BPA bottles, cans

BPA and you: What does it mean for your health?

In Community and Relationship by Martin OliverLeave a Comment

In most instances, Australians are not being protected from BPA, and will for the foreseeable future be able to avoid it only through becoming informed, and then taking responsibility for their health. BPA exposure has been linked to a range of elevated health risks, including breast cancer, miscarriage, asthma and obesity.

Most shoppers will have seen a growing number of products on the shelves that are labelled as ‘BPA-free.’ So what does this really mean?

Bisphenol-A is a synthetic chemical and a petrochemical derivative that is used most commonly as a hardening agent in plastics. Subject to ongoing controversies, questions about its safety continue to be raised in the face of reassurances from the corporate sector. In the meantime, it remains in can linings, polycarbonate plastic containers, store receipts, and some composite dental materials.

Xenoestrogens are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic natural female sex hormones, misguiding cell development in dysfunctional ways.BPA is one among several xenoestrogens found in consumer products; others include phthalates and parabens.

Traditionally it was assumed that chemical toxic hazards diminish as the dose drops. BPA challenges this assumption, with its effects being stronger at lower levels that more closely approximate the concentration of hormones in the body.BPA exposure has been linked to a range of elevated health risks, including breast cancer, miscarriage, asthma and obesity.

Among European countries, France has been particularly proactive, with the country’s food safety agency ANSES advising pregnant and nursing women, infants and young children to avoid BPA from all sources.

As cutting-edge scientific data on BPA has become more concerning, France’s position has been gradually toughening. French researchers, aided by a team from Australia’s Deakin University, have identified a powerful oestrogen receptor protein pathway in the body that is about a thousand times more potent than other similar receptors. These findings were published in 2014 in  The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

At the start of 2015, France became the first country to ban BPA from food-contact packaging and utensils. Roughly 18 months earlier, it started requiring all BPA-lined cans to carry the warning message, ‘Packaging made using Bisphenol-A. Use not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or for children under three.’Along with Denmark, Belgium and Sweden, France has removed BPA from all food containers intended for under-threes. It has also proposed a BPA ban for thermal receipts.

France has also been taking action on a range of other xenoestrogens, and has adopted an activist role within the EU, lobbying the European bloc to take a stronger stance on these chemicals.

On its website, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) hyperbolically states about BPA that the ‘overwhelming weight of scientific opinion is that there is no health or safety issue at the levels people are exposed to’. The contrast between its position and the one taken by authorities in France is remarkable.

If this leaves you wondering whether FSANZ might have been reading a different set of studies from the French, you could possibly be right. A 2005 review of scientific literature by researcher Frederick Vom Saal showed that 109 of 119 government-funded studies (92 per cent) identified significant effects on rats and mice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the eleven industry-funded studies that he examined uncovered harmful results.

In most instances, Australians are not being protected from BPA, and will for the foreseeable future be able to avoid it only through becoming informed, and then taking responsibility for their health. As there is an alphabet soup of other bisphenols that could in the future become widely used in consumer products, the term ‘Bisphenol-free’ is more helpful than ‘BPA-free.’

BPA is commonly found in canned food with both white and clear linings, to prevent metal from coming in contact with the contents. BPA-free cans are made by the American company Eden Foods, by Heinz (for its baby food range only), and for a handful of other products. Eden Foods is using baked-on oleoresinous C-enamel, and Heinz baby food cans have dispensed with a lining altogether.

For plastic bottles, BPA can be found in products with recycling codes 3 (PVC) and 7 (polycarbonate.) In Australia, BPA in polycarbonate baby bottles and ‘sippy cups’ is subject to a voluntary phase-out and is less commonly used. However, overseas testing has shown that the problem of xenoestrogens in plastic is widespread; of plastics with recycling codes 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7, it was found that 72 per cent exhibited xenoestrogenic activity, rising to 95 per cent after washing and microwaving.

Store receipts and other thermal papers such as carbonless docket books and fax rolls commonly contain BPA or its sister chemical Bisphenol-S (BPS). Alternatives include minimising the time spent touching receipts, and declining those that are non-essential. If you handle receipts regularly as part of your work, ask to use thin gloves.

Both BPA and BPS have been found to be contaminating the money supply due to receipts being frequently stored next to banknotes; so try to keep them apart. Another recommendation is to avoid recycling thermal papers such as store receipts, as this is causing low-level BPA and BPS contamination of recycled paper products.

About ninety per cent of dental composite materials contain a substance known as Bis-GMA that leaches low levels of BPA into the body via the mouth. This is an issue for people who are looking to avoid amalgam fillings due to the toxic mercury content.In 2012, the New England Children’s Amalgam Trial found that children who received composite fillings containing bis-GMA had slightly worse behaviour outcomes than those who received non-bis-GMA materials. There is an alternative available, which some dentists use.

About the author
Martin Oliver

Martin Oliver

Martin Oliver is based in Lismore, and writes on a range of environmental, health and social issues. He takes the view that sustainability is about personal involvement, whether this involves making our lives greener, lobbying for change at a political level, or setting up local eco-initiatives.

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