Worried your water bottle is killing you? You’re not alone. A number of studies suggest common food and beverage containers could leave us exposed to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that’s been tied to health problems including neurological disorders in infants4-Nonylphenol, bisphenol-A and triclosan levels in human urine of children and students in China, and the effects of drinking these bottled materials on the levels. Li X, Ying, GG, Zhao, JL, et al. Environment International, 2011 Jul 25.. There is conflicting research on these effects, and it’s unclear exactly how much BPA it takes to harm humans; still, more and more Americans are choosing to go completely BPA-free. Here’s how, and why you should care.
BPA has been used in food and beverage containers since the 1960s, adding durability to everything from pacifiers to can linings to water bottles. It’s also used to manufacture thermal paper, which most people encounter every day in the form of receipts. But over the last decade, several studies have suggested BPA mimics estrogen in the body, which could cause potentially harmful hormonal imbalancesBisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons. Le, HH, Carlson, EM, Chua, JP, et al. Department of Pharmacology and Cell Biophysics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, OH. Toxicology Letters, 2008 Jan 30;176(2):149-56.. Studies have since found detectable levels of BPA in more than 90 percent of Americans tested, with ingestion from food containers being a leading culprit.
While it’s unclear exactly how much BPA is needed to cause harm in humans, higher blood concentrations of the substance has been linked to developmental problems in infants and young children, as well as possible brain and reproductive dysfunction in adults (though most of these claims were based on animal studies)Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons. Le, HH, Carlson, EM, Chua, JP, et al. Department of Pharmacology and Cell Biophysics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, OH. Toxicology Letters, 2008 Jan 30;176(2):149-56.. There’s enough concern over BPA that countries including Canada and most nations in the European Union have banned it outright. The U.S. issued a national ban in 2012, when it began prohibiting the use of BPA in making baby bottles and sippy cups to protect at-risk infants (who presumably chew on their bottles a lot more than the average 20-something).
HOW TO GO BPA-FREE
While industry groups continue to stand by BPA as safe to use, the Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental organizations are encouraging manufacturers to seek out alternatives. And in some consumer-friendly good news, a BPA-free future might not be that far off: Many American companies have willingly stopped using BPA to manufacture their products even without government intervention.
Want to ditch BPA ASAP? While it’s basically impossible to reduce contact to zero, taking the following precautions can greatly reduce the chance of exposureSimultaneous determination and assessment of 4-nonylphenol, bisphenol A and triclosan in tap water, bottled water and baby bottles. Li, X, Ying, GG, Su, HC, et al. State Key Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China. Environment International, 2010 Aug; 36(6):557-62.Critical evaluation of key evidence on the human health hazards of exposure to bisphenol A. Hengstler, JG, Foth, H, Gebel, T, et al. Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo), University of Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2011 Apr;41(4):263-91.:
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- Watch for containers with recycling numbers 3 or 7, which indicate types of plastic that may — but do not always — contain BPA. Containers labeled number 7 that also say “BPA Free” should be safe.
- Go fresh! Food bought fresh will have dramatically less BPA exposure than canned goods that use BPA liners.
- Choose stainless steel water bottles over aluminum containers, which often require liners made with BPA.
- Don’t using hard plastic containers in the microwave, and avoid filling containers with BPA with hot liquids. High temperatures can cause more BPA to leech into food and water.
- Avoid handling receipts (when possible) or wash your hands immediately after touching them.
- Shop smart! A quick online search will indicate whether there are BPA-free alternatives to your favorite containers.