It is no secret that each of us is exposed to numerous hazardous toxins every single day. From phthalates in our nail polish and children’s toys to glycol ethers in our liquid soaps and toxic fumes from car exhaust, many of these exposures may seem nearly impossible to avoid. Bisphenol A, or BPA, however, is one chemical that is found in large quantities and is avoidable. Although the BPA found in common household products could be harming your health, there are many ways to decrease your exposure.
BPA is an industrial chemical found in epoxy resins. It has many different functions in household products, such as serving as a protective lining inside in some metal-based food cans. It is also used to make hard, clear plastic, which is used widely in consumer products. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, 2.3 billion pounds of BPA are produced in the United States annually. So, it’s no surprise that according to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of us, aged six and up, are walking around with trace amounts of BPA in our bloodstreams.
The prevalence of BPA in our bodies is alarming because it can be extremely harmful to an individual’s health. According to the National Resources Defense Council, BPA is an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that are not naturally produced by our own bodies and can block or mimic the action of our own natural hormones. To put it simply, high exposure to BPA can potentially lead to developmental issues or delays, accelerated puberty and an increased risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Because the use of BPA is so widespread, lowering exposure should be a high priority and an environmental and public health concern for us all.
In 2013, California became one of the 14 states placing restrictions on BPA in consumer products. Under Proposition 65, California businesses with 10 or more employees that sell products in the state are required to provide reasonable warnings about a chemical’s ability to cause cancer, reproductive harm or birth defects by providing a clear label on said products. There are more than 800 dangerous chemicals on the list under Prop. 65, and BPA is one of them. The cities of San Francisco and Berkeley are leading the Bay Area in pursuing the restriction of BPA found in our common household products by banning receipt paper containing BPA and other phenols. Additionally, ongoing research is being conducted to review the safety of BPA both locally and federally.
The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is responsible for protecting the public’s health by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics and products. The FDA’s current stance on the issue is that the BPA levels currently found in most products are considered safe.
In this case, however, what we do not know about this chemical may actually harm us in the long run — without in-depth knowledge of the harm BPA can cause, we may not know what we are exposing ourselves to until the damage has already been done. Because of this, the government should practice the precautionary principle and limit the use of BPA in household products until more research is available.
The FDA is currently conducting ongoing research on the extent of the potential harm of BPA to human health. While we wait for the results of that research, here are five ways you can lower your exposure to BPA:
First, kick the canned foods to the curb, if you can. If you cannot get your fruits and veggies fresh, consider buying them frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables actually contain the same nutrient content as their fresh counterparts because of the flash freezing process they undergo, so they are a healthy and safe alternative.
Second, just say NO to plastic. This may be the most difficult for many to do. If you are unable to ditch plasticware altogether, learning how to recognize the plastics that are most hazardous to your health can be the first step. There is a number printed on the bottom of most plastic bottles and food containers; the most toxic plastics that should be avoided are No. 7, 3 and 6.
Third, turn down the heat. Warmer temperatures increase the rate of chemicals leaching into foods. An easy way to avoid leaching is to store and reheat your foods in glass or ceramic containers. Foods can also easily be reheated on the stovetop.
Fourth, everything in moderation. Try to limit how many packaged foods you consume. The less frequent your consumption of processed foods is, the lower your risk of exposure to BPA.
Fifth, find your voice. Start a petition and let Congress know that you do not want to see any industrial chemicals in our food supply. Although California is at the forefront of eliminating BPA, there is still more we can do. There has been scientific disagreement about the possibility of human health risk due to BPA exposure, which has led to a lack of regulatory decision regarding the safety of food containers. Without help from the government, it is up to us as consumers to refuse to purchase BPA-containing products.
Reducing your exposure to BPA may seem like a daunting task, but it’s truly not impossible. The next time you take that casual stroll down the grocery store aisle, remember to think frozen or fresh, to say no to plastics and consume everything in moderation. Remembering these five easy steps will help you keep this one industrial chemical out of your water, fruits and veggies. Cheers to good health!
Nicole Yusay is a master’s student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.