Plastic water bottles have become a staple in everyone‘s lives. If you live in the westernized world or any part of the world for that matter, you have opened and drank from a plastic water bottle. Chances are you drink several a day. Plastic. Cheap and convenient. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well… a lot.
An industrial chemical present in many hard plastic bottles and metal based food and beverage cans called Bisphenol A (BPA) leaches into our drinking water and food from plastic containers. BPA is present in certain food contact materials because it is used in the production of polycarbonate and epoxy-phenolic resins. Polycarbonate (PC) is a plastic widely used in articles such as infant feeding bottles, tableware (plates, mugs, jugs, beakers), microwave oven ware, storage containers, returnable water and milk bottles, and refillable water containers.
BPA was first approved by the FDA in the early 1960’s. In recent years, concerns have been raised about BPA’s safety.
- In August 2008, FDA released a draft report finding that BPA remains safe in food contact materials.
- On October 31, 2008, a subcommittee of FDA’s science board raised questions about whether FDA’s review had adequately considered the most recent scientific information available.
- On January 15, 2010, the FDA issued an interim update on BPA.
Studies using standardized toxicity tests have so far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA. However, the results from recent studies using new approaches to test for subtle effects, from both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA “have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children”.
When scientists use the words “some concerns” when dealing with the health and safety our children, that’s when I worry. Why are products sold that pose “some concerns”?
Scientists have known for many years that the polycarbonate bond created by BPA was unstable and that the chemical would eventually leach into food or beverages in contact with the plastic. Why was it ever used in the first place? Why are we only learning about these health risks now? And why, is BPA one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide? Over six billion pounds are produced each year. Wow! You’d think it was good for us… it’s not.
In 2008, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported: “The average sperm count of a North American college student today is less than half of what it was 50 years ago. The quality of sperm is declining. Eighty-five per cent of the sperm produced by a healthy male is DNA-damaged.” The Canadian government bans plastic baby bottles, the Daily Mail reports, “baby bottles containing a controversial ‘gender bending’ chemical are to be barred in Canada, the first country to introduce such a ban.”
As if that wasn’t enough: A recent study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed that 40 percent of thermal paper receipts, originating with some of the largest retailers in the country, contained BPA levels anywhere from 250 to 1,000 times higher than products already known to contain BPA. According to 2004 statistics, BPA manufacturers made over 1 million tons of the substance. Most of this usually goes into the polycarbonate plastics industry, and less than 5% into food contact applications.
BPA being present in cash register receipts comes from the fact that the substance acts as a color developer in carbonless copy paper, as well as in thermal paper. Researchers caution that BPA could get absorbed by the skin and enter the body; or worse transfer from your fingers to your mouth after handling a cash register receipt. The “Scientists agree, this evidence will ultimately convince federal regulatory agencies that BPA should be illegal.” Now that’s reassuring after the damage has been done. However, somewhat disheartening considering the federal regulatory agencies need “convincing”.
How about convincing consumers to say “NO” to harmful substances until manufacturers come up with safe alternatives?
Safe alternatives you can use until our government bans BPA:
Use a stainless steel water bottle to keep yourself hydrated on the go. For wrapped foods, choose butcher paper, waxed paper or cellulose bags.
Use cloth grocery bags and reusable produce and bulk food containers.
Choose fresh, frozen and dried foods over those that are canned. (Most metal cans are lined with a plastic resin that contains the hormone disruptor, BPA).
Purchase toys made from natural materials, such as solid woods with non-toxic finishes and natural textiles like organic cotton or wool.
Avoid toys made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and baby bottles made of polycarbonate plastic.
If you do choose to buy plastic products, look for those labeled “phthalate-free” and “BPA-free”.
Many people are not aware that the symbols on plastics tell you everything about the plastic itself. The most common plastics have a resin code in a chasing arrow symbol (often found on the bottom of the product).
1 PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate): AVOID Common Uses: Soda Bottles, Water Bottles, Cooking Oil Bottles Concerns: Can leach antimony and phthalates
2 HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): SAFER Common Uses: Milk Jugs, Plastic Bags, Yogurt Cups
3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride, aka Vinyl): AVOID Common Uses: Condiment Bottles, Cling Wrap, Teething Rings, Toys, Shower Curtains Concerns: Can leach lead and phthalates
4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): SAFER Common Uses: Produce Bags, Food Storage Containers
5 PP (Polypropylene): SAFER Common Uses: Bottle Caps, Storage Containers, Dish ware
6 PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam): AVOID
7 OTHER (This is a catch-all category which includes): PC (Polycarbonate): AVOID - can leach BPA. It also includes ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile), Acrylic, and Polyamide. These plastics can be a SAFER option because they are typically very durable and resistant to high heat resulting in less leaching. New plant based, biodegradable plastics like PLA (Polylactic Acid) also fall into the #7 category.