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It’s been a few years since we began hearing warning bells about Bisphenol A and its potential links to cancer, infertility, reproductive development and a host of other health issues — should we still be concerned?
BPA is widely used to harden clear plastic used in many everyday items like water bottles, the linings of soup and formula cans, and even some dental sealants and fillings. This industrial chemical is still being viewed with caution by organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and Health Canada, as they, and others concerned with public health and safety, continue to monitor and update information for us to educate ourselves and make informed choices about the products we use and how we consume the food we eat.
After many years of research, both the safety and science of BPA remain unclear. Many studies suggest BPA is an endocrine disruptor — it mimics a natural hormone, which can lead to cancer, reproductive issues and other health problems. But, most of these studies that offer conclusive evidence have been conducted on lab animals, not humans.
Other studies show that BPA leaches into what we eat and drink and can be found in the urine of human test subjects. At the Harvard Medical School, researchers showed that after one week of drinking from polycarbonate bottles, students’ levels of BPA increased by two-thirds, compared to those who drank from stainless steel bottles. Another study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that volunteers who ate a serving of canned soup for five days had more than a 1000% increase of BPA, compared to volunteers who ate a serving of soup that was not from a can.
So, we know for certain that BPA leaches into our foods and beverages and can be detected in humans. But, when it comes to the chemical causing health issues, "Even with the amount of research, we still don’t have established links," says Dr. Robert Nuttall, Assistant Director, Health Policy with the Canadian Cancer Society. “But the evidence is suggesting from cell studies and animal studies," says Dr. Nuttall, "that it is wise to be aware of the potential risks, and choose accordingly.”
Given the potential concerns with BPA, Dr. Nuttall recommends, “first and foremost, try to limit kids’ exposure.” In particular, Dr. Nuttall advises:
- Avoid plastics labeled #7, especially for children's food and drinks. Plastics with the recycling label #5 are safer choices and do not contain BPA
- Use glass or stainless steel bottles that do not have a plastic liner
- Never microwave plastic, and throw out old and/or scratched water bottles
- Limit canned food, and instead choose more fresh and frozen foods
- Use glass baby bottles
Furthermore, David Suzuki highlights twelve ways to avoid BPA, including swapping out plastic kitchen wrap, keep plastic out of the microwave and breastfeed or use powdered baby formula.
Aside from BPA being found in some of the food and beverages we consume, there are other ways we can be exposed to the potentially dangerous chemical without even knowing it. Items that we regularly handle — like compact discs, toys and surprisingly, cash register tapes — are often produced with BPA. These items can contribute, sometimes significantly, to our family’s overall exposure to BPA as it can be absorbed into our skin.
Avoiding BPA can seem nearly impossible, and at this point, the Government of Canada is still reluctant to implicate BPA as a health risk. But, Dr. Nuttall advises limiting exposure for babies and infants with rapidly developing systems as hormone disruption could significantly impact them. Given that BPA has proven detrimental impacts on animals, Dr. Nuttall's advice when choosing and using plastics seems sensible: observe the general principle of ALARA, which means, limit your exposure to As Low As Reasonably Achievable.