To BPA or not to BPA?
That is the question … no one can exactly agree on.
But maybe that’s about to change.
In a just-released report, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that at current levels, bisphenol A poses “no consumer health risk” to anyone at any age.
The report by the government-funded watchdog that makes regulatory recommendations to the EU mirrors similar findings by the FDA, which banned BPA in baby bottles in 2012, but has yet to conclude that the endocrine-disrupting chemical is dangerous enough to be outlawed entirely.
Yet, despite the FDA’s stance, the “BPA-free” bonanza has taken over the plastics world — changing how bottles and packaging are manufactured, and turning shopping into a game of "eat from this, not that."
BPA has had many uses: it stiffens plastic food containers, is an essential ingredient of the epoxy coating that lines the insides of most food cans in the U.S., and it’s found in the thermal paper often used in cash register receipts. The worrisome aspect of BPA is that it migrates from packaging into food and drinks, making it ingestible to consumers.
In recent years, numerous studies have linked BPA to everything from hyperactivity in kids to elevated blood pressure, to heart disease, infertility and cancer.
But the EFSA’s announcement aims at the question of whether or not we're consuming enough of BPA for those health risks to matter.
For its report, EFSA experts considered “tolerable daily intake” (TDI) of BPA. According to the report, “uncertainties surrounding potential health effects of BPA on the mammary gland, reproductive, metabolic, neurobehavioral and immune systems have been quantified and factored into the calculation of TDI.”
After looking at what level of BPA is ingested from a variety of sources, including diet and exposure from dust, cosmetics and thermal paper, they concluded that current exposure levels are well under what is considered a safe amount of TDI.
The report conceded that high doses of BPA (hundreds of times above the TDI) have been shown to have adverse effects on the kidneys and liver, and may cause harm to the mammary gland in animals.
But at current levels, the EFSA has given the “all clear.”
This is just the latest in an ongoing back and forth between scientists, government officials and industry insiders on exactly how dangerous BPA might be. And other studies have even questioned whether going BPA-free has done more harm than good.
Just last week a Canadian study was released saying that the chemical often being used to replace BPA in plastics, bisphenol S (BPS), could have its own adverse health effects. The study was conducted on larval zebra fish (the researchers said their brains develop similarly to humans), and found that at a low level of exposure to BPS, the newly hatched fish developed anxiety-like behavior (even more so than those exposed to BPA). The researchers went so far as to say that because of the physiological mechanisms that are linked to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, that pregnant women should “limit exposure to plastics and receipts.”
The American Chemistry Council countered in a quote to Reuters that in contrast to zebra fish, “humans are exposed to only trace levels of BPA through diet … and quickly eliminate it from the body.”
So, it seems jury is still out on whether the push for BPA-free plastics has been beneficial to consumers’ health on the whole. But it may at least be safe to conclude that BPA isn’t the quite boogeyman it once was.
Still, will the EFSA’s recent findings prompt a change in thinking about BPA? Or just more confusion?
Should plastics manufacturers ditch the switch to “BPA-free?” Or is BPA’s safety reputation still too questionable?
Let us know what you think.