What Does BPA-Free Really Mean?

February 7, 2012

Nalgene Plastic Water Bottle
Photo by kyle.leboeuf

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen used in polycarbonate plastic products. You hear about it most when it comes to water bottles, canned goods, and receipts. We known it can cause hormonal changes and otherwise negatively affect our health. So, we try to buy products that are BPA-free. But somewhere along the way, BPA-free seems to have become synonymous with “safe”. What does BPA-Free really mean? It means there shouldn’t be any BPA in it. Great. What it doesn’t mean is that the product doesn’t contain any other toxic chemicals, synthetics, additives, etc. Only recently did the FDA recognized BPA as toxic. How do we know the BPA replacements are safe? Or other plastics in general? Or for that matter, that BPA-free products are actually free of BPA?

According to Health Canada,

“Bottles made from non-polycarbonate plastic may contain very low level, trace amounts of BPA resulting from cross-contamination caused by the ubiquitous nature of BPA.”

People seek out “safe” plastics. But is there such a thing? Have all the other plastics really been tested for their effects on human health? Is BPA-containing polycarbonate plastic the only dangerous one, or just the one that’s been singled out?

Luckily, we don’t have to ponder this question for long. A study by the University of Texas already did the work for us, by thoroughly testing 455 everyday products, most of which were labeled as PBA-free, to see if they still release chemicals that have estrogenic activity. Their conclusion:

“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.”

When they then stress-tested the products (microwave, sunlight, dishwasher, etc.), they leached even more.

So really, BPA-free doesn’t mean much. In fact, some BPA replacements tested worse!

What can we do? Try not to use plastic – use glass instead. I’m hesitant to recommend stainless steel due to nickel and other impurities, but I’d still choose stainless steel over plastic. Also, if you do use plastic, try to “stress” it as little as possible – i.e. keep it out of the microwave, dishwasher, and direct sunlight.

Have you reduced your use of plastic?

Shared with Real Food Wednesdays.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth February 9, 2012 at 6:12 PM

It’s a good word, but OY! Nothing is safe anymore! I’m decreasing my plastic consumption, for sure, gradually making changes for the better, but still a long way to go… no more microwaved instant meals, but sometimes, rubbermaid is all there is to carry leftovers to work. Thanks for the post, though… I’m sharing it with my husband, too!


[email protected] February 9, 2012 at 6:37 PM

I got some great pyrex containers – glass with plastic lids.. I use them to bring my lunch to work.


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