Season 1, Episode 6
Is It Bad to Have BPA in Our Food?
We've all heard that BPA in our food is dangerous, but is it really there, and will it really hurt us?
Consumers are always calling for BPA to be banned in food packaging. But is there any good science supporting such a ban?
BPA, or bisphenol-A, is a principal ingredient in many industrial products, most commonly polycarbonate plastics, and epoxies. Polycarbonates are the sturdy, shatterproof plastics familiar in medical devices, water bottles, and dental sealants. Epoxies are the hard resins used to seal the insides of metal cans to prevent corrosion and to protect the contents from spoilage. The concern some people express is that BPA is an endocrine disruptor. BPA can bind to chemical receptors in the body, preventing an endocrine from normally binding there. In tests of lab animals, this has caused a range of diseases like diabetes, cancers, and a range of hormonal problems.
Sound terrifying? It does to a lot of people. So then why have we never observed this effect in people who use polycarbonate food containers? It's all about the dose. To provoke these responses in the lab animals, BPA was given to them at levels thousands of times higher than a person could ever get from normal use of a product.
The dose-response relationship is why every compound in nature has a safe level, and a harmful level — even plutonium, of which you have about 180 billion atoms inside you right now. Every major regulator in the US and Europe has found that food packaging contains amounts of BPA that are far below harmful levels.
Every time you drink from a washed glass, you ingest a lot more dish soap residue than you will ever get BPA from drinking from plastic bottles. Dish soaps are loaded with carcinogenic petroleum distillates; but because we get such a vanishingly small dose of it, it doesn't do us any harm. Soap is actually loose on the surface of dishware, but BPA is locked in the molecular structure of the container. That's why so little of it gets in our system.
So, should you move from polycarbonate to metal water bottles? Well, you certainly could, but those metal bottles are lined with epoxy, so your water is still contacting a product containing BPA. It protects the bottle from corrosion, and prevents your water from tasting like metal.
The simple fact is that polycarbonates and epoxies are really good materials. They're safe and effective, and that's why we choose to continue using them. If you're not worried about washing your dishes, you certainly shouldn't worry about BPA.
EFSA. "Scientific Opinion on the risks to public health related to the presence of bisphenol A (BPA) in foodstuffs." EFSA Journal, 2015. Volume 13, Number 1. 3978.
EFSA. "No consumer health risk from bisphenol A exposure." European Food Safety Administration. 21 Jan 2015. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150121
FDA. Statement from Stephen Ostroff M.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, on National Toxicology Program draft report on Bisphenol A. Washington DC, US Food & Drug Administration. 2018.
FDA. "Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application." US Food & Drug Administration. 27 Jun 2018. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/bisphenol-bpa-use-food-contact-application
Hamilton, J. "Plastic Additive BPA Not Much Of A Threat, Government Study Finds." National Public Radio. 23 Feb 2018.