What is BPA?
BPA is an abbreviation for bisphenol A, a plastic monomer and plasticizer and is one of the most produced chemicals in the world.
BPA is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins used in many consumer goods. BPA is used so much because of its unique and beneficial characteristics, such as it is very clear, lightweight, heat-resistant and shatter resistant. These characteristics make it an optimal material for a large variety of products, such as food packaging (cans, bottles), food containers, beverage bottles, tableware, storage containers, eyewear, lenses, sports safety equipment, electronics, and medical equipment.
Due to its large usage globally, BPA has been studied extensively. While studying this product, numerous concerns have arisen about its safety to our health and thus its continued use is questionable. The media started and has continued to cover this issue since 2008, and has focused particular attention onto BPA’s contact with fetuses, infants and young children.
The most common way BPA gets into our system is through oral intake and skin contact sources which are likely from canned foods with lined epoxy resins, water in polycarbonate bottles or cosmetics where it is used as an antioxidant.
In developed nations, almost all individuals are exposed to BPA continuously through the products we use and the foods we eat. Welshons et al, after measuring BPA levels in human blood and urine is concerned about two things:
(1) that BPA intake may be higher then what has been suggested and,
(2) the concern about long-term, daily intake which can lead to bioaccumulation of BPA. This can potentially lead to a steady-state level which has not been represented by any of the current models for BPA metabolism on single, acute administration.
Does BPA affect our health?
Most of the hazards from BPA have been found from studies that deduced their results from testing on rats and mice which already tells us their results may not be 100% accurate about its effects on humans; however one of the potential health impacts that can occur is to do with BPA’s estrogenicity which was discovered in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1997 that the adverse effects of low dose exposure on laboratory animals were first reported. Below is a list of concerning effects BPA exposure had on the animals and these results are from several studies done between 1997 and 2009.
- Permanent changes to genital tract
- Changes in breast tissue that predispose cells to hormones and carcinogens
- Long-term adverse reproductive and carcinogenic effects
- Increased prostate weight 30%
- Lower body weight, increase of anogenital distance in both genders, signs of early puberty and longer estrus
- A decline in testicular testosterone
- Breast cells predisposed to cancer
- Prostate cells more sensitive to hormones and cancer
- Decreased maternal behaviors
- Reversed the normal sex differences in brain structure and behavior
- Adverse neurological effects occur in non-human primates
- Disrupts ovarian development
This range of detrimental health impacts provides a worthy amount of concern about our continued and varied use of BPA products.
Can BPA Really Affect Men’s Testosterone Levels?
BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it has the ability to mimic the bodies’ hormones and once it enters the body, it can cause problems with our cell functioning by acting as an estrogen and androgen agonist which can affect our health. This can be in the form of affecting a human’s development throughout the fetal period and may be carcinogenic, potentially leading to precursors of breast cancer (European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, 2006).
Additionally, due to BPA’s estrogenic behavior, it has been shown to reduce sperm count and their activity, be toxic to the liver and may be linked to obesity by affecting fat-cell activity (European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, 2006).
Supporting this theory, there are two studies that have shown that men have a larger BPA exposure than women, and this may have to do with BPA’s correlation with higher testosterone compared with normal women, indeed serum BPA concentrations were significantly higher in normal men and in women with polycystic ovary syndrome then ‘normal’ women.
Food packaging with BPA going into our food/liquids
Food cans were shown in two studies to be a major contributor to our intake of BPA. The food cans that are lacquer-coated with a plastic lining are the ones to watch out for because the foods within these cans were shown to be contaminated by substantial amounts of BPA. In one study, they used plastic flasks which still contain BPA and are made by the same canning industry and found the liquid contents of the plastic flasks had BPA contents between 2-4 ug, whereas the original food cans had contents ranging between 4 and 23 ug. Almost all of the estrogenicity was due to BPA, based upon the results of the E-Screen.
What About Pregnant Women?
There have been several human studies that have found associations between maternal BPA exposure during gestation and endpoints in the offspring. In these studies, there was a clear representation between maternal exposure and stronger associations of adverse outcomes of the developing fetus.
It is dependent on the timing of the maternal exposure to BPA and thus results in stronger associations of adverse outcomes of the offspring. This indicates that there are sensitive times as to when BPA can have an impact on the developing fetus. There were also several studies that found effects when following-up on postnatal BPA exposures and outcomes in young children, indicating that the critical windows of BPA exposure may persist postnatally into childhood.
Does BPA Affect the Environment?
The presence of BPA in the environment is due to man-made activities as it is not produced naturally. BPA traces are found in water bodies and the atmosphere from polycarbonate and epoxy resin manufacturing facilities. Fortunately, BPA is readily biodegradable and breaks down rapidly in the environment, in fact, approximately 92-98% is removed by microorganisms. The trace amounts left in water bodies can continue to biodegrade for about 1-4 days in receiving waters and downstream of treatments plants.
However, there are other studies who state that BPA’s exposure in aquatic and terrestrial environments can be harmful to wildlife including annelids (both aquatic and terrestrial), mollusks, crustaceans, insects, fish, and amphibians, as well as on the embryonic development and the induction of genetic aberrations in crustaceans and amphibians.
Although there is a suspicion that the environmental exposure is not adequate to cause serious effects, except in unique situations where a large local contamination occurs, the potential hazards are too important, and more investigation is certainly recommended.
How do we Manage this Issue?
From reading all of the potential health implications BPA can have, you would assume its continued use would not be allowed. However, the adverse health effects still remain uncertain due to the tests being done on animals or the tests on humans were done with low dosages and do not know what the long-term with small doses of BPA can have over the course of someone’s life.
In 2010, an expert consultation was organized by WHO in 2010 and that expert recommended that public health officials should hold off on regulations limiting or banning the use of BPA. He states, ‘“initiation of public health measures would be premature”. On the other hand, in March 2010 the USEPA declared BPA as a chemical concern, though the USA Presidents Cancer Panel argued for a precautionary approach on BPA in April 2010. The European Union had prohibited the manufacture of BPA in infant baby bottles since 1 March 2011 and will ban their import and sale by 1 June 2011.
This information shows that though BPA has a large variety of potential health hazards, there is a lack of concrete evidence to make enough of an impact to stop the production and usage of BPA. BPA’s advantages in creating highly functional products outweigh the potential health hazards it may cause to humans in the long run.
What does a BPA website have to say?
The BPA website states that polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins have been safely used in consumer products for over 40 years.
Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that “a consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate plastic every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA”.
What do we do?
What we can deduce from all this information is that you should not be too overwhelmed about using BPA products or buying canned foods, but if you can avoid the use of a BPA product, it is recommended that you use the alternative.
Additionally, plastic is not biodegradable and is overwhelming our oceans and wildlife.
By choosing plastic-free products, you are not only reducing your risk of potential health issues but you are also doing a world of good by helping the environment!
The Earth Co.