How Harmful Is BPA Really?

There have been many news reports lately regarding the health risks of leaving plastic water bottles in the heat and later consuming the water. That risk can be linked to the chemical, bisphenol A (BPA). BPA, the chemical used to harden plastic, is not a new compound.

It was first created in 1891 and then became used as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Later during WWI, it was discovered that it could be combined with phosgene and it could be used to produce clear, polycarbonate plastic which is used in shatter-resistant headlights and baby bottles. But what started as a safe invention of necessity also has risks. This is because not all BPA gets locked into chemical bonds and that residual BPA can be released, especially when the plastic is heated.

BPA free

There have been many recent studies in rats that have linked BPA to an ever-growing list of health problems, such as cancer, reproductive problems, obesity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although studies in human subjects are still on-going, in 2004 a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unmetabolized BPA in the urine of 93% of more than their 2,500 human subjects. BPA has also been detected in human blood and mother’s breast milk by other organizations. (Hinterthue, 2008).

Based on the animal studies, many researchers are drawing conclusions regarding possible effects on humans. For instance, there is concern that BPA could theoretically act like a hormone in the body, disrupting normal hormone levels and development. Also some studies have found that adults with the highest levels of BPA in their bodies seem to have a higher incidence of heart problems, but this link has not been proven. There is also research suggesting that possible effects from BPA could be most pronounced in infants and young children, since their systems are still too immature to be efficient at eliminating substances properly.

At this time, the government has put no restrictions on the use of BPA, although many manufacturers have started limiting the type of items they use this chemical in, particularly for children’s products. In the meantime, there are things consumers can do to limit their exposure.

  • Use non-plastic containers, such as glass
  • Buy BPA-free products
  • Avoid heating plastic products
  • Don’t leave plastic water bottles in the car
  • Throw out damaged plastic products
  • Avoid recycled plastics for foods that have code 3 or 7 on the bottom
  • Hinterthue, A. (2008). Just How Harmful Are Bisphenol A Plastics? Scientific America. Retrieved May 1, 2014

    Public Health Focus. (2013). Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application. Retrieved May 1, 2014

    Michelle Tinkham is a vascular nurse with 15+ years experience. She holds a BS in Nursing, MS in Health Care Administration, and several healthcare related certifications.She has published articles in peer reviewed journals as well as presented at several national organizations.Contact her at [email protected]