BPA: What’s in your Tupperware?

In April 2016, Campbell’s announced a plan to phase out bisphenol A lining in their soup cans. The idea was first announced in 2012 but the transition was delayed by the difficulty in finding a suitable alternative. Acidic liquids like tomato soup react with the containers they sit in and can release harmful byproducts into the foods we eat and drink. With all the effort to eat healthy food and drink more water, we rarely think about the containers our foods are stored in. So what’s the problem with BPA and why is Campbell’s Soup Company getting rid of it?

What is BPA?

BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a synthetic chemical that is used in the manufacture of plastic and resins. BPA has been used commercially since 1957. You can be exposed to it by absorption through the skin, from breathing it in, or from swallowing it.

What’s the problem with BPA?

In a sample of over 2,500 American children and adults, the CDC found that nearly all of the people tested had BPA in their urine. Health Canada similarly found that 95% of Canadians had been exposed to BPA, with children ages 3-5 and 6-11 most likely to be exposed.

When ingested, BPA has hormone-like properties. It is considered an “endocrine disrupting chemical,” meaning that it interferes with normal endocrine function. It has estrogen-like properties, and may cause issues with reproductive organ development and thyroid function. BPA exposure in children has also been associated with mood and behavior issues.

Where is BPA found?

BPA plastic products include water bottles, plastic dinnerware, food containers, and toys. The resin code “7” appears on plastic containers that may have BPA. BPA resins are also used in the protective lining of food cans and even dental sealants. BPA is also used to make certain types of paper such as cash register receipts. Low levels of BPA will leach into food or drinks stored in containers or bottles made with BPA. Small children chewing on BPA-containing toys can also be exposed. The fetus can be exposed in utero via the placenta , and it can also be transferred to the infant in breast milk.

What should I do if I’ve been using BPA products?

Many retailers have already withdrawn products made with BPA plastics. Companies such as Campbell’s have voluntarily discontinued use of BPA because of public concern over the potential endocrine disruption health effects. However, when purchasing food and products, consumers should check to make sure that they are labeled BPA free. Also, food should be transferred from the can and from plastic containers to glass or ceramic cookware before being heated, so that extra chemicals are not released in the heating process.

Now what?

As companies transition to BPA- free products, they need to look for alternatives. Many companies have not revealed the chemicals they are using as an alternative, and consumers should be wary of potentially toxic replacements. Bisphenol S (BPS) shares a similar structure to BPA, and has been used in some replacements. However, BPS may be even more easily absorbed than BPA, and also has been shown to exhibit endocrine disrupting activity. All consumers should be wary that just because a product is BPA free does not mean endocrine-disruptor free.

There are ways to protect yourself!

• Avoid microwaving food in plastic containers.
• Use glass or ceramic dishes for reheating.
• Purchase fresh or frozen foods, or products that are stored in glass containers rather than in cans.
• Replace plastic water bottles with glass or stainless steel bottles.

 

References:

CDC BPA Fact Sheet: http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html

FDA Draft Assessment of BPA:
http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/AC/08/briefing/2008-0038b1_01_02_FDA%20BPA%20Draft%20Assessment.pdf

Ejaredar M, Lee Y, Roberts DJ, Sauve R, Dewey D. Bisphenol A exposure and children’s behavior: A systematic review. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2016

April 2016. This post was authored by Michelle Hwang, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and edited by Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

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