What is BPA?
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an industrial chemical used to make two common synthetics:
- Polycarbonate, a clear, rigid, shatter-resistant plastic found in a wide variety of consumer products, including food and drink containers.
- Epoxy resins, used in industrial adhesives and high-performance coatings. Epoxy coating lines most of the 131 billion food and beverage cans made in the U.S. annually.
What are its health risks?
BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. It has been linked to a wide variety of ills, including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioral changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments.
BPA reaches children beginning in the womb
Surveys by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found BPA in the bodies of nearly every person over the age of 6. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group detected BPA in 9 of 10 cord blood samples. Most of this contamination is believed to come from food packaging. BPA molecules leach into foods and beverage from plastic food containers and the epoxy linings of metal cans.
In 2009, under pressure from consumers, major manufacturers of hard, clear baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles voluntarily switched to other plastics. The federal Food and Drug Administration barred BPA in baby bottles and children's cups in June 2012.
The FDA still allows BPA in food cans. EWG advises consumers to limit their consumption of canned products not made by those few companies that use non-BPA can linings.
In 2007, EWG found BPA in 53 of 97 canned foods tested. In 2011, FDA tests of 78 popular canned foods found the chemical in 71, or 90 percent. BPA concentrations in different cans of the same food vary dramatically, so it's impossible to draw definitive conclusions. A few canned foods sometimes measure high in BPA – beans, green beans, green peas and chili. Others, mainly fruits and beverages, tend to have low concentrations of BPA.
In 2011, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health determined that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup a day for five days had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily. Campbell's and other major canned food makers are seeking alternatives but have not yet switched to BPA-free cans.
How to limit your family's exposure to BPA
Completely eliminating contact with BPA is virtually impossible, but you can reduce your family's exposure to this chemical.
- Buy baby formula in plastic, glass or other non-metal containers. When possible, choose powdered formula because the packaging contains less BPA and because the powder is diluted with fresh water. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
- Limit your consumption of canned food, particularly if you are pregnant.
- Look for canned food labeled as BPA-free or buy food packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. See EWG's report on which companies have cans lined with non-BPA alternatives.
Hard plastic containers
Repurpose old baby bottles, cups, dishes and food containers marked with the letters "PC," for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Not all #7 products are polycarbonate, but they may be.
Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
BPA in store receipts
EWG's tests of major retailers' store receipts, conducted in 2010, found that 40 percent were coated with BPA. The chemical can rub off on hands or food items. Some may be absorbed through the skin.
How to limit exposure to BPA in receipts
- Say no to receipts when possible
- Keep receipts in an envelope.
- Never give a child a receipt to hold or play with.
- Wash your hands before preparing and eating food after handling receipts.
- Do not recycle receipts and other thermal paper. BPA residues will contaminate recycled paper.