Do You Know The Different BPA Acronyms?

By Xanthe Hunt

Bisphenol A, or BPA is a (common) carbon-based synthetic compound which has been in commercial use since 1957. It is used, largely, to make plastics: BPA-based plastics are clear and very tough, and so are used to make a lot of durable consumer goods, including water bottles, sports equipment, DVDs and, importantly, are used to line water pipes and as coatings on the inside of many cans.

But BPA is not the only three-letter acronym to which Bisphenol can be abbreviated: it is also an EDC (endocrine disrupting chemical). A what?

What Are The Affects of BPA/EDC?

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BPA produces hormone-like effects on people. As a result, it interferes with hormones, most notably, with oestrogen. And there are many negative side-effects associated with EDC (and BPA) exposure: low sperm counts, infertility, early puberty, increased breast and prostate cancer risk, obesity and metabolic disease.

Due to these nasty outcomes, and increasing concern about what BPAs might be doing to our bodies, several governments have investigated the safety of using BPAs in consumer products. The result is that some retailers have withdrawn products containing BPA, and, in the US, EU and Canada, the chemical is banned for use in baby bottles.

But it is still legal in other products: and is not just in obviously plastic products.

The recently published Environmental Working Group (EWG) study, “BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain,” on BPA, highlighted this fact when it revealed that metal food tins are one of the most common sites of BPA exposure.

These cans (of tuna, beans, peas, fruit and the like), are lined with an epoxy resin to prevent corrosion and other damage (if cans are damaged, the chance of a consumer contracting botulism, say, increases). But this “safety measure” may come at a cost. And, as whether a canned food is packaged with a BPA-containing lining is disclosed or not is not a requirement, we have little way of knowing if we are being exposed, but consumer groups suggest the use of BPA-containing lining in food cans is widespread.

What’s more, while some cans now have a “BPA-free” label, there is not a standard way to assess their making of such a claim, as no uniform enforcement strategy is in place.

And it gets worse: although BPAs are EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals, to remind you), BPA-free does not mean EDC-free: there are literally hundreds of EDCs which have been identified in (among an alarming array of other things) food packaging, personal care products, household cleaners, cookware, furniture and building materials.

All of these chemicals disrupt aspects of the endocrine system, including the activity and action of hormones like oestrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormone. As noted, this leads to heightened risk for numerous health issues, not to mention problems with fertility, and certain cancers. Few will argue that this is undesirable.

How To Avoid BPA?

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Logically, avoiding all “microwave” and heavily processed food is one of the most effective ways of avoiding exposure to EDCs, specifically, BPA. Also, avoiding plastic drinking bottles is important, as even when BPA-free, plastics can leak other chemicals into your beverage, including BPS, a chemical similar to BPA which can interfere with oestrogen pathways.

It is also worth being wary of cardboard beverage containers. These are often lined with a plastic coating to prevent leakage. This coating often contains the ubiquitous BPA, which then leaks into the liquid (your latte).

So, where possible, stick to glass containers for liquid, and beverages which come in glass bottles. Importantly, the risk of BPA leaching into the contents of a can or plastic product package is most high when the substance contained is acidic. Coffee, alcohol, and tomato products are most likely to react with the food containers. So, if you can’t avoid cans or plastics completely, try to do so with these products.

Vitally, avoid microwaving food on plastic or in plastic packaging, especially “microwave meals” in hard, clear plastic tubs, as these are usually high in BPA, and the process of heating can cause chemicals to leach into the food. Use a ceramic plate or glass container instead.

Finally: cans. The lining of cans is important, and, as noted above, prevents us from getting botulism from our baked beans. But they can also leak tiny amounts of BPA and other chemicals into their contents, our food.

Not only are glass bottles, metal utensils and similar materials BPA-free, but they are also better for the environment: a healthier, greener choice all round.