BPA and Alternatives

What is BPA, and where is it found?

The plastics chemical bisphenol A was first synthesized in 1891. In the mid-1930s, scientists determined it was a synthetic estrogen. At that time, it was investigated as a potential pharmaceutical drug alongside the more potent estrogenic compound DES, or diethylstilbestrol, which has since been banned.

Over the years, BPA was commercialized and widely adopted for a range of uses. It is a key component in hard, polycarbonate plastic, thermal receipt paper and epoxy resins – the protective lining of food and beverage containers, industrial equipment and piping. It’s also found in sealants used in everything from construction to dentistry.

In the U.S., BPA is considered a high-production-volume chemical, with releases estimated at more than 1 million pounds per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Due to its widespread use, BPA has become a ubiquitous pollutant of soil, water, air and wildlife. Biomonitoring studies indicate that the chemical can be found in nearly all Americans. BPA has been measured in human blood, urine, breast milk and umbilical cord blood, according to tests conducted by EWG.

BPA readily leaches from epoxy-resin linings, and food packaging may be the largest source of human exposure to the chemical. On thermal paper, it exists in a free, or unpolymerized, form, and may be present on this paper in much higher concentrations than in food packaging. It can easily rub off thermal paper, including receipts, onto skin and can make its way into the body through skin and oral exposure, which is particularly concerning for the tens of thousands of retail workers who handle hundreds of receipts daily.

EWG’s analysis of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed retail workers had 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average U.S. adult. Manufacturing workers who are directly exposed to high doses of BPA had roughly 70 times more BPA in their urine than the average U.S. adult, according to the National Institute for Safety and Health.

Although it may be challenging because of the widespread use of the chemical, there are steps consumers can take to limit their exposure to BPA.

What are the health impacts of BPA exposure?

More than 30 years of studies point to the significant health effects of BPA exposure, including:

  • Brain, behavioral, learning and memory impairment
  • Cardiovascular abnormalities
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Breast and prostate cancer
  • Thyroid and sex hormone disruption
  • Early puberty
  • Changes to egg and sperm development and fertility
  • Genetic alterations that can be passed on to future generations

Pregnant women, infants and children are most susceptible to the hazards of BPA exposure, because any disruptions to proper hormone functioning can affect routine growth and development during these periods.

Results from a safety study called CLARITY-BPA, launched in 2012 – a partnership among the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and 14 independent researchers – confirm significant biological effects, even at low doses of BPA exposure.

The CLARITY-BPA researchers have introduced novel methodologies to detect harms with greater sensitivity and to capture dose responses that are more relevant for endocrine disruptors than those currently in use. Yet the FDA undermines the work of those independent scientists, and even its own CLARITY data. Consistent evidence points to the agency’s bias toward industry-funded research and flawed, outdated science in its assessment of BPA safety.

What changes have industry and government made?

Market surveys and groundbreaking investigations of receipts and food, beverage and formula cans revealed the significant extent of BPA use in the market. In 2011, California enacted legislation, sponsored by EWG, banning BPA in baby bottles and cups. By 2015, a number of states had passed similar legislation banning or limiting BPA in reusable food containers or one-time-use food cans.

In 2015 California officials also added BPA to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm and requiring warnings on products or store shelves. The food industry fought the mandate while quietly publishing the largest known database of products believed to contain BPA.

The groundswell of state-level support for regulation, along with persistent pressure from retailers, NGOs and the public, caused the industry to start moving away from BPA. Only after the industry’s permanent abandonment of BPA use in infant formula packaging did the FDA act to ban it from formula. Further attempts to regulate BPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act, or to pass new federal rules, that would prohibit BPA more broadly as a food packaging chemical or for other uses have stalled.

Once heavily used in the production of food can coatings, more recently it is no longer presumed that BPA is used in the manufacture of most of those linings. We continue to track and report on the use and safety of BPA replacements, some of which are regrettable substitutes, such as BPS and polyvinyl chloride copolymers, also known as PVC. Many alternatives are poorly disclosed by manufacturers or lack adequate safety testing, or both, and we encourage greater transparency and precaution.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A groundbreaking new study, the first to test what happens in people immediately after they are exposed to bisphenol A, or BPA, shows that levels at which the federal government states is “safe” and should have no effect, in fact can alter insulin response, a key marker for metabolic diseases like diabetes.

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News Release
Monday, June 4, 2018

Mixtures of chemicals commonly found in consumer products are more likely to increase breast cancer risk than the same chemicals individually, according to a new analysis. But safety tests by government regulators don’t routinely evaluate the combined effects of multiple chemical exposures.

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, April 26, 2018

New federally funded research links low doses of bisphenol A with a sharp increase in breast tumors in laboratory animals.

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News and Analysis
Article
Friday, February 9, 2018

No one disputes that bisphenol A, a toxic compound widely used to line food cans and other food packaging, is polluting people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of more than 90 percent of Americans sampled. In 2009, tests commissioned by EWG were the first to find BPA in the umbilical cords of nine of 10 infants sampled.
 

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, November 30, 2017

It’s not just a poor diet and lack of exercise that can make kids overweight.

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Replacements for bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical in plastics and food containers, could be just as harmful or even worse than it, according to a new study by the National Toxicology Program.

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News and Analysis
Article
Monday, April 10, 2017

If you have small children in the house, are pregnant or are trying to conceive – or simply want to stay healthy – you are probably looking for ways to avoid toxic chemicals at home and outdoors. Harmful pollutants that can increase the risk of cancer and damage your developing child’s IQ can lurk in household dust, leach out of plastic containers and even contaminate tap water.

 

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Children's Health
Article
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The nation’s new chemical safety law promises to give the Environmental Protection Agency expanded authority to regulate hazardous chemicals in consumer products. But of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, most never tested for safety, which should the EPA tackle first?
 

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News Release
Thursday, July 14, 2016

Children with high levels of the chemical bisphenol A in their bodies were more likely to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than those with lower levels of the chemical, according to a study published June 6 in the journal Environmental Research.

 

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News and Analysis
Article
Friday, June 17, 2016

EWG has uncovered new information about a toxic chemical many of us are buying at the grocery store – and how common it really is.

 

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News and Analysis
Article
Friday, June 17, 2016

For consumers who want to avoid bisphenol A, EWG today unveiled an easily searchable database of more than 16,000 food and beverage items that may come in cans, bottles or jars containing the hormone-disrupting chemical, better known as BPA. The list was compiled from a little-known food industry inventory and is now available at EWG's Food Scores database.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Exposure to BPA has been linked to cancer, infertility, brain, nervous system and cardiovascular abnormalities, diabetes, obesity and other serious disorders.

 
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Reports & Consumer Guides
Monday, November 9, 2015

The most egregious flaw of the United States’ toothless and outdated system of regulating chemicals is the failure to adequately and independently test chemicals for safety. Because of the Environmental Protection Agency’s woeful shortage of resources, manufacturers submit their own data to vouch for new chemicals, and most studies of existing chemicals are conducted by for-profit consultants selected and paid by the very companies whose products they’re evaluating.

 

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, July 16, 2015

Conventional thinking about cancer prevention may overlook growing evidence that the combined effects of chemicals that are not carcinogenic on their own may be a significant cause of cancer, according to a new EWG analysis of a series of papers published last week in the scientific journal Carcinogenesis.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

You may know that bisphenol A, a synthetic estrogen found in the epoxy coatings of food cans, has been linked to many health problems. Many companies have publicly pledged to stop using BPA in their cans. But consumers like you have had no way to know which canned foods use BPA-based epoxy. Until now.

EWG analyzed 252 canned food brands, mostly between January and August 2014, to find out which of them packed their food into cans coated with BPA-laden epoxy. Here’s what we discovered.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A new analysis of the canned food marketplace released today by EWG will help American shoppers determine which products still contain the toxic hormone disruptor bisphenol A, or BP

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News Release
Friday, May 8, 2015

The decision of a scientific advisory committee to add bisphenol A, or BPA, to California’s Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals is a huge victory in the fight to protect people from this harmful hormone disruptor, Environmental Working Group said today.

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News Release
Friday, March 20, 2015

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill yesterday that would help protect Americans from the toxic chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA, the Environmental Working Group said in a statement today.

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News Release
Thursday, January 8, 2015

The federal Food and Drug Administration has quietly reaffirmed its position that Americans are not being harmed by bisphenol A, a synthetic estrogen that is an essential ingredient of the epoxy coating that lines the insides of most food cans made in the U.S despite a massive body of evidence that suggests otherwise.  

 

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Several members of Congress are pushing a bill to better protect consumers – particularly the elderly, pregnant women children, and workers – from a known toxic hormone disruptor bisphenol-A, or BPA.

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