In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of a controversial chemical, BPA, or bisphenol-A, in bottles and sippy cups. BPA is widely used in plastics, but in animal studies it’s been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen and to interfere with nervous and reproductive system development.
Unfortunately, the FDA’s decision isn’t all that progressive. The plastics industry actually asked the FDA to ban the use of BPA in sippy cups and bottles, since manufacturers had already stopped using it and other proposals floating around Congress would have been much more restrictive, banning BPA from all food packaging and water bottles.
The result: There’s plenty of BPA still out there, in places you might not suspect. Because BPA is used in the liners of aluminum cans, you’re often better off eating food that has been stored in plastic than you are eating canned food. That surprised me, as did the fact that BPA is even found in recycled paper products.
Here are some common sources of BPA, and a few suggestions about how you can avoid it.
Canned food and soda
This is the biggest source of BPA for most people. Aluminum cans used as food packaging are coated on the inside with a substance that feels like vinyl, and which contains BPA. That BPA can leach into the food, especially more acidic foods such as tomatoes. In March, Campbell’s promised to drop BPA from the lining it uses in its soup cans, but the company hasn’t said when the switch will be completed. For now, you can avoid BPA by buying canned food from Muir Glen, Trader Joe’s, and Eden Foods.
Stainless steel food containers are generally not coated.
Polycarbonate plastic is generally hard, clear, and lightweight, and it’s marked on the bottom with a seven. The BPA helps keep it from shattering if it drops or hits something hard, which is why it’s used not only in food packaging but in sports equipment, helmets, and eyeglass lenses.
Plastics marked with a one, two, or four are generally safer than those marked with a seven. The plastic used for soda bottles is usually marked one or two, and doesn’t contain BPA. You’re better off drinking soda from a plastic bottle than you are guzzling it from an aluminum can, since soda cans, like other cans used for food, will probably be lined with an epoxy containing BPA.
This is the slick, flimsy paper used to make most store receipts. BPA helps make the ink appear. After you touch this paper, studies have shown that 27% of the BPA on your skin moves into your bloodstream in about two hours. And how many times have you bought a takeout sandwich for lunch, crumpled the receipt in your hand, and started eating? You might as well just lick the BPA off the receipt. Better to refuse the receipt if you don’t need it, or wash your hands after you touch it.
Here are just some of the common items made from thermal paper:
· Baggage destination tags
· Airplane boarding passes
· Bus and train tickets
· Lottery tickets
Once those bits of thermal paper go into the recycling stream, the BPA goes with them. Relatively high levels of BPA have been found in recycled paper towels, toilet paper, and even in pizza boxes. I know. Yuk.
The bonding material used on your teeth, as well as the so-called composites used to fill cavities, contains BPA. It’s not really known how much leaks from these fillings, although most dentists would tell you the amounts are tiny.
Old water pipes
The interior of some old water pipes were coated with a lining containing BPA in an effort to extend their life.
You can drive yourself crazy trying to avoid every source of BPA. For most people, canned foods are the biggest culprit -- another reason to try to eat fresh or even frozen, or to use dried beans instead of canned, whenever possible. -- KW
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Image courtesy of flickr user Roxanne Cooke