BPA: What is it and how much should we worry?

From Bucklesman via Wikimedia Commons

You may have heard of BPA in the news lately.  I first heard about it a few years ago when all of a sudden it was bad to have a plastic water bottle because it leaked BPA into your water.  Then it was bad to use plastic baby bottles because babies could take in the BPA.  Last summer I heard it was unsafe to touch store receipts because they contain a lot of BPA.  Now BPA is even showing up on money because people often stash money in their wallets alongside store receipts, and the BPA is rubbing off.  I thought it was a lot of hype, but now that it’s in the news again and being looked at closely by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), I thought I should take a closer look and make my own decision.

BPA stands for bisphenol-A and is a widely used chemical in the production of plastics, including hard plastic water bottles and the linings of food cans.  It mimics estrogen and therefore has been found have a wide variety of effects including making male mice less masculine and affecting the behavior of human children exposed to BPA while in the womb.  For the mice, the effects varied depending on when the mice were exposed to BPA.  When a pregnant mouse was fed food with BPA, the male offspring did not learn as quickly or navigate through cages as quickly as males born to mothers not fed food with BPA.  The female offspring seemed unaffected but found these affected males much less attractive as mates, lowering the fitness of the male mice.  When male and female micewere exposed to BPA beginning in adolescence, the struggles with learning and navigation affected both genders.

In humans, exposure to BPA in the womb appears to affect both genders.  When mothers are exposed to BPA while pregnant, their girls tend to be more aggressive than normal and boys tend to be more anxious and withdrawn.  It is not yet known if these behaviors continue to affect the children as they grow, but if they do there is concern that as teenagers they will face serious issues with anxiety, depression and even drops in IQ scores.  If we think that this exposure is something rare, think again.  In this same study, 99% of pregnant women tested positive for BPA at least once during their pregnancy.  This shouldn’t be surprising, as BPA is currently used to make a multitude of products we use every day like water bottles.

The topic of water bottles is what originally made me aware of BPA.  A few years ago a new trend started that encouraged people to buy metal water bottles instead of plastic because plastic water bottles leached BPA into your water over time.  A new study shows that even metal water bottles can leak BPA into your water even worse than the plastic water bottles.  The reason is that many metal water bottles have a plastic coating on the inside of them that contains BPA.  Some more expensive name-brand water bottles either don’t have a coating or use one that doesn’t contain BPA, but they cost more money and require the disposable of more plastic water bottles into landfills.

Nevertheless, I strongly agree with the EPA that there needs to be better testing for the toxicity of BPA in all products made and distributed to consumers.  It is very difficult if not impossible for us to keep up with the new research and to know the effects of things we use everyday like water bottles and store receipts, and I often feel like I am being lied to when I buy something that is supposedly good, like a reusable water bottle, but may potentially harm my future children.  My decision on BPA is this: I no longer think it is a lot of hype, but something I should start to be concerned about by being more conscientious about what I buy and how much I handle store receipts.  I will also try to be more informed about the issue so that I can make wise decisions when purchasing new items.

How else does BPA affect humans?  Why should we be so concerned about the effects that BPA has on mice?  What other chemicals are widely used that may be potentially hazardous to our health?

One thought on “BPA: What is it and how much should we worry?

  1. Note for students: This post is an example of ‘A’ work for a post. Note the use of many different sources including the original journal article. The questions at the end of the article are all science-related, and the topic is thoroughly explored from various angles.

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