Last Modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 11:23 PM
Are beer cans and soft drink cans lined with material containing bisphenol A, or BPA?
Bisphenol A is a component in the linings of most cans, including those that hold beer and soft drinks. Additionally, BPA is used to make hard plastic and to coat thermal paper used for some cashier and ATM receipts.
“First synthesized in 1891, bisphenol A came into use as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s,” reads a story published in Scientific American in 2008. “Later, chemists discovered that, combined with phosgene (used during World War I as a toxic gas) and other compounds, BPA yielded the clear, polycarbonate plastic of shatter-resistant headlights, eyeglass lenses, DVDs and baby bottles.”
The story chronicles how geneticist Patricia Hunt began raising questions about the chemical in 1998 after she pinpointed it as the source of reproductive problems in the mice she was using as a control group in an experiment.
Animals in a control group are left alone so they can be used as a standard for gauging the results of experiments.
Several studies have since shown that BPA’s mimicry of estrogen in animals can disrupt their hormonal functions and cause birth defects in their offspring.
Amid concerns that BPA could adversely affect children, manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups stopped using the chemical in their products. The Food and Drug Administration formalized the move in 2012 when it banned BPA’s use in baby bottles and toddlers’ cups.
The FDA and other public health agencies, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, have since pledged to try to ascertain whether BPA, which can leach into food, has harmful effects at the concentrations consumers encounter.
“FDA’s current assessment is that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. This assessment is based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies including the latest findings from new studies initiated by the agency,” reads a page on the FDA’s website.
“FDA will continue its review of BPA, including supporting ongoing studies; reviewing all new science bearing on the safety of the chemical; and seeking input from the public, other experts, and other agencies. Meanwhile, the agency acknowledges the food and packaging industries’ efforts, in response to consumer demand, to provide products that are BPA-free.”
BPA has been present in products since the 1960s, the FDA says, and its use is governed by rules and approvals dating from that era — meaning companies today needn’t disclose their use of the chemical or the characteristics of the particular BPA formulation they use.
The FDA says the chemical would be better regulated under the more open regulatory framework that’s been in place since 2000 and that it will encourage companies to disclose their use of the chemical and “will explore additional options to regulate BPA.”
Some ways to prevent exposure to BPA, according to a fact sheet from the NIEHS’ National Toxicology Program:
Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from repeated use at high temperatures.
Avoid plastic containers with the #7 on the bottom.
Don’t wash polycarbonate plastic containers in the dishwasher with harsh detergents.
Reduce your use of canned foods. Eat fresh or frozen foods.
When possible, opt for glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
Online: www.fda.gov; http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov.
The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098 and leave voice mail, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.