What is BPA?
As the “bisphenol” part of the name suggests, bisphenol A is made up of two phenol groups, which come off the center carbon of a propane, which is made up of three total carbons. BPA is a non-polar molecule, because its -OH groups “balance” each others’ charges out, giving it little net electron-pull (Salehpour et al., 2021).
Russian chemist Aleksandr P. Dianin first discovered BPA. His method, although first used in 1891, is still used today for the commercial synthesis of BPA (Yaln & Akbulut, 2014).
Following its synthesis, BPA is reacted to produce polycarbonate, a strong, clear, hard resin that has many uses, both in the past and present (Hansen et al., 2021). Uses for polycarbonates include:
- thermal paper receipts (absorbed through skin!)
- plastic water bottles (ingested!)
- baby feeding bottles (ingested!)
BPA-containing epoxies are also used in the lining of metal cans for food and drink preservation. BPA kept metal cans from corroding in extreme temperatures and pressures (Yaln & Akbulut, 2014). Up until April 2019, LaCroix was still producing its cans with BPA-lined walls (Peterson, 2019).
What’s So Bad about BPA?
Estrogen is a sex hormone responsible for regulating the female reproductive system. BPA is classified as an environmental estrogen – it is a synthetically produced chemical that can bind to and function via estrogen receptors in the body (Yaln & Akbulut, 2014). BPA will mimic estrogen. It is known as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, or EDC. EDCs like BPA can weaken the body’s immune response against pathogens and cancer cells, thus increasing the risk for cancers, especially breast cancer (Lapensee et al., 2009) (Salehpour et al., 2021).
BPA is still being produced today, and a projection from 2016 showed that BPA production will reach 10.6 million metric tons by the year 2022. That’s NEXT YEAR. The continuing production of BPA is fueled by a growing demand for these polycarbonate products from developing countries (Leung et al., 2020).
In the studies I looked at, BPA has been found in the urine of 90-95% of the general United States population. These concentrations could be extremely small, but any concentration can cause concern (Hansen et al., 2021) (Bucher, 2009).
Humans aren’t the only ones impacted by BPA. But BPA does not occur naturally – so how does it get into the environment? One way is airborne – through epoxy resin spray, used in machine plants (Hanaoka, 2002).
BPA contamination also occurs through landfill-based pollution, with wastewater runoff playing a major role. Many landfills rest on or near waterways, and plastic is added to them every single day (Jafari et al., 2021).
Once it gets into the environment, BPA has a slow degradation – taking more than 90 years to biodegrade (and that’s not even thinking about what it degrades into!) (Jafari et al., 2021). With BPA being one of the most prevalent chemicals produced worldwide, the concentrations are bound to persist in aquatic organisms. Fish studies have suggested that aquatic animals face reproductive and developmental difficulties due to BPA (Faheem et al., 2017).
Canada prohibited the use of BPA in food packaging for infants and newborns in 2008 (“Canada Bans Bisphenol A in Baby Products”, 2008). The European Union stopped using BPA in baby bottle production in 2011, and daily limits were cut from 50 to 5 μg/kg body weight/day due to uncertainty about BPA’s toxicity (“Bisphenol A Ban”, 2010) (“Bisphenol A Limits”, 2014).
In August 2008, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ruled BPA safe, not altering its label to “some concern” in 2010 (“Bisphenol A”, 2010). The FDA has adapted the lowest observed effect level for BPA as 50 μg/kg body weight/day. Now, it’s banned for anything really dealing with infants or children (baby bottles, packaging for liquid formula, etc) (Leung et al., 2020) (Jafari et al., 2021).
With these regulations on BPA, something needs to replace it. However, a study looking at common replacements showed that replacements had similar impacts (Mesnage et al., 2017). So yes, BPA replacements are also bad.
BPA is a reproductive and immunity-lowering chemical used in plastics. Look for BPA-free to ensure you’re staying away from this endocrine-disrupting chemical. To really keep your body safe, stay away from any plastics, as some BPA replacements may be just as bad.
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