BPA: What It Is, Where It Is, What to Do

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by Katie

Katie is a writer, a teacher, a mezzo-soprano, and a mama. She and her husband Shaun are passionate about mentoring and equipping artists of all kinds. Find her online at katiefox.net.

I am hesitant to tackle the topic of BPA, for a number of reasons.  For one, a lot of people already seem to know all about BPA, and you can find lots of information about it online.

In addition, I’m no scientist; I learn more about BPA all the time, and trying to comprehend it all can make me feel like I’m back in high school science class (one of my least favorite experiences of all time).

But I think I would be remiss if we didn’t take the time to look at BPA here at Simple Organic. It’s important. If you know all about it, please chime in in the comments!  I’m sure I will leave something out.  If it’s news to you, then I hope it’s helpful.

First Things First: What Is BPA?

Stick with me here – this is the “science part.”

BPA stands for Bisphenol-A.  It is an organic compound that is used primarily to make plastics, and it’s especially common in shatterproof plastics.  It is valued for its binding properties.  However, it is now clear that BPA has negative effects on the human endocrine system.  It can mimic human hormones (it is known as an endrocrine disruptor), and since hormones control how our bodies function, that’s a big deal.

Research has shown that exposure to BPA can affect brain development, behavior, prostate glands, mammary glands, thyroid function, cancer risk, heart disease, diabetes, birth defects, and even obesity. The risks are greatest while in the womb and as infants and young children, but early exposure has long-term ramifications, and there is still a risk for older children and adults, as well.

It’s important to understand that this has become the consensus of mainstream scientists and even government organizations; it is not just a loony idea spouted by crazy hippie folks who don’t shave and wear hemp. (wink)

Photo by fdecomite

Where Do We Find BPA?

The list is long, and some of its contents may surprise you. BPA can potentially be found in the following places:

  • Baby bottles
  • Pacifiers
  • Sippy cups
  • Infant liquid formula
  • Plastic toys
  • Water bottles
  • Canned soft drinks (in the lining)
  • Bottled soft drinks
  • Plastic food storage containers
  • Plastic blender pitchers and food processor bowls
  • Canned foods (again, in the lining of the can)
  • Plastic sports equipment
  • Dental sealants
  • Dental fillings
  • Eyeglass lenses and frames
  • CDs and DVDs
  • Electronics
  • Receipts printed on thermal paper (most receipts)

Photo by Alexander De Luca
A few of these items aren’t designed to go into our mouths, or to contain foods that will go into our mouths, so perhaps the risk there is negligible.  However, as any parent of a teething baby will tell you, you just never know what might get chewed on!  So, with BPA’s overwhelming presence in our lives today, what can we do to avoid it?

How to Avoid BPA

First, the bad news: until BPA is banned, you probably can’t avoid it completely.  It is simply too pervasive in our culture.

However, there are many steps we can take to reduce our exposure to BPA – and like I always say, every little bit helps.

Here are ten ideas.

  1. Most brands of baby bottles and pacifiers now come in BPA-free options.  Glass bottles are also an option.
  2. Don’t use liquid infant formula – if using formula, use the powdered form and mix it yourself.  BPA is also found in powdered formula cans, but in much lower amounts.
  3. Look for BPA-free plastic sippy cups.  Another alternative is stainless steel.
  4. Don’t give your children plastic toys unless they specifically say they are BPA-free.  (Ideally, they would also say phthalate-free, too.) This can be hard, especially at gift-giving time.  Try to find a gentle way to share your concerns with those who love your children.
  5. Stop buying plastic water bottles.  If you buy a reusable water bottle, look for BPA-free water bottles or better yet, stainless steel.
  6. Don’t drink soft drinks.
  7. Replace your plastic food storage containers with glass or stainless steel.  If you have glass containers with plastic lids, try not to fill the containers so full that the lid would press against the food.  This is especially important with acidic foods, such as tomato sauce.  Acids will cause more BPA to leach into the foods than normal.  Never put acidic foods into plastic.
  8. Try to reduce the amount of canned foods you purchase.  Soaking and cooking dry beans in a crock pot is hardly any more difficult than preparing canned beans, and it’s much cheaper.  Buy fresh veggies, make your own soups, and especially try to reduce the amount of canned tomato products you purchase.  Again – tomatoes are acidic, so they will absorb more BPA.  Look for tomato products in glass jars, or learn to can your own.  (This will be the most challenging for us; we buy a lot of canned tomatoes right now, but one of my goals this summer is learning to can.)
  9. Buy less food in plastic containers, especially for babies.  Plastic pre-packaged baby food is convenient but the risks aren’t worth it.
  10. Never heat plastic.  Don’t put it in the microwave or the dishwasher, even on the top rack.  Heat causes the BPA to leach more aggressively.

Photo by Kyle LeBoeuf

The Future of BPA

Canada banned BPA in baby bottles in April 2008.  Denmark enacted a similar ban in 2010, and many other European countries are in the process, as well.

In the United States, many retailers and brands in the States have voluntarily recalled their products that contain BPA. In addition, there has been some government action.

• March 2009: Suffolk County, NY, banned BPA in baby beverage containers.

• May 2009: Minnesota and the City of Chicago banned baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA.

• June 2009: Connecticut banned BPA from any reusable food or drink container, as well as infant formula and baby food containers.

• January 2010: The FDA announced there was “some concern” about BPA and that “reasonable steps” should be taken to limit exposure, and the US Dept of Health published information for parents about how to reduce children’s exposure to BPA.

• Many other states have also taken action and/or have bills pending, including Washington, Vermont, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

• Both the U.S. House and Senate have bills pending to limit BPA.

How do you feel about this information? Did you know BPA was so potentially harmful and yet so pervasive? What steps has your family taken to reduce your exposure?

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Comments

  1. Hey Katie. Great post!

    I was a little ignorant about BPA until recently. I can’t remember what triggered it, but I did a bit of research and consequently decided to buy BPA Free products for our six month old.

    Of course, I then wrote about it for the benefit of my readers.

    I think more people need to know about it, so it’s good that you’ve covered it here.
    .-= Melanie | Dietriffic’s last blog: A Simple Guide to Mindful Eating =-.

  2. You’ve nailed it Katie! Fantastic & comprehensive article. I can take it all in to digest and I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet. =)

    This is so important for people to read; thanks for tackling the subject.
    .-= Aimee @ Simple Bites’s last blog: Weekend Reading =-.

  3. Great topic. Despite all that I know about it, I’m always happy to learn more, so thanks. The funny thing is BPA was the one of the first “green” things I really started getting into a few years ago and I stumbled on it accidentally. I was one of those college kids who bought bottled water for my first year of college because the tap “was gross” and quickly realized that I couldn’t afford it. Once I began looking for a good reusable bottle, the horrors of BPA came along with it. Now it drives me crazy with how hard it is to avoid…I have a weakness for canned tomatoes too! I’m not at the point where I can do my own canning or always use fresh. Sigh.

  4. goodness, they are EVERYWHERE! We are trying to eliminate the plastic toys in our home. It is so hard to re-train the eyes, minds and pocketbooks of loving relatives who are gifters. But to preserve the health of our children, our family and our environment…well, trying is the least we can do.
    I didn’t know the tid-bit about acidic items. I am getting rid of my plastic food storage containers promptly…and I have a lot of these. (Like to organize thing.) This info is probably somewhere, but do you have recommendations of good stainless or glass food storage alternatives? Thanks so much for this post!

    • For glass, my Pyrex containers have plastic lids that don’t contain BPA. I have also bought glass containers with glass lids from Ikea, though I don’t see them on their website anymore. Crate & Barrell sells some glass storage that come with plastic lids but you can also purchase the lids separately once your originals wear out, which is nice. I don’t know whether they contain BPA, though – you’d have to ask.

      For stainless, I have seen some great options at http://lifewithoutplastic.com/ and http://www.noplastic.ca/, and I am sure there are others – anyone else want to share their experience here?

  5. I store all of my leftovers in the freezer in plastic containers I am re-using from the local Chinese restaurant. I know it would be better to replace these with something non-plastic, but I can’t afford to buy storage containers right now, and I don’t want to give up my ability to freeze my leftovers.

    Do you have any suggestions for alternative freezer containers? It’s hard to duplicate the air-tightness and inexpensiveness of plastic, unfortunately.

    For now, I have been transferring the contents to a glass or ceramic bowl to reheat them, and hoping that was good enough…

    Thanks for delving into this topic!

    • I think many people still use plastic in some form – I know I do, especially for freezing! It’s just too convenient sometimes. Remember, not all plastic has BPA in it. One way to tell is to look for recycling label #7. That’s a good indicator that it may have BPA. In general, though, just try to avoid putting warm food into your plastic containers – let it cool first. That’s great that you are warming it in glass or ceramic.
      You can also freeze in glass jars as long as you allow enough headroom for expansion – otherwise the glass will crack.

  6. I understand the problem of the BPA leaching into food if you reheat in the plastic container, but what is the harm in it leaching out in the dishwasher? Does it get on other dishes? Does it just make the BPA more accessible to the food the next time it’s in the container?
    .-= Princess Leia’s last blog: Guest Post =-.

    • From what I understand, the extreme heat of the dishwasher just causes the plastic to degrade and break down much more quickly, and so then it will release even more BPA than usual.

  7. Honestly, this stresses me out. I try to be fairly green because I care about the environment and I think it is important for us to be careful with our resources. However, it really makes me mad when I feel like I need to be green for the safety and the health of me and my family! Why can’t everything that we use simply be safe??? Why are there products in baby’s pacificers that can cause cancer!??!

    When I read stuff like this it makes me want to give up. There are bad things in our bathroom cleaners, our hand soap and in the water bottle I’m drinking out of? How can I stay away from it all with out it being the sole purpose of my life? I’m a mother, a wife, and simply a woman who wants to enjoy life and not be scared of everything!

    Honestly, I do thank you for this article. I simply wish that the article didn’t have to be written. :( It did inspire me to call Gerber about my daughter’s NUK pacifier. I was pleased to find out that all NUK and Gerber brand items are BPA free (even if it doesn’t say it on the package). Thank goodness!
    .-= Rebekah’s last blog: Earth Day Give-Away! =-.

    • Rebekah – I know. It can be overwhelming! And I really don’t want people to be overwhelmed here at Simple Organic – I just want to try and help people simplify their journey to greener, healthier living. But sometimes it’s hard to avoid a sense of negativity and I know that some people just throw up their hands, saying, “It’s too much! We might as well give up!”

      I guess I will just say that I have been on this journey for 5 or 6 years now – so I share things that I’ve learned over the course of 5-6 years, and changes that we made very slowly. Baby steps. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just do what you can and what works for you and your family at that time. “Every little bit helps.” :) (I think that’s becoming my slogan.) I’m impressed that you called up Gerber right away – AND I am so glad to hear that all their items are BPA-free!!! I think most baby products in the States are now.

      So, you are doing a great job, Mama!

  8. Just a quick heads up about home canning: I just recently found out that there is BPA in Ball and Kerr canning lids, according to their website –

    http://www.freshpreserving.com/pages/faq/42.php

    Tattler makes BPA free canning lids; I plan on ordering some for the upcoming growing season.

    http://www.reusablecanninglids.com/

    Hope this helps!

  9. Great post.

    I have learned more about BPA in the recent moths and have thus purchased less canned goods. I think limiting the amount of canned goods one purchases is a HUGE step in the right direction.

    But, there are still many things that one may wish to buy that is in a can. For me it includes coconut milk and water chestnuts.

    I have also been buying more things in jars or just going fresh. There is nothing like fresh veggies (or frozen)!
    .-= Todd’s last blog: Sleep and Acne: 3 Top Tips for Adequate Sleep & Acne Free Skin =-.

  10. Great post! Thank you so much. My head has been swimming lately with all the things I feel I need to change. And the thing is I feel like we eat and live a fairly healthy lifestyle! It is frustrating that so much bad is used and considered fine!

  11. Thank you, Katie! We’re still in baby steps on this, but we’re getting there. It is tricky for me not to buy food in plastic because even so many of the organic produce we buy comes in a plastic container, you know? But, I guess that is a great excuse to garden and then learn how to can, eh? :-)

    Looking forward to Make Week!
    .-= Kara’s last blog: Weekend Showcase: Link Love =-.

  12. Ugh! There are SO many things containing BPA! Thanks for the informative post.

    I wanted to mention, we just started canning foods last summer and did beets, pickles, a few different jams and jellies, peaches and a few others, but canning tomatoes can be a longer process . We’ve found freezing them to be a bit easier. Simply wash & dry the tomatoes and place them whole in a ziplock bag in the freezer. When you take them out to defrost, the skins just slip right off. You can take as many or as few as you like from the freezer, and you don’t have to add anything to make them stay fresh. 😉

    Thanks again!
    .-= Anisa’s last blog: It Saves Lives, Billions of Dollars and 99 Other Reasons =-.

    • Thanks for this great tip, Anisa! I need to invest in a chest freezer and find a closet where I can stash it – I can envision my freezer filling up very quickly. :)

  13. I’m wondering… do you think plastic drinking cups are a problem?? I’m referring (mainly) to the el-cheapo variety… the ones most restaurants serve with their kids’ meals. We have a ton of them sitting in our cabinet, and my children drink out of them every single day (they don’t break!). But goodness, if they have bpa in them as well, I’ll gladly risk a broken glass or two!
    .-= Heather’s last blog: 1000 Gifts: Spring… outdoors =-.

    • Heather, most of the time those cups are made from #5 polypropylene plastic. It does not contain BPA (hooray!) and you can recycle them, too, so that’s good. If you don’t live somewhere where you can recycle them curbside, make sure you collect them and take them to a recycling center when you don’t need them anymore!

  14. Wow. this is pretty scary. I’m with the above commenter who feels overwhelmed. And I don’t even have kids to worry about yet! I feel like I’m doomed because I can’t keep track of all these dangers.

    I bought plastic tupperware that I later checked into (I can’t remember the site that I used, but it was linked from a comment here) and I think it was #5PP that I had, and was supposed to be the safest kind. Does that still have BPA in it?? I hate using glass. I often use them in the dishwasher and the microwave. Grrr….but if I do replace them, at least they weren’t expensive.
    .-= Nikki Moore’s last blog: everyone’s afraid of something…or several things =-.

    • The #5PP is one of the safest plastics – usually they contain no BPA – but as with all plastics, just avoid heating it or putting hot food into it. The research is still out on whether there are other chemicals in plastic that leach into out food when the plastic is warm – the govt and FDA says it’s safe, but some independent groups say it’s not. I still use some plastic, esp for the freezer, and just avoid putting hot food into it or heating them.

      • That answers another of my questions – even with BPA-free plastic stuff (I’ve been looking into it this morning!), it seems like there could potentially be other toxins we simply don’t know about. Thanks for the advice.

        I also would appreciate some ideas for not letting the plastic stuff go to waste if we already have it. Store non-food stuff in it perhaps? Or do you think it’s best just to toss it in the recycle bin? I just hate to stop using what I have. Anyways…thanks!
        .-= Nikki Moore’s last blog: why we don’t eat much meat =-.

      • avatar
        Stephanie P. says:

        It’s interesting in my mind – I’ve read that the European Union and Canada have both banned BPA.

        Even if we don’t put hot food into things or heat food in the microwave, the heat from our dishwashers also causes the chemicals to leech.

  15. I minored in Chemistry in college and have been sort of following the BPA debate. But I only recently learned about BPA being used in canned foods. Yikes. I need to research that further. Unfortunately, I have heard that the lids used for home canning (to seal the glass jars) are lined with BPA. Unless you order special ones from Germany or some such thing. =(
    .-= Aiming4Simple’s last blog: Teaching My Child to Read: What is the Best Way? =-.

  16. avatar
    Stephanie P. says:

    Love the post!

    While visiting in Houston, TX I got to attend a screening of the new documentary “Tapped” (http://www.tappedthefilm.com/). Great science in there and we were fortunate enough to have one of the scientists from the film on hand to explain the dangers of both BPA and all plastics.

    BPA is the most dangerous of all plastics to ingest however when we use any plastic next to our food , it still leeches harmful agents (this coming from the scientist guy, not me) into our food, water, etc.

    I strongly recommend giving the movie a rent on amazon or itunes.

    I’ve made a commitment to go zero plastic as much as possible in my kitchen. Some ways I’m doing this:

    1. stainless steel drinking straws
    2. klean kanteen water bottles
    3. selling all tupperware brand and more durable plastic containers at yard sales and to friends who don’t have the same scruples (I’d love to just give it away but I’m having to replace what I’m losing and that costs money)
    4. buying reusable cloth snack/sandwich bags
    5. no more canned goods (food or drink) if at all possible – to avoid bpa linings
    6. switching to cloth shower curtain liner
    7. stainless steel measuring cups and spoons
    8. ceramic mixing bowls (no melamine – it’s plastic mixed with formaldehyde)
    9. pyrex reusable food storage
    10. using glass spaghetti jars for funky drinking glasses

    Just thought I’d share. Love the conversations going on! Remember to check out yard sales and thrift shops for cheap glass replacements to your plastic items!

  17. Would it be possible for the citations of the research on BPA to be listed? It would be really be helpful to folks who want to evaluate the research for themselves. The National Toxicology Program’s report on BPA is here:

    http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/bisphenol/bisphenol.pdf

    Before getting too frightened it is important to note that there are some animal studies that suggest some harm from exposure, but the report clarifies that there are differences in the way these chemicals are processed by animals (such as rats) as compared to humans.
    .-= Amanda’s last blog: Redeeming an ugly kitchen =-.

  18. An easy way to insure that you are purchasing products free of BPA, PVC and Phthalate is to get them for a reputable retailer like The Soft Landing. The company does hours and hours of tireless research to help you keep your family safe. Check at the blog at thesoftlandingbaby.com for tons of informations and many guides on avoiding toxic plastic in our everyday life.

  19. Thank you so much for this! I knew I needed to avoid BPA in plastic bottles but I learned so much more from your post today. I really really appreciate this!

  20. Buildings are not cheap and not everyone can buy it. However, credit loans was invented to help different people in such cases.

  21. I did not know this either, thanks for the warning!

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