Almost all plastics contain Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, most notably Bisphenol A (BPA). Some plastics are now BPA-free but the replacement chemicals, usually bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF), also have endocrine disrputing properties. Below is a discussion of BPA in plastics and BPA replacement chemicals. See our guides Ways to Eliminate BPA/BPS/BPF Exposure and Ways to Eliminate Children's Exposure to Toxic Chemicals for recommendations on how to decrease your exposure to BPA/BPS/BPF.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is found in a variety of food containers such as hard, rigid plastics, and the epoxy-based linings of canned foods. Until the past few years, most rigid, reusable plastic containers, such as water bottles, were made of polycarbonate and contained BPA. BPA is capable of interfering with the body's hormones, particularly estrogen, and scientists have linked BPA exposure to diseases like cancer and diabetes.
In 2012, the FDA banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA remains a common component of the epoxy resins that line the interior of canned foods such as soup, canned vegetables, and beans. This liner is important because it helps protect the contents from contamination by pathogens, which can cause serious food-borne illnesses such as botulism. Not all can linings contain BPA but it is impossible for the consumer to know which do and which do not. BPA can leach from these linings into the food, thereby exposing consumers. Other common household products containing BPA include polycarbonate eyeglasses, thermal paper receipts, and plastic water pipes.
Most people are exposed by consuming food and beverages into which BPA has leached from the container. Leaching is enhanced by environmental factors such as heat, sunlight, and acidity, so acidic foods such as tomatoes are more likely to leach BPA from can linings. Common activities such as reheating food in or on plastic ware in the microwave and storing water bottles in a hot car are known to enhance the transfer of BPA from plastics. Other possible but not well studied routes of exposure include inhalation or ingestion of contaminated house dust, and dermal exposure from handling BPA-containing thermal paper receipts.
BPA is used in so many products that exposure is thought to be ubiquitous, and nearly continual. Unlike DDT and some other EDCs, BPA is rapidly metabolized and does not bio-accumulate in the body, so reducing exposure can rapidly reduce body burden. Several studies have shown that basic lifestyle changes, such as minimizing the use of canned foods and plastic containers, can rapidly reduce BPA levels in urine and other body fluids. Increasing availability of BPA-free plastics and can linings will also likely reduce exposure, but concerns have been raised about the replacement compounds and if they too might be EDCs.
What About BPA Free Products?
As society’s awareness of BPA’s dangers increased, more and more companies began making products that are “BPA free”. You see these labels on all sorts of products, particularly plastics, which as discussed above are some of the most commonly used products containing BPA. So this is good news, less BPA means less EDCs in our environment and in our bodies. However, the next and very important question becomes, what were BPAs replaced with? Plastic products that now tout how they are “BPA free” look and feel remarkably like products that contain BPA. The unfortunate and disturbing answer is that most BPA free products contain bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF). BPS and BPF have been detected in many everyday products, such as personal care products (e.g., body wash, hair care products, makeup, lotions, toothpaste) paper products (e.g., currency, flyers, tickets, mailing envelopes, airplane boarding passes) and food (e.g., dairy products, meat and meat products, vegetables, canned foods, cereals).
Ideally, substitutes used to replace a chemical of concern would be inert, or at least far less toxic than the original chemical(s). Unfortunately, many chemical replacements are untested before being placed on the market, and in some cases are similar enough to the original chemical to cause concern. In the case of BPS and BPF, these chemicals are structural analogs to BPA and studies show they have similar endocrine disrupting effects as BPA.
See our guides Ways to Eliminate BPA/BPS/BPF Exposure and Ways to Eliminate Children's Exposure to Toxic Chemicals for recommendations on how to decrease your exposure to BPA/BPS/BPF.