written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/27/2011
Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical component of many commonly-used plastic items, is considered to be a health risk.
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What is Bisphenol A?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound used in the manufacture of epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastic, and is found in many everyday household items including sports equipment, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs, food can liners, beverage containers, eating utensils and baby bottles.
The presence of BPA is so widespread that it has been detected in the urine of 93% of Americans tested. BPA has been found in amounts 200 times higher than the government's mandated safe level in one out of 10 cans of food tested, and 1 out of 3 cans of infant formula.
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Exposure to Bisphenol A is a Health Risk
Bisphenol A acts as an endocrine disrupting chemical, mimicking the action of the hormone estrogen in the body. Since hormones are effective at very low doses, the level of BPA exposure that can potentially cause damage is far lower than that of other types of toxic chemicals. Exposure to very small amounts of BPA can create a health risk, particularly in young children and unborn babies at certain stages of development.
A 2008 report of the National Toxicology Program of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction cited evidence that BPA exposure to fetuses, infants and children may alter the development of the brain and prostate gland.
Numerous studies have linked BPA to various diseases and conditions including breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, liver abnormalities and insulin resistance. it is also associated with reproductive disorders and early onset of puberty in girls. Evidence suggests that exposure to BPA in pregnancy may give rise to infertility and uterine dysfunction in female offspring.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined BPA to be safe, this assessment has been called into question by an independent advisory panel, which deemed the studies on which the FDA based their decision to be flawed due to unreliable and incomplete data. Currently, the FDA is carrying out research on the risks of BPA, and has taken steps to help decrease people's exposure to the chemical.
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BPA Use Discontinued or Banned in Certain Areas
The six largest manufacturers of baby bottles have agreed to discontinue the sale of baby bottles made with BPA in the U.S., and retailers including Babies R Us, Target, and CVS have stated that they will stop stocking bottles containing BPA.
The use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups has been banned in Europe and Canada. In the U.S., increasing public concern about the safety of BPA has led to its being banned in some localities, including Chicago and Suffolk County, New York. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to create a federal ban on BPA.
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Ways to Minimize Exposure to BPA
Check the labels on toys, containers and other plastic items, and look for those that are BPA-free.
Avoid using PVC or polycarbonate plastic products and plastics labeled with recycling code #7. Other types of plastic do not contain BPA, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE, recycling code #1) high-density polyethylene (HDPE, recycling code #2), low-density polyethylene (LDPE, recycling code #4), or polypropylene (PP, recycling code #5).
Don't heat up polycarbonate (hard plastic) containers or use them for hot liquids, since this increases the rate that chemicals will leach out of the plastic into the liquid.
Don't wash polycarbonate containers in the dishwasher, because the heat and harsh detergents can damage the surface and make it more prone to leaching of chemicals.
Avoid canned foods, since BPA is present in the lining of cans; use frozen or fresh foods whenever possible.