The chemical Bisphenol A has been the cause for concern for environmentalists for more than seventy years and rose to public attention through its use in babies’ bottles. But what exactly is Bisphenol A and what does it do?
What Is Bisphenol A?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical which was first synthesised in 1893. It is now one of the most widely used chemicals in the world.
Its primary use is as the main building block to make polycarbonate plastic, epoxy resins, and other plastics. Each year, approximately three million tonnes are used for a diverse range of everyday plastic products and coverings as well as an additive to things such as pesticides and flame retardants.
What Is The Concern Over Bisphenol A?
The concern over the properties of bisphenol A were first raised in the 1930’s when tests on rats showed that the chemical behaved in similar ways to the hormone oestrogen. This was the first real evidence of so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemicals.
In the intervening seventy years, tests have shown that BPA is able to disrupt the endocrine system resulting in such dramatic effects as the feminisation of birds, fish, and reptiles, and low sperm counts. It has also been linked to the development of cancers, hyperactivity, obesity, brain dysfunction, birth defects, early onset puberty, and diabetes.
Where Do Baby Bottles Come In?
Bisphenol A does not biodegrade easily and thus readily persists in the environment. It is also able to leach from the polymer plastic to other materials it is in contact with, for instance food, milk, or water.
As many baby bottles are made out of polycarbonate plastic, the concern has been over the issue of babies not only putting the plastic continually into their mouth but also of drinking milk or other liquids potentially contaminated with bisphenol A.
While environmentalists have been campaigning for decades to reduce, limit, and even ban the use of bisphenol A, other scientists say that there is not enough proof to condemn such a useful compound.
Environmentalists take the precautionary approach and the debate is vociferous on both sides. Study after study suggests that even at extremely low exposure levels, BPA is detrimental to the health of laboratory animals and organisms in the aquatic environment in all sorts of ways and therefore extrapolate that it is likely to also cause similar types of effects in humans.
At the same time, more research is being undertaken to look at human exposure, the bio-accumulation of BPA in our bodies and examine links with diseases, such as prostrate cancer, contamination with BPA might cause.
Chemical scientists argue that levels are safe for humans. On the other hand, those involved in the plastics industry say that the levels of BPA we are exposed to through plastic products and the environment are so low as to pose no threat to our health.
Although research into any potential risks are useful, they believe stories such as those over baby’s bottles, to be emotive and erroneous and say there is no cause for public alarm.
If You Are Worried
It would be very difficult to completely avoid exposure to bisphenol A due to the sheer amount of products it is used, but if you are worried about your child’s health or are pregnant, then it would be wise to buy bisphenol-free baby bottles (they are available), or switch to glass or aluminium.