Bisphenol-A, a scary compound that has already contaminated us all

There has been increased press of late about Bisphenol-A, or BPA, and its potential effects on humans. While this compound has been in commercial use for more than 50 years, and it has been suspected of being hazardous to humans since at least the 1930s, it continues to be in pervasive use in food storage containers and leaches into our food and water. BPA was initially studied only in mega doses and those mega doses were found to be relatively safe. The new focus is on small doses like the ones we get when we drink a soda, eat canned soup or vegetables, or use reusable plastic water bottles. BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor and can mimic estrogen in your body. This has the potential to impact us in huge ways.

Some studies have found links to BPA levels and miscarriage in women. Others have found that pre- and postnatal exposure (in the womb and through baby bottles) can cause hyperactivity in children. Hormones are critical to our growth, development, and fertility. Exposure to excess amounts of hormones or their mimics can drastically alter normal growth and development. This is particularly true of developing fetuses and children who are naturally more sensitive to hormones than adults.

No one can say with certainty that BPA is not the cause of frightening trends in our health and well being. No one can say with certainty that it is not part of the cause of rising infertility rates. Prostate cancer, breast cancer, and early puberty are all likely candidates when looking for BPA’s effects. And what about autism? I don’t think that can be crossed off of the list either without extensive study.

The food industry has a lot to lose if BPA is declared unsafe. The EPA continues to base their rulings with regard to BPA on data that is 20-30 years old. Although some progress is being made, we have a long way to go before BPA stops leaching into our food and water.

Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco/North Bay) authored a bill (S.B. 1713) that would have removed from shelves all BPA containing products intended for children under the age 7. Unfortunately, that bill was defeated (31 ayes, 36 noes) in August. While that bill had its own flaws, it would have been a start at reducing our children’s exposure to this chemical.

As a nation, we consume vast quantities of bottled water. My office is one of thousands if not millions that provides a water cooler for its employees’ use. It is cool, refreshing, and convenient. The majority of my water intake each day comes from that cooler. The rest comes from a crock at home. Both use the big 5 gallon plastic jugs common to large water distributors such as Arrowhead and Sparkletts. Unfortunately, I just checked the number on the bottom of the Arrowhead bottle on my office cooler. Sure enough, it says that it is a #7 recyclable plastic, or polycarbonate. Polycarbonate leaches BPA. It does so at room temperature. It also does so continuously, so the longer something is stored in a polycarbonate bottle, the more BPA has been released into it. Furthermore, the amount of BPA released by a polycarbonate bottle increases as the bottle ages and as it becomes exposed to other chemicals such as cleansers. I do not know how Arrowhead cleans their big water bottles, but I am willing to bet that it involves sterilization through a combination of heat and chemicals. These processes can increase the amount of BPA that the bottles leach. So can scratches and other damage to the bottles. I also do not know how often the bottles get replaced. This is disturbing to me. In my attempts to drink more water and be more healthy, have I been feeding myself increased does of BPA? I certainly have.

I can’t wait to find out what the bottles at home say on them. They are likely the same. All of the water we use in cooking comes from those bottles. All of the water that is drunk by the humans and animals in my house comes from those bottles. And all of it is likely laced with BPA. On the bright side, it looks like I can replace the bottles at home with polyethylene bottles which are safer. Sadly, I can’t replace the one at the office. And that is where I drink most of my water.

This is frustrating because I do not see doing nothing as an option.

If you want to read more, you may find this article from The Green Guide interesting.

This article from GreenerPenny has some good information about alternatives to #7 and #3 plastics.

I have read some of the journal articles that all of this is based on too, but I don’t have those citations handy at the moment.  Sorry!

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Bisphenol-A, a scary compound that has already contaminated us all

2 thoughts on “Bisphenol-A, a scary compound that has already contaminated us all

  1. One thing to keep in mind with the big water jug at work is that the ratio of surface area of the bottle to the volume of the water in the jug means that if there is BPA leaching into it, it will be a lower amount. But on the other hand, maybe you should just drink tap water instead?

    Incidentally just picked up the Nalgene bottle I have on my desk for water at work. #7. Ahhh comforting. On the bright side if I get a different bottle, the water cooler at work is just a filter water from the wall, not a water jug.

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  2. Lea Ruiz-Ade says:

    @Steve
    This is true and somewhat comforting. I am concerned about the possible age of these bottles and how they are handled by Arrowhead though. Improper handling could dramatically increase the amount of BPA that is leaching.

    Be careful with your Nalgene bottle. Hand wash it, watch for cracks, and replace it frequently.

    The Green Guide did a Nalgene Bottle Poll (linked from their article) of their readers that I found interesting. The GreenerPenny piece I mentioned earlier points out that Nalgene makes an HDPE bottle too. That way, if you have to have that brand/style, you can still make a safer choice on your next purchase.

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