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Bisphenols (e.g. BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that most people in the industrialised world are exposed to. It’s also a known ‘hormone disrupting chemical’ (HDC), also know as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC).

There are a whole family of other bisphenols, such as BPS and BPZ – see our Toxic Soup report to learn more.

This page gives you a brief introduction to bisphenol A – for more details, see our consumer briefing or our position paper.

You can also see the latest news on BPA in our blog.

What is bisphenol A used in?

BPA is used in the manufacture of clear polycarbonate plastic, and to manufacture other plastics, including the lining inside food and drink cans.

Products often made with bisphenol A include:

  • Babies’ feeding bottles – though this use is now banned in Europe
  • Bottles in water dispensers
  • Plastic tableware
  • Dental fillings
  • Lenses for glasses
  • Thermal paper
  • Plastic sheeting for glazing.

How are we exposed to bisphenol A?

BPA may leach into food from polycarbonate plastic packaging and from food and drink cans.

Exposure may also arise from BPA-related materials used in dental sealants and from handling thermal paper, which is used for lottery tickets and some till receipts. House dust may also be an exposure source.

Babies and toddlers can be particularly exposed to BPA from the use of polycarbonate feeding bottles and toddlers’ sippy cups, as well as from eating tinned baby foods.

What does bisphenol A do to our bodies?

BPA is able to de-rail the chemical messenger system in the body by mimicking or disrupting oestrogen and other hormones. In fact, BPA was first found to be able mimic oestrogen, the female hormone, back in the 1930s.

The health effects linked with exposure to BPA include: breast cancer, prostate cancer, endometriosis, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, altered immune system and effects on reproduction, brain development and behaviour, including behaviour in children.

Scientists cannot agree on the potential long term harm that exposure to BPA may cause. Many independent scientists have reported finding worrying effects at very low doses of BPA when they do tests in the laboratory, but others, including those working for industry, have not found such effects.

It is difficult to be sure of the risks that BPA may pose to human health.

In the case of babies’ bottles, the European Commission decided to take precautionary, or ‘better safe than sorry’, action to protect young children.

How can you avoid bisphenol A?

  • Avoid microwaving food in plastic, which over time may leach BPA. Plastic containers are numbered for recycling, and those made using BPA carry a 7, although not everything with a 7 contains BPA.
  • Use baby bottles that are BPA free (as all baby bottles should be now in Europe), but if possible breast feed because breast milk is considered best for your baby.
  • Eliminate the use of polycarbonate plastic for food and drink containers, particularly replacing old or scratched polycarbonate food containers and not using them to warm food.
  • Eliminate consumption of canned food and drink as much as possible, and try to eat a variety of freshly produced organic food, including plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid putting till receipts or lottery tickets in the mouth, and wash hands after handling.
  • Ask dentists to avoid products made with BPA-related chemicals.

This timeline illustrates how many years it has taken for concerns about BPA and other bisphenols to lead to action

For more information

For more information on Bisphenol A, see our consumer briefing or our position paper. You can also see the latest news on BPA in our blog.

The Swedish Chemical Agency KEMI also have a good web page (in English) on Bisphenol A, including links to risk assessments & other reports.