BPA – THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (except, there's no GOOD!)

For many conscious consumers we now know to avoid BPA and to choose products labelled ‘BPA-Free’ but is that really any better?

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a common building block in resins and polycarbonate plastic. It's also known as an endocrine disrupting compound,  where it mimics human hormones and disrupts hormone functions. (1)  Regardless of scientific findings and public sentiment, BPA has not been fully banned (*) and firmly remains within consumer goods. Although, the trend is ‘BPA-free’; the alternatives are a new ‘brand of nasty’ using regrettable substitutes with potentially and equally hazardous implications.

History - First synthesised in 1891, BPA re-emerged 40 years later when London Chemist and Physician, Edward Charles Dodds was working to develop estrogenic pharmaceuticals. His discovery was briefly considered for use in estrogen-replacement therapy….but chemists soon discovered BPA was an extremely useful building-block for polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins which rapidly led to this chemical  becoming one of the most ubiquitous chemicals in modern life.


Health effects?

BPA is a hormonally active chemical. Scientific evidence linking BPA exposure (measured in extremely small amounts; parts per billion and even parts per trillion) to animals and humans is both compelling and growing. With links to a staggering number of health problems such as; breast and prostate cancer, asthma, obesity, behavourial changes, including attention deficit disorder, altered development of the brain and immune system, low birth weight and lowered sperm counts. (2)


The primary source of exposure to BPA is through diet. While air, dust, and water are other possible sources of exposure, BPA in food and beverages accounts for the majority of daily human exposure.

Canned or tinned foods, plastic reusable water & drink bottles, take-away containers, plastic plates, sippy cups, bottle and jar lids, cash register receipts, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, medical devices, housing units for computers, mobile phones, sports helmets, car bumpers, dental sealants and more.

BPA is cheap, hard and durable and considered non-toxic in many applications but can leach into food and liquids from the epoxy resin coatings of cans and food/drink containers - How much, may depend more on the temperature of the liquid/bottle, food/container, than the age of the container. (3)

BPA-free alternatives…

Since BPA-free became trendy, manufacturers have been on a plastic-developing spree, creating more variations than scientists can keep track of: BPS (the replacement chemical on cash receipts, as estrogenic and toxic as the chemical it replaced (2), BPF, BPAF, BPZ, BPP, BHPF, and the list goes on. They all have “BP” in their names because they share the same basic chemical structure of a bisphenol.(1)

History has shown that Regulators and Governments have clearly fallen short to ensure the safety of ‘indirect food additives’ like BPA, failing to ban them completely. A whooping $77 Billion dollar industry is a instead a runaway train offering up a bevy of alternative substances whose chemical compositions are as secret as ‘Chanel No.5’’ and are already on the shelves, potentially labelled BPA-free. 

Continued use of BPA and its alternatives are an ongoing hazard especially for those manufacturing BPA, but also low-income populations, pregnant women, babies (BPA is also in breastmilk) and children.

BPA Alternative Food Can Linings: Potential Health Effects of Alternatives:
Acrylic resins and precursors Acrylate resins would be extremely hazardous for those working with it.  Petrochemical Styrene is a constituent of the copolymers and is listed as a 'reasonably anticipated human carcinogen' and 'possible carcinogen' by the National Toxicology Program and International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Styrene is also an endocrine disruptor - it is unknown whether Styrene would leach into foods.
Phenols other than BPA Similar to BPA, the bisphenols still appear to effect hormonal systems including inhibiting testosterone production. Some studies have shown, like BPA that chemicals can leach from the resin linings.
Plant based resins Oleoresin and other plant-based resins are likely to be derived from fir or juniper trees. Beyond this, little is known. see Terpenes 
Polyester precursors and additives Polyesters are a class of polymers, polyester resins are polyesters that have been cured and hardened with a linking additive. The resins have shown good stability and low toxicity but little is known of the additives needed to make can linings.  The combination of melamine and formaldehyde is one possible cross-linking agent, notably melamine migrated into food from BPA-based epoxy can linings that were cross linked with the same combination. Testing is ongoing in the EU but preliminary results show evidence of toxicity.  
PVC-bases coatings (vinyl acetate & vinyl additives) Vinyl acetate is an occupational concern and hazard effecting eyes and respiratory tract. It's classified as a possible carcinogen to humans.  Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is also a known human carcinogen. While pure PVC polymer has less concern, studies show that vinyl chloride may leach into containers and pipes into drinking water.  PVS's cycle from production to product uses and releases many hazardous chemicals including chlorine, ethylene dichloride, mercury, chlorinated dioxins, phthalates, lead, and many more! Again, PVC resins in can coatings may contain various additives and no information is specified but some found in other PVC products show it would be a regrettable choice for can linings!
Synthetic Latex, silicone Synthetic latex is linked with cancer and respiratory toxicity.

Table source (2) 'BPA Buyer Beware', a report by: Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Clean Production Action, Ecology Center and Mind the Store Campaign

Solution – AVOID BPA and all plastic food & drink containers:

  • Buy fresh and reduce use of tinned foods - since most cans are lined with BPA-containing resin or similar chemical alternative.
  • Avoid heat. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences advises against microwaving polycarbonate plastics due to the potential BPA contamination. (3) I would also be cautious putting hot and/or acidic foods like stewed berries, or tomato-based foods in plastic containers for the same reason.
  • Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers.
  • Plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.


For further extensive reading & sources:

Countries and places that have put bans in place - www.ecocenter.org - BPA

1  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/09/news-BPA-free-plastic-safety-chemicals-health/

2  https://www.ecocenter.org/sites/default/files/BPA%20BuyerBeware%20ES9.032916.1.pdf

3  https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm




"Clearly, there's some sort of contamination going on. A study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology found widespread occurrence of BPA in paper products, including 80 of the 99 toilet-paper-containing samples tested. The researchers cited contamination during the recycling process as the source."


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