You Asked: What Are The Risks of BPA?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  49 comments   :  16,864 Views

The ongoing debate over plastic has been a hot topic for the past year. Last week I shared that BPA is not just in plastics but can also be found in metal-based food and beverage cans. A common question came up in the comments asking about the health risks of BPA so I thought it would be a good idea to follow up and provide a basic overview of the history and possible risks of BPA.

Bisphenol A was first synthesized by chemists in 1891. It was used in Germany in the 1930's because of its chemical structure similarities to estrogen. During the 1940's and 1950's, BPA became popular with the manufacture of a hard plastic known as polycarbonate as well as part of an epoxy resin used in the linings of metal food cans and other packaged products. Although it was well known that BPA leached out of plastic after manufacturing, it was used freely without any requirement to prove its safety. Interestingly, the first U.S. law to regulate industrial chemicals was not passed until 1976 when Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act. Up until this point BPA had been widely used for twenty to thirty years and although it failed to pass the new safety controls, it was one of 62,000 chemicals that were presumed safe and grandfathered in for continued use by the EPA. In 1982 The National Toxicology Program (NTP) found the lowest adverse effect level for BPA to be 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (50 mg/kg/d) and this information provided the basis for the establishment of EPA safety standards in 1988. Although they established reference doses much lower than the previous findings, twenty years of studies revealed toxic levels of BPA with an average intake as low as 2ug/kg/d but the standards continued and were reaffirmed in 1993.

On March 13, 1996 the FDA made their first assessment related to BPA exposure in Americans in which a memorandum from technical staff revealed that adults were exposed to 11 ug of BPA daily through contaminated canned food and infants were exposed to 7 ug/day. One year later in March of 1997 a scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that low levels of BPA exposure were harmful to the prostate. Over the next eleven years, more than 100 study publications revealed risks from low dose BPA toxicity and breast and prostate related negative outcomes. Early puberty and behavioral problems were also linked to toxic levels that are 25 times lower than the EPA's established safe dose. In 1997, BPA leaching from canned infant formula was identified and in 1999 BPA was found to leach from plastic baby bottles however, the FDA continued to hold to their position that it was still a safe chemical to use. A study in 1999 revealed concern with early puberty and BPA exposure in girls and a 2002 Italian study raised concern regarding a link between brain and behavioral effects and BPA exposure while Japanese scientists found an association with BPA and polycystic ovary syndrome, which has become a leading cause of infertility. In 2003 the NIH nominated BPA as a reproductive and developmental toxin for further evaluation by the Center for the Evaluation of Risk to Human Reproduction (CERHR) and between that time and March of 2007 there were many less than straight forward committees formed and reports offered as well as conflicts of interest identified. In March 2007, a broad study of canned foods revealed widespread high exposure to BPA since the chemicals leach from the metal food can linings. The highest concentrations of BPA were found in canned soups, pastas, and infant formulas. The report highlighted that Americans are exposed to harmful levels of BPA at levels well above those found to be harmful in laboratory studies. In September of 2008 the NIH National Toxicology Program declared risks exist from BPA that may affect human development, cause early puberty, prostate effects, risks of breast cancer and behavioral impacts when exposed early in life.

The Bottom Line

Today, BPA is in the top two percent of high-production-volume chemicals in the U.S.. It is readily used in polycarbonate plastics that have a "7" with their triangular recycle symbol as well as in the epoxy resin liners of many cans and water storage tanks. However, it is also in thousands of other products that come into daily human contact such as compact discs, eyeglasses, thermal paper, polycarbonate water pipes, medical devices, and dental sealants. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions scientists estimate that more than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies with the highest levels typically found in children. Over the last few decades, we have well documented increases in processed foods, increased childhood obesity and health concerns, early onset of puberty, increased breast and prostate cancer rates as well as more food allergies and cases of hyperactivity disorders and autism. (Edit to remove opinion)

There is more and more focus on eating "clean" and meeting your nutrient needs from whole food and from-scratch cooking sources these days. This approach helps not only to limit sodium and preservatives in the diet but is also helpful when trying to reduce your family's exposure to BPA. Each person will have to take a closer look at their typical intake to see what role if any BPA's may have in their diet and what changes if any are in order.

Is there any information here that surprised you? Do you think there is factual reason to be concerned with BPA exposure for you and your family? Do you still have questions?

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  • 49
    SO how about an article on how to safely detox the BPA out of our bodies? Or is that even possible? I also breastfed my child - but... for the past 16+ years I've been distilling water and storing it in (most likely) bottles laden with BPA. Oh joy. - 6/3/2011   1:32:09 AM
  • 48
    Here is another article with additional information on the topic.
    - 6/10/2010   2:30:13 PM
  • 47
    Natural seems to be the way to go to avoid putting unnecessary chemicals into our bodies. - 6/5/2010   8:31:32 AM
  • 46
    I no longer trust the FDA with it's revolving door, conflicts of interest and bad decisions regarding Aspartame, Sucralose, BPA, and GMO's. The rabbit hole goes deep if you do the research. I use stevia to sweeten my coffee, and stopped buying processed foods due to what I've learned. - 6/4/2010   4:56:14 PM
    Thanks, CAROLJ1974, for the reference. I've worked in advertising and public relations and know popular media will publish fear-and-shock-inducing information based on incomplete and/or junk "scientific" studies to sell their periodicals in order to attract more advertisers. To assess the results of scientific studies, one must know the whole design of the study--who, where, how many, how long, what controls, and so on. I exaggerate for emphasis by asking--Was it a five-day study in Albania with four participants and no controls? Much has been made about bad information on the internet, but questionable information has always been thrown at the public in periodicals and in broadcast journalism. The old caveat, buyer beware is just as true today as it has always been.

    As for canned foods, I don't use many, and I almost always cook from scratch. I love to cook and to feed people. The whole process, from farmers market to table is a meditation for me. Having said that, I do use a few canned goods: tomatoes for soups and stews when local fresh are not available, anchovies, skinless and boneless sardines packed in olive oil, tuna packed in olive oil. canned legumes for quick meals though I mostly use dried, and so on. "Everything in moderation, including moderation," a quote attributed to several different people. While I do eat an unusually healthful diet compared to the average (my problem was huge portions--even too much good food will make you fat), I do enjoy the occasional treat. To each his own, but I jokingly say we are all going to die of something, so it best be something we enjoyed. Or as the French chef, Jacque Pepin reputedly said: The trouble with you Americans is you all want to die healthy.

    Cheers to all! - 6/3/2010   2:05:33 PM
  • 44
    DONT eat any canned foods at all!!
    I also stopped using plastics for foods.
    - 6/3/2010   9:20:39 AM
    Wow! Thanks for the info! - 6/3/2010   8:49:25 AM
    It is amazing how much we continue to learn about things that were once 'benign' to our bodies. I continue to wonder about the negative effects of so much in our enviornment. Thanks for this information. - 6/3/2010   8:26:53 AM
  • 41
    There is so much about chemicals in our food, air, water, that it just makes one wonder what will be next. - 6/2/2010   9:46:39 PM
  • 40
    Hogwash. This is not based on good science. Although not nearly as harmful as the vaccine/autism myth, there are plenty of other good reasons not to eat canned food without making stuff up. Here's an exhaustive article on the matter:
    - 6/2/2010   2:29:28 PM
  • 39
    Thanks for writing an interesting article that "sparked" so many interesting responses. - 6/1/2010   8:53:03 PM
    I personally believe we have NO idea the harm these chemicals like BPA and preservatives do to our bodies. To completely disregard this is a folly, simply because you are "healthy" now it doesn't mean these chemicals aren't harming you (simply because you don't have skin cancer now doesn't mean the damage you have caused yourself in childhood hasn't actually broken down the DNA in your cells and has caused damage). I try to eat foods that are FRESH, sometimes organic, and this is undoubtedly the best.
    One further caution, the FDA MAKES MISTAKES! Simply because they have said it is safe in moderation doesn't mean they are correct! The FDA falls prey to outside pressures from lobbyists and companies whose bottom lines would be severely affected if BPA were deemed unfit for food storage products. - 6/1/2010   8:10:48 PM
    to be honest I really ould not care less. It doesn't make be change anything I do currently. nor do i spend any time worrying about it.

    Oh and I don't have family to worry about so it is all about me and I just can't be bothered. seems like alot of hip. If you really look at just about anything you can find a study that will say it is bad for you one way or anothr. - 6/1/2010   7:39:44 PM
  • 36
    Daily Spark,
    I am a little disappointed lately in the quality of your articles. It seems less and less are well cited or linked to. Perhaps this because editorial comments are not being picked up? In fact this article left in the (Edit to remove opinion). I would have appreciated an article that gave both sides of the argument and perhaps linked to the FDAs site, then gave this writer's opinion after having read the research from both sides. - 6/1/2010   5:14:48 PM
    Good summary. Read it as a "caution" sign. We are using too many products without fully understanding the long-term consequences--too many new products that we have not evolved with. Some may be harmless, but almost certainly others will prove to be harmful.

    One lesson is certain: Do not necessarily trust the businesses trying to sell these products. These businesses exist only to make a profit. - 6/1/2010   4:22:14 PM
  • 34
    I'm curious where the writer of this article got her information. All the studies she cites reach negative conclusions about BPA, however the FDA insists BPA is safe. I'm betting there are a bunch of studies that do not indicate that BPA is harmful. That being said, it is better to be safe than sorry, so why not remove it at least from things that come into contact with food? If we think it might be bad for us, then let's protect ourselves until we know for sure.

    PLEASE do not buy into the myth that correlation = causation. Just because things like early puberty have increased along with canned food consumption does not automatically mean that it is because of BPA.

    Here's what I propose: Breastfeed your babies. Cook from scratch using fresh and frozen foods. Limit the amount of canned foods you eat. (I apologize to those who cannot breastfeed, I understand you have to use formula. However, for the majority of formula users, it is a choice, and I encourage them to choose breastfeeding, for many other benefits than just avoiding BPA.) - 6/1/2010   2:25:17 PM
    What's a girl to do! Do I have to give up my skinless, boneless canned sardines (fresh have a short season)--a great source of omega 3s. Must organic, canned tomatoes go, which are a winter staple for me. (I eat fresh tomatoes only when they are in season locally and buy them at the farmers market.) Tuna, fresh or canned has more mercury than smaller fish. Trout are basically available only farmed, and I avoid farmed fish, because I know how they are farmed. Buy in glass jars? I've heard the lids can be a BPA problem. I believe in getting my nutrients from food--good thing, because a recent government study show most supplements were contaminated by such things as lead. Besides, because they are not regulated, supplements don't always contain what the labels says or has the ingredients in smaller amounts than the label says.

    I eat an excellent diet. (My weight problem came from too large portions and little exercise.) I guess I'll just keep on keeping on, doing the best I can. Fortunately I love to cook and love fruits and vegetables--especially the latter. - 6/1/2010   12:07:34 PM
  • 32
    Thank you so much for giving us all the run-down on BPA. This definitely encourages me to eat more fresh food and cook my own soup. Also, now I will be a better prepared mother! - 6/1/2010   11:43:57 AM
    For America to be such an advance country, it seems as if we have a high rate of all diseases. I do believe eating clean is one of the helping factor. However we live such a high pace lifestyle, always in a hurry..we tend to hurt ourselves in the process. - 6/1/2010   10:52:18 AM
  • 30
    I try to avoid processed foods in general. I'm not about to eat frankenfood. I like to stay with what my great-great-great grandmothers would have considered to be food. - 6/1/2010   10:32:55 AM
  • 29
    This is good information, and appears well researched. Given that, we can
    make our own conclusions based on circumstance and resources. I avoid buying and storing food in plastic products because of the hormone issue, which I believe affects women more. However, it can't be avoided.

    Moderation is the key in all these things - one won't kill you, and constant use won't affect everybody. Nobody is blaming all illnesses on one contaminant, and nobody wants to back to the days before plastics. That said, the more information we can have about the products we use, the better our ability to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families. - 6/1/2010   10:25:59 AM
  • 28
    its so complicated. there are so many factors that influence us that we can't control for. I once read a story that said that the highest correlation between the rise in obesity and enviromental factors wasnt with fast food increases or television watching (our two favorite culprits) but with the rise in air conditioning. its never too hot to eat any more. But all these, and a great deal of the BPA data, arent cause-effect, they're correlation! I am a scientist, and you bet I better differentiate between cause and correlation in my papers if I want them published!
    So, is it good to try and avoid unnatural substances? You bet! Should we freak out and move to a desert island where we can grow all our own food and avoid cell phone rays and electrical wires? thats probably an overreaction. We dont really know how much of the stuff in this article is correlation and how much is cause and effect. My response is going to be what it always is. Be careful, be reasonable, and be calm. - 6/1/2010   9:55:48 AM
  • 27
    Correlation does not mean causation.

    You wrote:
    Over the last few decades, we have well documented increases in processed foods, increased childhood obesity and health concerns, early onset of puberty, increased breast and prostate cancer rates as well as more food allergies and cases of hyperactivity disorders and autism.

    It's a giant leap of fearmongering to imply that BPA is the cause. Sure, it's probably wise to remove it from our diets, but there are a lot of other changes in the last few decades that could explain those trends. For example, widespread screening has increased the number of reported cases of prostate cancer, but it's not clear that the incidence has changed as radically.

    There are no studies I know of that suggest casual contact with BPA in plastics (CDs, eyeglasses, etc) has any effect on BPA body levels.

    - 6/1/2010   9:53:40 AM
  • 26
    No great surprise in this article. Just the same, it's nice to read this type of news in print to get the full effect of chemicals in our every day life. - 6/1/2010   9:41:36 AM
  • 25
    I'm glad I like cooking fresh vegetables and eating fresh fruits. - 6/1/2010   9:01:06 AM
  • 24
    For those of us over 50, who can remember that most products came in cans or glass, the proliferation of plastic IS scary. (we avoided canned food in my kid-hood, but that was just mom's choice). Because we have opted for convenience over other values, we can expect some back-lash. I've avoided microwaving in plastics for years, (without scientific research, just a gut-level feeling that it wasn't a great idea to do.)
    Unfortunately, comparing this problem to the oil pouring into the ocean is pretty short-sighted. WE individuals may die sooner because of over-use and mis-use of plastics; the whole earth may become uninhabitable if the oceans become unable to breathe. And, yes, I hope I am wrong about that. - 6/1/2010   8:48:14 AM
  • 23
    I made an edit to remove opinion but wanted to comment that formula feeding with safe BPA free formula is not a problem and the BPA increases in formula escalated over the years which was the problem. Also, I was formula fed but from glass bottles not BPA containing plastic which is also a recent problem. The concerns are with the increases of BPA being used over the last 20 years and not with the items themselves. - 6/1/2010   7:46:21 AM
  • 22
    Thank you for the article. I find it very usefull. I sort of knew there was a problem, but did not realized it was that important.

    Now, how do I find out where they are ? You mentionned a label with a 7 on plastic bottles and the cans. Are there other sources that can affect our health. I have a 5 years old at home, and I am concerned.

    Thank you, - 6/1/2010   7:43:59 AM
    Glad I've gotten into eating fresh or frozen veggies, for the most part. If I were young, I'd be more concerned, but since I have a lifetime - or at least a large part of it - of eating this stuff, I'll probably eat what's still on my shelves. - 6/1/2010   7:38:01 AM
  • 20
    I have eliminated as much exposure to BPA as I can in my household. This is from more than just this article. I was following the initial reports, and research when it all first started being discussed a year ago.

    What I do find interesting, is that BPA is banned in food containers in Canada and Europe, while the US hasn't made any changes.

    The water bottles that my mom used up until these reports came out were banned, and she did go and get rid of them all of them. All the Nalgene bottles that I spent a small fortune on have BPA in them, and I don't use them for water any longer.

    I have always cooked from scratch, and don't like canned stuff (other than beans....) The only food that I have a hard time getting my brain around not having is canned soup. But... I do know how to make yummy soup my self from scratch..

    - 6/1/2010   6:40:07 AM
  • 19
    I read a story once that told about a bad intersection with no traffic light. The city did finally install the light...after 4 bad accidents with multiple deaths. So, the government will be the last to admit that BPA is a problem and ban it. Why? Too many people stand to lose too much money. Forget about the FDA watching your back. They are in bed with the biggest chemical producer in our world: Monsanto. Those facts are available for your own research into the matter. Monsanto/FDA execs play musical chairs with the jobs in their organizations...back and forth. So, some caution is advised. If it smokes, there is fire somewhere. - 6/1/2010   5:01:57 AM
  • 18
    More and more info is coming out every day about endocrine disrupters and toxins and their far-reaching effects: such as aspartame, BPA, fluoride, etc. It is REASONABLE to be concerned; it is not a fallacious jump or a conspiracy theory. Consider the Amish's way of life that is free of these things, and is ALSO FREE OF AUTISM. Hello. Hello!? No it obviously cannot be a coincidence as they are a statistically significant people group.

    So you can call me a fallacious jumper all you like - that's fine with me, go right ahead, and pardon me because while you do so I'll be fallaciously jumping to good health, thank you very much. - 6/1/2010   3:11:16 AM
  • 17
    EARTHNUT - well shared information and good points made all round.

    TULIPLOVE - same comment, well shared informative information and good points made all round. - 6/1/2010   2:21:40 AM
  • 16
    You lost me after a few sentences. There are many of us that live outside of areas that can produce food year round or have access to food year round. If we cannot can our own food due to many factors (costs, space, facilities, all the necessary items etc), then we have to purchase foods that are produced and sealed in containers. There are women that cannot breast feed for one reason or another, bottles are older than time. My nephew and niece were both raised on bottles. I was raised on the bottle, as was my brother. I know many who were and are - as I mentioned, not all mothers can breast feed. It is what it is and with information that seems to change daily I'm not overly concerned about this. We could go back to days of old, I guess. Days of salt cod, scurvy (and yes I've experienced scurvy, its not nice), living in or near a fort for trading, farm life or fishing. As others have mentioned I don't get too over concerned because it seems there is a scare daily then they go "oops we made a mistake folks." By the way ADHD is as old as time itself - many very famous folks grew up with ADHD long before all these "modern gadgets" came to be. Tired of hearing how ADHD, autism and such is caused by today's stuff and only existed in modern times. Look back in history, it's been there for a long time. - 6/1/2010   2:15:12 AM
  • 15
    Well said, Andi_3K. I found the article helpful up until it made that unjustified "doesn't it seem likely" leap. - 6/1/2010   2:09:08 AM
  • 14
    "Doesn't it seem likely that our increased incidence of hyperactivity, ADHD, and autism could be linked to the high levels of BPA exposure from canned formula and baby bottles?"

    Hardly. I doubt that this has any more credence to it than the vaccination conspiracy theory that was recently debunked. Do chemicals cause problems, probably. But we don't have enough research into any of these conditions to blame anyone thing for them. Until we do ~ how about making life a little easier for those of us who have them by not proposing "causes" before we have any real info?

    - 6/1/2010   12:46:40 AM
  • 13
    I nurse my children for only a short while. My daughter (breast fed for only 5 weeks) was allergic to all soy based baby products and had problems with some other. She ended up on goats milk til she was 2. Came in little cans like sweet milk (do these cans leach out?). She was a gate student and smart as a whip. I breast fed my son for 6 months and he used regular formula. He has mild asbergers. Don't know if it is BPA's or what but the article is very interesting. Would also be currious if this includes Tupperware products? How many of these parties have we all been too and purchase their plastic products. We were hurting ourselves or our family members?? - 6/1/2010   12:07:47 AM
  • 12
    . - 5/31/2010   11:59:37 PM
  • 11
    Not sure what I think of this. Sounds more like extremist propaganda. I'm not saying that there is not truth to this article, but it seems like an alarmist piece. I am going to use more in discretion in from what I choose to drink. - 5/31/2010   11:47:48 PM
  • 10
    I avoid plastics in general for their known hormone disrupting effects (and because of more chemicals than just BPA) especially now that I have a newborn. However, it is a huge and fallacious jump to blame psychological problems on these chemicals. If I were growing up today, I would've been diagnosed with high-functioning autism. However, since I grew up a generation ago, I was just called "shy". Autism wasn't even a recognized condition until the 1950's. Before then is was a subclass of schizophrenia and its definition has broadened considerably since then. That is the cause of more cases of autism (and ADHD and hyperactivity). These conditions have not increased so much as our definition of "normal behavior" has narrowed. There have been numerous studies on the supposed link between vaccines and autism, and NONE have found a link. Stop spreading the fear of vaccines. They protect us from very real, dangerous diseases that even if they're not in your community, are only a plane ride away. - 5/31/2010   11:20:05 PM
  • 9
    Whoa there author! It is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE jump to make the claim that incidental BPA from canned formula (I am assuming that this is more an "issue" with liquid-based formula) is a cause of autism and ADHD. Earlier and more available diagnosis are one of the many reasons why there are many cases nowadays. We can now diagnose even mild cases of autism. To make the claim that formula causes these conditions you would first need data showing that the case numbers (controlled by diagnosis type) rise and fall at about the same rate as formula consumption. There has been a drop in formula use with the push for higher breast feeding. Has there been a drop in autism cases? No. Are there lower cases in countries with low to non-existant formula feeding -like scandinavia? What other differences might there be. There are many other substances that our kids are exposed to that might also be suspects. Why not claim that the chemicals in our modern "gentle" baby shampoos and sunscreens are the culprits? Or those found in frangrances? Oh I know... the research doesn't support it yet. Breast is best but liquid supplementation should be just fine if properly administered. Unlike cosmetics and food utensils, the FDA does closely monitor and control formula companies. - 5/31/2010   10:43:50 PM
  • TGOAD1
    Every one is worried about the oil spill,what a joke. It is all bad but it seems to me that when large amounts of money are involved the government turn a blind eye!!!!!! - 5/31/2010   9:49:41 PM
  • 7
    Makes you wonder about modern science and technology. Gives me the scaries. - 5/31/2010   9:38:17 PM
  • 6
    Scary! - 5/31/2010   9:36:24 PM
  • 5
    This is very scary. We built our house 4 years ago trying to be as green as possible and now I find out that the plastic pipping that's suppose to be great because it doesn't break if it freezes is making our drinking water toxic? And the cans of ground tomatoes I use to make my own sauce comes in cans that could be toxic? How do we know what is safe any more? - 5/31/2010   7:40:16 PM
  • 4
    This is why I breastfed my girls. But, even so, they were still exposed to BPA in other things I gave them, before I knew about BPA. I had to work, and my girls gt expressed breastmilk in a bottle. The bottles had BPA's in them for my first one, unknowingly. I got BPA free bottles for my second. - 5/31/2010   2:27:24 PM
  • 3
    I don't make enough milk and must supplement with formula..reading that the cans have BPA is very disturbing, trust me if I could exclusively BF, I would, but it is just not possible. - 5/31/2010   2:16:20 PM
  • 2
    When I read things like this I think about the lead pipes in Ancient Rome that some attribute to the fall of the Roman empire. What we don't know *can* hurt us. - 5/31/2010   2:13:17 PM
  • 1
    I nursed my children and certainly see it as much better than giving them a bottle. - 5/31/2010   2:03:58 PM

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