Last updated on May 13th, 2021 at 12:59 pm
Fortified with the knowledge that Bisphenol-A (BPA) is potentially dangerous for our health (despite the FDA’s recent decision to keep it in our food supply) consumers may find solace in using plastic bottles (water, baby, etc. . . ) canned goods and other fit-for-consumption items that bear the label “BPA-Free.”
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Research continues to grow to show that the chemicals added to these plastics may not be any better for our health.
The problem with these industrial chemicals used in the plastic-making process is that they are endocrine disruptors: they contain molecules that behave in the body like estrogen, causing cellular changes that have been linked to a number of negative health outcomes in adults, children, and babies during development.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that Bisphenol-S (BPS), a commonly used alternative to BPA has similar endocrine disruptor properties.
That BPA alternatives contain endocrine-disrupting molecules is not necessarily new news—Maria Blake of Mother Jones wrote this wonderful article in early 2014 exposing not only the dangers of BPA-alternatives but also the plastics industry’s sneaky tactics to minimize public knowledge of the fact.
Blake references a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011 finding that:
Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free.
In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.”
This study links BPS (as well as BPA) to specific negative health outcomes and furthers our understanding of how plastic might be affecting our bodies.
By studying embryonic zebrafish (a commonly used research species) the scientists found that exposure much lower than the EPA-allowed amount resulted in a 180%-240% increase in poor development of the hypothalamus (a brain region governing hyperactivity among many other things) and that androgen (simplistically, a “male”-associated hormone) also plays a role in how BPS affects the body. Amy Ellis Nutt of the Washington Post explains,
In the new study, the scientists expressed surprise that the early abnormal growth of brain cells they observed in the fish embryo specifically affected male hormones, potentially indicating why more boys than girls are diagnosed with certain neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
“We know there’s a fourfold increase in autism between boys and girls,” Kurrasch said.
“There are lots of possible explanations for that, but it is interesting to speculate since we do know small changes in hormone levels prenatally can have consequences on brain development.”
The authors of the study caution that pregnant mothers avoid BPA, BPS, and all bisphenol exposure, and take the advocacy position that these products must be removed from our goods:
Our studies here provide mechanistic support that the neurogenic period indeed may be a window of vulnerability and uncovers previously unexplored avenues of research into how endocrine disruptors might perturb early brain development.
Furthermore, our results show that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer and support the removal of all bisphenols from consumer merchandise.
As we learned recently, there is little regulatory movement on eradicating BPA, BPS, and other bisphenols as of yet (though a large and comprehensive study on the health effects is underway), but in the meantime, there are plenty of things that we can do to help limit our exposure.
In a follow up article, Nutt describes some precautionary measures we can take:
- hard plastic sports bottles
- plastic food storage containers
- food wrap
- hard and flexible packaging
- deli containers
- plastic bags
- baby bottle components (nipple, ring, liner, etc)
- plastic dinnerware and plates
- non-stick cookware
- plastic cleaning products
- thermal receipt paper
- canned food and drink
- tissue paper and toilet paper
- stainless steel water bottles
- ceramic plates and dishes
- unbleached wax paper
- anything made from wool, cotton, hemp, or plastic-free, biodegradable fibers
- plastic-free cleaning products, such as baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils
- stainless steel or cast iron cookware
- glass blender
- wire salad spinner
- the stainless steel ice-cube tray
- natural rubber gloves
- recycled, individually-wrapped toilet paper
- bar soap
It might seem like a big shift to eschew all plastic in your life at once, but we encourage you to start small. Small changes accrue to big ones and that’s what we need.
By shifting our habits of consumption, fighting for environmental health advocacy, and voting we can create an informed marketplace that can indeed shift manufacturing practices and make our environment and consumer market a healthier and safer place.