Although completely eliminating exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) may not be possible, there are steps you can take to reduce your family's exposure to this chemical by avoiding common sources and limiting exposure for the highest risk groups.
The developing fetus and baby are the most vulnerable to BPA’s toxic effects. Unfortunately they also have the most intense BPA exposure of any age group. Many parents who have replaced their polycarbonate baby bottles are unaware that BPA contaminates liquid baby formula sold in metal cans. Since formula can make up 100% of a baby's diet over her first 6 months of life, parents should choose BPA-free types
Adults ingest much less BPA than babies. But a recent study linking BPA exposures in adults to heart disease and diabetes raises concerns about the safety of current exposures. Adult exposure comes primarily from canned foods and polycarbonate food containers, but BPA-containing medical devices could also be a source. Pregnant women and older children should avoid BPA. Eat a varied diet, avoid canned foods, and don't use polycarbonate plastics for warm food or drinks.
BPA in formula and baby bottles
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that babies have 12.5 times more BPA exposure than adults, and EWG is concerned that FDA has seriously underestimates exposures for many babies. Recent tests by Environmental Working Group and the Canadian government, and a 1990s test by FDA show BPA leaching from metal cans into all brands of liquid formula. Powdered formula appears to be BPA-free. Therefore, EWG recommends that you choose powdered formula if your baby tolerates it. [Read more about BPA in formula and bottles and EWG's efforts to reduce babies' exposures.]
Most manufacturers now make BPA-free baby bottles. Glass is the safest and most durable option. Never microwave baby food or drinks in plastic containers. Bottles used to pump and store expressed breast milk by the brand Medela are also labeled BPA-free.
BPA in canned foods
Almost all canned foods sold in the United States have a BPA-based epoxy liner that leaches BPA into the food. EWG tested 97 canned foods and found detectable levels of BPA in more than half of the foods. [Read about EWG's food and formula tests]. The highest concentrations were in canned meats, pasta and soups. Only 1 manufacturer claims to use no BPA. Eden Foods uses an alternative technology for canned beans but not for its tomato-based products. Pregnant women and children should limit their consumption of canned foods to avoid BPA. Rinsing canned fruit or vegetables may reduce the amount of BPA you ingest.
BPA in water and food containers
Less BPA leaches from plastic water bottles and food containers than from cans into canned foods and baby formula. Nevertheless it is good to take simple precautions to reduce your exposure.
Polycarbonate plastics are rigid, transparent and used for food storage containers and water bottles, among other things. Trace amounts of BPA can migrate from these containers, particularly if used for hot food or liquids. Soft or cloudy-colored plastic does not contain BPA.
When possible, avoid polycarbonate, especially for children's food and drinks. This plastic might be marked with the recycling code #7 or the letters “PC”. Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom are better choices because they do not contain BPA. Avoid putting any plastic containers in microwaves. Wash plastics on the top shelf of your dishwasher or by hand.
Some metal water bottles lined with an epoxy-based enamel coating could leach BPA. Look for stainless steel bottles that do not have a liner. Avoid using old and scratched plastic bottles.
Other sources of BPA
BPA has countless uses, several of which have been highlighted as an exposure risk. BPA is a component of non-metal dental fillings, it is in thermal paper for many receipts, and it is increasingly used in medical devices. There is little research about the magnitude of exposures from these products.
Babies at Risk—BPA at Dangerous Levels in Liquid Formula
Many parents who have replaced their polycarbonate baby bottles are unaware that BPA contaminates liquid baby formula sold in metal cans. FDA estimates that babies have 12.5 times more BPA exposure than adults, due to BPA in formula and bottles. This underestimates risks to light or hungry babies and those fed formula with the highest BPA concentrations. Babies are more sensitive to BPA’s harmful effects because their bodies are developing rapidly but can not metabolize and excrete the chemical as quickly as adults.
Recent tests by Environmental Working Group and the Canadian government, and a 1990s test by FDA show BPA leaching into all brands of liquid formula. EWG is concerned that the exposures for babies fed liquid formula exceed the levels that cause harm in laboratory studies. The Canadian government has announced measures to ban BPA in baby bottles and reduce BPA levels in liquid formula. FDA has ignored the scientific evidence and declared all uses of BPA to be safe.
The NIH's National Toxicology Program expressed "some concern" for the impact of BPA exposures on the baby's brain and reproductive system. However FDA, the government agency that regulates food packaging, has deemed BPA to be safe. In response to FDA inaction the Congressional Energy and Commerce committee launched an investigation into BPA contamination of formula. Formula-makers have promised Congress they will find safer ways to package their products. In the meantime, EWG recommends parents feed their babies breast milk, powdered formula or liquid types of formula that aren’t sold in metal cans. Canadian officials found no detectable BPA in 56 powdered samples and these were made by the same companies who sell formula in the U.S. Therefore EWG calls for parents to use powdered formula or liquid types packaged in glass or plastic.
Here are answers to common questions about babies' exposures to BPA
Is there BPA in liquid formula? Yes. but just the types sold in metal cans. Tests by EWG, the Canadian government and FDA all show BPA in liquid formula made by all major brands. This includes both milk- and soy-based formula, and both ready-to-eat or concentrated types. In 2007 all major formula-makers admitted to EWG that they use BPA liners of metal formula cans, and have claimed to be investigating BPA-free packaging.
Both EWG and FDA tests found the highest levels of BPA in Enfamil brand formula. Canadian tests include the same types sold in the U.S. (Cao 2008). The Canadian researchers found that some brands are consistently worse than others but didn’t reveal brand names, and determined that BPA levels were higher in cans with a thicker epoxy lining. In response the Canadian government is working to reduce BPA levels in formula and find safer packaging methods.
Babies fed liquid formula are likely exposed to more BPA from formula than from the polycarbonate bottles used to feed them. EWG recommends parents not use liquid formula from metal cans until BPA replacements are found. Use powdered formula or liquid types that are not sold in metal cans.
Is there BPA in powdered formula? Fortunately BPA does not appear to leach into powdered formula. The Canadian government recently published testing results showing no BPA in any of 56 powdered formulas sampled, and the tests include the same companies that make the formula sold in the United States (Cao 2008). Previously little was known about BPA in powdered formula. Three of the 4 major formula companies had told EWG that they used BPA in powdered formula containers or gave us conflicting answers. FDA recently analyzed 2 types of powdered formula containers and concluded that there was no BPA epoxy lining the metal portions of cans.
Luckily most formulas, including special formulations are available as powders, thus BPA-free formula is available for most infant’s nutritional needs. Parents should consult with their pediatrician before switching formula, especially if you have concerns about the quality of your tap water. Also note that the American Dental Association recommends that parents not use fluoridated water to mix baby formula because bottlefed babies get too much fluoride. Use filtered, non-fluoridated bottled water instead. If your baby needs to be fed liquid formula, look for types packaged in glass or plastic (these plastics are not the type that leaches BPA).
What type of bottles should I use? Baby bottles have been widely discussed as a source of BPA exposure for infants. It is unclear how much BPA leaches out during normal conditions of use. Luckily, a wide variety of bottles and sippy cups are now sold that contain no BPA. Look for those bottles and cups that are opaque plastic or marked BPA-free.
Are babies’ exposures high enough to pose a health risk? EWG is concerned that the exposures for babies fed liquid formula exceed the levels that cause harm in laboratory studies. The National Toxicology Program reviewed the issue and deemed current exposures to pose “some concern” for pregnant women, infants and small children.
FDA considers formula and bottle exposures to be safe, but this is based on a highly criticized risk assessment that ignores findings from dozens of high-quality, government-funded studies. Dozens of laboratory studies find permanent effects of early-life BPA exposures on the developing reproductive system and impacts to brain and behavior. The Canadian government examined the same evidence and came to a dramatically different conclusion than FDA, namely that the low dose studies pose an unacceptable risk to babies. They state that a “precautionary approach” is warranted, and have named specific steps to reduce infant exposures from bottles and formula.
EWG urges bottle-feeding parents to consider powdered formula or liquid formula packaged in plastic or glass. Check out our tips about Baby Safe feeding.
What can I do to reduce my baby’s BPA intake? Feed your baby safely. Use only powdered formula if their baby tolerates it. If your baby needs liquid formula, pick types packaged in plastic or glass. If these options are not available in your community, online retailers are a possible resource.
Use non-polycarbonate baby bottles, which are now widely available. Glass is best.
Be careful not to excessively heat any plastic - especially baby bottles, and mix formula with warm but not hot water. Wash plastics in the top shelf of your dishwasher to avoid excessive heat and replace them when the plastic looks cracked or worn, because BPA leaching is higher in cracked plastics.
What is FDA doing to assess the safety of babies’ exposures? FDA’s Science Board will meet October 31, 2008 to evaluate the validity of FDA’s risk assessment for babies. EWG has voiced continuing concerns about the inadequacy of FDA’s risk assessment, which does not look at highly exposed babies—the light or hungry babies fed formula with the highest BPA concentrations. The exposures from formula could be 6 times higher than FDA estimates. We have submitted comments to the FDA subcommittee and Science Board demanding that their safety assessment is fully protective of children’s health.
What is Congress doing to protect babies from BPA? The House Energy and Commerce committee has an on-going investigation [http://energycommerce.house.gov/Investigations/Bisphenol.shtml] of BPA contamination of baby formula. They have gathered information from formula companies about the use of BPA and any testing the companies do to measure BPA levels in their product. They have requested that companies voluntarily remove BPA from the lining of cans used to package formula. All of the 4 major formula companies have responded that they do use BPA and are seeking alternatives.
What are formula companies doing to reduce BPA levels in liquid formula? All of the 4 major formula companies told EWG that they use BPA as a component of the lining for metal cans. Powdered formula and liquid formula in glass or plastic are unlikely to have significant BPA contamination.
Four companies—Abbott (Similac/Isomil), Mead-Johnson (Enfamil), Nestlé and PBM (Baby Basics, Parent’s Choice, Bright Beginnings and all store brands) have responded to the Congressional Inquiry. They manufacture the majority of all formula sold in the U.S.
Nestle and Mead-Johnson said they do not test their product for BPA. Abbott and PBM do test, but not with technology sensitive enough to detect the levels of BPA found in EWG or FDA tests. Each company indicates that they are looking for replacements, but none has shifted away from BPA in the epoxy lining of metal cans.
PBM, maker of store brand formulas stated in a letter to Congress [http://energycommerce.house.gov/Investigations/Bisphenol.050708.respto050608.PBM.ltr.pdf]:
“Although the scientific evidence is inconclusive, the possibility that BPA may pose adverse health risks to the infants and children who are fed our formula was more than sufficient for us to begin the process of eliminating BPA from our infant formula packaging.”
What is EWG doing to protect babies from BPA? Environmental Working Group’s original research on BPA levels in food and formula lead us to conclude that infants’ exposures exceed a safe margin required to ensure that BPA exposures are well below toxic levels. We’ve consistently advocated for government safety levels to be set based on the most sensitive indications of harm, and take immediate action to reduce infant’s exposures as the Canadian government has done. We continue to advocate for a ban on products that expose children to BPA, both by sponsoring legislation in California and watchdogging the FDA safety review for BPA in food and packaging.