We’ve discussed the potential harm plastics can have on our health, including the concern over BPA in single-use water bottles. But when we consider all plastics used to hold liquids, personal care products, cooking supplies, materials like paints, adhesives and protective coatings (including clear coatings on the inside of food cans and some kinds of paper such as receipts) contain BPA or a similar chemical, the potential for exposure is high. A new study shows it may even be worse then we first thought. Although protections for the consumer are in place, new evidence shows that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing methods may be unreliable and result in exposure to high levels of BPA.
Agencies, such as the FDA, rely on an indirect testing technique to determine BPA metabolite levels. BPA metabolites are the product of the breakdown of BPA as it passes through the body. These methods have also long been used by U.S. regulators to set safety standards for consumer products.
In the current study, researchers compared this old way of assessing human BPA exposure with a new method that directly measures the BPA metabolites. They used both the old and new methods to test synthetic urine spiked with BPA and found that one version of the old method – one used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – detected just 10% of the BPA!
When they tested the old and new methods on 39 human urine samples, the new method showed BPA levels up to 44 times higher than the average exposure levels found in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – data that was used to set safety standards. The disparity between the two methods increased with more BPA exposure: the greater the exposure the more of it the previous method missed.
“This study raises serious concerns about whether we’ve been careful enough about the safety of this chemical,” said senior study author Patricia Hunt of Washington State University in Pullman. “What it comes down to is that the conclusions federal agencies have come to about how to regulate BPA may have been based on inaccurate measurements,” Hunt said.
This is incredibly important because BPA, parabens and antimicrobials are widely used in personal care products, a wide range of plastics, including food and drink containers. Animal studies have shown that it can interfere with the body’s hormones. In particular, fetal exposure to BPA has been linked to problems with growth, metabolism, behavior, fertility, reproductive, neurological effects and even greater cancer risk.
Why Avoid BPA?
The danger of BPA is that it mimics the structure and function of estrogen, according to some studies done by the National Institute of Health. Studies found that BPA can “influence bodily processes, such as growth, cell repair, fetal development, energy levels and reproduction as well as thyroid hormone receptors, thus altering their function.” How’s this for alarming: women that had suffered miscarriages were found to have 3 times as much BPA in their blood as women with successful pregnancies, according to one study published in the journal Human Reproduction.
Sounds like the easy choice is to grab a bottle that touts being BPA free, right? The alternative chemicals are not much better. In an effort to steer away from BPA, companies have started using bisphenol-S (BPS) or bisphenol-F (BPF). Studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives show that these alternatives disrupt cells similar to BPA.
Despite this experimental evidence, the FDA has evaluated data from studies measuring BPA in human urine and determined that human exposure to the chemical is at very low, and therefore, safe levels. This new research challenges that assumption and raises questions about other chemicals, including BPA replacements, that are also assessed using indirect methods. With inaccurate measurements of BPA, studies on the negative health effects may have also underestimated risks of exposure to the chemical.
We can’t eliminate our exposure, but we can reduce it by avoiding obvious routes of contamination such as handling of paper receipts, placing plastic in the microwave or dishwasher (heat is an invitation for chemicals to migrate out of plastic). Make sure to discard products that show clear signs of wear and tear (when they are damaged, they are leaching chemicals).
This new information regarding BPA exposure only further indicates the need to shift to glass when cooking or reheating liquids and foods as well as reusable bottles made of safe materials such as glass or stainless steel for water consumption. Request digital receipts instead of paper ones to avoid potential exposure to BPA and reduce paper waste- added benefit, you won’t lose it! Taking these steps will help you avoid exposure to any variety of chemicals that are present in the coating or plastic and also help reduce the waste associated with many of the items.
-BPA and recurrent miscarriage: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deh888