children’s exposure to BPA.