Where BPA Lurks and How to Avoid It
More research into BPA is exposing its potential for disastrous health effects. Learn the common places this chemical can be found in your pantry.
What Is BPA and Why Is it Dangerous?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the production of some plastic containers and tin can liners. It’s an endocrine function disruptor, meaning that it upsets your body’s normal cell metabolism. Studies have shown that exposure to BPA, which is similar to synthetic estrogen, can cause hormonal imbalances in women, and may contribute to the development of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In animal studies, BPA has been linked to birth defects, miscarriages, and placental cell death. Learn more about that study.
The FDA grandfathered BPA in, along with 62,000 other chemicals, in 1963 under the category Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). However, the Canadian government placed the chemical on its banned list of toxic substances in 2010.
The following consumer products, and others like them, contain levels of BPA that consumer advocates say is harmful, especially to children and expectant mothers.
Progresso Vegetable Soup
In 2009, Consumer Reports tested 19 name brand canned foods for BPA. They found that Progresso Vegetable Soup contained levels of BPA between 67 and 134 parts per billion (ppb).
Campbell's Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup
Consumer Reports also found that Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup contained levels of BPA ranging from 54.5 to 102 ppb.
Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans-Blue Lake
Canned green beans contained among the highest levels of BPA in the Consumer Reports study. This particular brand of green beans had BPA levels ranging from 35.9 ppb to 191 ppb, the highest amount for a single sample in the test group.
Similac Advance Infant Formula liquid concentrate in a can
Consumer Reports found that Similac liquid baby formula contained an average of 9 ppb of BPA. This may not sound significant, but studies show that humans are most sensitive to BPA during fetal development and early childhood.
Note that there was no measurable level of BPA in the powdered version of this formula. The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that babies fed reconstituted powdered formula likely receive eight to 20 times less BPA than those fed “ready to eat” liquid formula from a metal can. Experts recommend breastfeeding whenever possible and using powdered, not canned, formula if necessary.
Nestlé Juicy Juice All Natural 100% Apple Juice in a can
Consumer Reports found an average of 9.7 ppb of BPA in this canned juice drink. Again, not a dangerously high levelon its own, but what kid—if given the choice—would opt for just one serving of juice? Researchers found no measurable levels of BPA in the same juice packaged in cardboard juice boxes.
Canned Ravioli, Such as Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli in Tomato and Meat Sauce
In 1997, the Environmental Working Group tested 97 cans of food from supermarkets in three states for evidence of BPA. What they found was shocking: “For 1 in 10 cans of all food tested, and 1 in 3 cans of infant formula, a single serving contained enough BPA to expose a woman or infant to BPA levels more than 200 times the government's traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.”
The EWG said that chicken soup, baby formula, and canned ravioli had the highest concentrations of BPA of all the products they tested. A single serving of name brand canned ravioli from a supermarket in Oakland, Calif., contained a whopping 247 ppb of BPA.
Chunk Lite Canned Tuna
The EWG survey also found that servings of chunk lite tuna contained up to 108 ppb of BPA each.
Baked Beans in a Can
The EWG found up to 37.7 ppb of BPA in a single serving of canned baked beans.
Multi-use Plastic Water Bottles
Many polycarbonate plastic waterbottles contain BPA. In 2008, researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that exposing BPA-containing bottles to very hot water (either by filling them, dish washing them, or boiling them) caused them to release the chemical up to 55 times faster than before they were exposed.
A 2009 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who drank from polycarbonate bottles containing BPA for just one week had 69 percent more of the chemical in their urine than at the start of the study. The participants were asked not to expose the bottles to hot liquids during the study, and researchers say that urine BPA levels would likely have been higher if they had.
Some water bottle brands, including Nalgene and CamelBak, claim that all of their plastic bottles are BPA-free.
When looking for products that contain BPA, you might not think to check your wallet. Researchers at the State University of New York at Albany found in 2011 that 94 percent of thermal cash register receipts contain BPA, which is used to develop printing dye on the receipts. According to the Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention, people who reported working in retail in 2004 had 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average U.S. adult, and 34 percent more BPA than other workers.
According to the New York Times, the thermal paper used to make baggage tags, cigarette filters, and bus, train, and lottery tickets may also contain high levels of BPA. About 30 percent of this thermal paper is recycled, which can introduce BPA into other paper products, such as toilet paper, napkins, and food packaging.
How to Avoid BPA
The best way to steer clear of BPA is to buy fresh, unpackaged foods from your local farmer’s market. If you can’t always do that (and many of us can’t), follow these guidelines from FYI Living to minimize exposure for you and your children:
- Avoid food containers with recycle codes 3 or 7, as these may contain BPA.
- Use glass or ceramic containers to microwave and store your food.
- Use stainless steel cookware.
- Avoid foods and beverages packaged in hard plastic containers and tin cans.
- Don’t cover anything with plastic wrap except when refrigerating foods.
- Do not put hot foods or liquids in containers that may contain BPA.
- Use a reusable aluminum bottle for water.
- Throw out any plastic container with a scratch to limit potential BPA exposure.
- Purchase BPA-free baby bottles manufactured after 2009.