Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that has been largely used in the making of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins since early 1960s.
Where is it found?
Polycarbonate plastics have many applications and are used in some food and drink packaging, such as water, compact discs, certain equipment and devices. Epoxy resins have use as lacquers in coating of metal cans, such as food cans, bottle tops to mention a few. On a closer note to parents, BPA is also found in infant bottles as well as the lining of formula tins.
How does BPA get into humans?
BPA exists in the environment and the main mode of entry into humans is mainly via the consumption of food and drinks. BPA is safe at very low levels that occur in some foods. BPA can leach from the linings of the products into liquid and then get consumed into the body. The level of BPA leaching increases with temperature and with the age and quality of the container. BPA can leach into breastmilk too, hence nursing mothers should take note of their diet as well.
Why is it a Concern?
BPA exposure can lead to potential health effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. Young fetuses and babies are possibly due to the smaller body weight thus higher concentration of BPA. This concern is valid as we live in a highly industrialised and commercialised world; many varieties and brands of products are used for newborns, tens and thousands of food and drinks are packaged for consumption by the masses. If it is possible, it would definitely be best to be aware and to do what we can to reduce BPA leaching into our bodies.
How Do We Reduce Exposure to BPA?
- Keep plastic out of the freezer, microwave and dishwasher. BPA and phthalates leach at a higher rate in hot or cold temperatures. Polycarbonate plastic is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from use at high temperatures. So before you microwave that daily coffee, or milk, ensure that the container is microwave safe. (On a side note, the ever so common and popular melamine is not microwave safe)
- Avoid disposable paper cups, aluminium drink cans and canned products (canned food, canned soup). Formula powder tin lining contains BPA as well.
- Some baby bottles, sippy cups, tableware contain BPA. Try to buy BPA free products if possible, these are widely available in supermarkets and department stores and most are quite affordable. Look for the “BPA free” label.
- Receipts have BPA so avoid letting your children play with receipts.
- Be informed. Know your plastic. Most bottles have a number at the bottom usually in a triangle. Choose safer plastics #2, #4 and #5. #3 and #7 often contain BPA. This knowledge has been most helpful at times when I see a promotion of some fancy cartoon cups or bottles. Most are #7.
- Go for alternative packaging such as glass jars or buying fresh, frozen or dried fruits and veggies will reduce exposure.
- BPA products are still carried in stores and widely available. If for some reason, BPA containers and materials are used, leaching can be minimized by :
- Using products according to the product specifications. Some labels will specify the safe temperature the products are made for. Ie., for juice, water etc.
- Ensuring that the bottles for example are not placed in boiling water. High temperature increases leaching and for babies who drink milk many times a day the level consumed adds up.
- Avoid long use of bottles. Scratches, wear and tear and the like increase the leakage of BPA from the containers. In short, throw away if worn or scratched, don’t keep them for your next child or use hand-me-down containers from children of other families.
In the USA and Canada, there is higher regulation and caution on the use of BPA. For example, from 2012 the FDA has banned all use of polycarbonate resins in infant feeding bottles, spill-proof cups etc. Certainly in the environment we are in, there are so many products and it may not be possible to avoid association with BPA.
However, armed with awareness and practical knowledge, we as parents can gatekeep the amount of BPA that we are bringing into our children, especially in common products which they use every day – it is worth the effort. You will never know how much is too much.
What’s your take on BPA products? Share your thoughts with us in the comments box below.
By Som Yew Ya