Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, is a term many of us have heard before, but most people do not know what it stands for. The public knows that BPA is a chemical that is often found in plastic packaging materials. However, the verifiable facts behind Bisphenol A remain a mystery. So what is this chemical? Is it bad for you? And why do we hear about it so often? In this article, we will share with you the ins and outs of BPA and tell you all you have to know about this everyday chemical.
What is BPA?
So, what is this chemical and what does BPA stand for? BPA is an acronym which his used for the industrial chemical Bisphenol A. This specific chemical has been around ever since the 1960s and has various industries have commonly used it in production of plastics and resins. In 2015 alone, industries across the globe produced over 4 million tonnes of BPA chemical–making it one of the most produced chemicals in the world.
Plastics made of BPA are colourless and tough. This feature makes it a significant component for a wide range of everyday consumer products. Water bottle is the most common product of BPA-based plastic. This chemical is also used to produce countless other products, such as electronics, sports equipment, and CDs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report in 2008 in which it stated that ¾ of the annual BPA production is used to create plastics, whereas ¼ is used to make resins. The latter are most commonly used to produce coatings for the inside of food and beverage containers. Resins made with Bisphenol A are poorly soluble in water thanks to which they help prolong the lifespan of the food container that holds liquids or water-based food.
Using Bisphenol A brings along many advantages in multiple industries. However, use of this chemical is raising more and more concerns by people around the globe. Especially the usage of BPA in plastic bottles and food containers is getting criticized. The reason behind this is that BPA plastics and resins may dissolve when in contact with water, thus affecting contents of the packaging, which may ultimately lead to health problems. While extensive scientific research from the European Food Safety Authority and the Food & Drug Administration shows that the use of BPA containing plastics regularly is safe, there are still countries that have banned the usage of BPA for producing certain consumer products.
Where do we find BPA?
BPA-based plastics use in a wide range of products can be traced back to almost every industry. Many items you use in your daily life contain this chemical. Think, for instance, about water bottles, food containers, and even your shop receipt made from thermal paper. All these products contain Bisphenol A in some form. When talking about this chemical, most people think about the food industry. However, less than 5% of the products made from BPA are in direct contact with foods and beverages. Yet, its presence in this industry causes the most concern because of the potential health hazards it may cause.
Thanks to its tough, shatterproof, and colourless features, BPA is extremely popular for making plastics. Ever since the 1960s’, BPA-based bottles and containers have been a part of our everyday life. Besides water bottles, Bisphenol A is used in production of a wide range of other products such as sports equipment, eyeglasses, medical equipment, water pipes, and so much more. While most BPA based products are available as a solid plastic, it is also used in production of epoxy resins. Thanks to the fact that these resins are poorly soluble in water, they are perfect for coating the insides of food containers and soda cans.
How dangerous is BPA?
When people talk about Bisphenol A, their primary concern is whether it can cause any health-related issues. Countless studies on BPA in the past have tried to check whether the chemical has a potentially negative effect on the human brain or body. Although there have been several studies that claim that BPA can cause health issues, even when ingested in small amounts, major research institutions and government agencies, including the FDA, EFSA, and EPA, do not support these claims. According to them, people only get exposed to minor amounts of BPA during the day. The Food Standards Agency in the UK claims Bisphenol A is a product which is rapidly absorbed, detoxified, and ejected from the human body after consumption. Therefore, there is little to worry about and the everyday exposure to BPA should not be considered a threat to one’s health, both physically and mentally.
Although major organizations claim that small amounts of BPA cause no harm, it is a known fact that food and beverages can absorb it via its container. And even though the consumption of BPA in small amounts is harmless as per recent claims by a few, many people and organizations disagree. The European Chemicals Agency, for example, stated in 2017 that BPA should be considered a dangerous substance because of its properties as an endocrine disruptor. Simply put, this means that the chemical can imitate the hormones found in the human body and can interfere with its functions. This may cause problems in cell growth and recovery. According to recent studies, even the intake of minor amounts of such substances can have a negative effect on the human body.
In several countries, the uncertainty of the effects of BPA on the human body has made the government decide to ban the usage of the chemical in the production of certain items. A prominent example of such goods is baby bottles. The reason behind this decision is that WHO claimed that Bisphenol A may have a negative effect on the behaviour, blood pressure, and brains of infants and children. Added to that, the chemical is believed to increase the chance of obesity and heart related disease. Because of this, one may wonder whether Bisphenol A really is as harmless as some people suggest. The potential harms caused by BPA is still the subject-matter of ongoing debate among many scientists. Major health research institutions see further research on this topic as one of their key priorities.
Ways in which BPA can enter your body
The primary way in which BPA enters the human body is through consumption of food and beverages. Using Bisphenol A is mainly in the production of plastic food containers and bottles. When manufacturing these containers, it is possible that not all the BPA gets fully sealed into the product. In such cases, the chemical may break free, after which it can get mixed with the food or drink stored in the container and thus enter the human body upon the consumption of these goods.
In a recent study, scientists have analysed the BPA levels in the bodies of people who eat canned foods for 5 days in a row. They found that, after eating canned foods for 5 days, the average level of BPA present in the human body had increased by 1,221%. The World Health Organization also stated that breastfed babies have on average 8 times less BPA inside their bodies than those who drink milk from BPA-containing water bottles. Therefore, it is safe to state that BPA certainly can enter the human body through the consumption of foods packaged in cans or bottles that contain Bisphenol A.
Does all plastic contain Bisphenol A?
Because companies are not required to inform the public whether their plastics contain BPA, it might be quite tricky to find out whether your bottle or container is BPA-Free. There is, however, one little trick you can keep in mind when selecting a plastic container or bottle for holding your beverages if you wish to lower your chances of being exposed to BPA.
Whenever you buy a product that comes with a plastic packaging, you might have noticed that it has a number ranging from 1 to 7 printed on it. This is because we can categorize plastics using 7 different plastic identification codes. Although these numbers were created for recycling, they also tell us something about the chemicals used in a certain type of plastic. As long as your plastic packaging falls under category 1, 2, 4, 5, or 6 – it is highly unlikely that they contain BPA. Plastics that fall under type 3 (PVC) and type 7 (Other) contain BPA as an antioxidant sometimes. Although you can never be 100% sure that your container is BPA-Free, it’s best to stay away from those categorized as type 3 and 7 or to avoid the use of plastic all together.
Do tin containers have BPA?
After plastic containers, tin cans are among the most used packaging materials in the world. Even though BPA is mostly found in plastic, the chemical is also used in other packaging materials as a coating material. This coating is applied on the inside of a container to protect it from liquids, thus prolonging its shelf life. Especially larger food containers such as the ones used to store soup often contain such BPA-coatings.
Although the use of these coatings is relatively common in the food industry, not all metal tins contain this chemical. Because of the ever-increasing debate about Bisphenol A, more and more, larger-sized producers of food containers are aiming to become BPA free. We can especially see this in the aluminum container industry, where the vast majority of factories are now producing BPA-Free tins. These small metal containers are 100% BPA-Free and Food-Safe, making them a safe wrapping to be used to hold any type of food or beverage. Added to that, metal tins are also 100% recyclable, making them one of the most durable and environmentally friendly packaging materials available.
Ways to reduce your exposure to BPA
Even though major European and American research institutions claim that the intake of small amounts of BPA is harmless, there is an ever-increasing group of people that aims to avoid the chemical altogether. For those of you who are concerned about your BPA intake, we have the following simple tips to reduce your exposure to Bisphenol A.
- Buy BPA-Free products: More and more manufacturers are choosing to stop using Bisphenol A in the production of their goods. These products are often, but not always, labelled as BPA-Free. If the product you wish to buy has not been labelled, it is smart to keep in mind that all items that have category 3 or 7 plastics in them are likely to contain Bisphenol A.
- Cut down on the use of cans: Although many manufacturers of small aluminum tins aim to become BPA-Free, they still line many larger sized iron cans such as the ones used for storing soup with BPA-Coatings. Therefore, reducing your intake of canned foods is a great idea.
- Look for alternative containers: It is common practice for people to bring along their own lunch from home to work or school. The problem is, however, that they usually make the standard lunch box of plastic. If you are aiming to reduce your exposure to BPA, it is smart to replace your standard plastic container with an alternative. You can think, for instance, about stainless steel, glass, or porcelain as an alternative. Not only does this reduce your risk of BPA intake, it also is friendlier to the environment.
- Be careful with heat: Plastic containers are not designed to withstand heat for a longer period as it may cause them to crack or break down. When damaged, a container risks the leaking of BPA, which will affect the food stored inside. Therefore, it is advisable not to use plastic food containers in the microwave or dishwasher, even though the manual says it’s possible.
- Pick your kids’ toys carefully: Although most BPA plastics exist as food containers and plastic bottles, they are also used in the production of many other everyday items. One example of this is toys for children. Therefore, it is a good idea to buy toys that are labelled as BPA-Free. This is especially the case if it’s a toy your little one likes to suck or chew on. If you are not 100% sure whether a toy is BPA-Free, it would be a smart idea to go for toys made from natural materials such as wood.