The biggest problem with bisphenol A or BPA is not that it is an endocrine disruptor or that is has a strong estrogenic effect on the body (bad news for boys and girls alike) or that is has been associated with obesity, an increased risk of breast cancer or behavioral issues, to name but a few of the health issues associated with this chemical.
The biggest problem is the extremely high volume of BPA that is manufactured around the world, and that is approximately 15 billion pounds per year, which makes it one of the highest volume chemicals manufactured on the planet. The second biggest problem is that, due to its ubiquitous nature, BPA is almost impossible to avoid.
From thermal paper, which many people handle as receipts on a daily basis, to food containers to cans to plastic objects around the home and beyond, toys included, man-made sources of BPA are many and almost everyone, young or old, is exposed to the chemical.
One of the most frequent sources of exposure is the seemingly innocuous thermal paper receipt, and a new study revealed that touching receipts after using hand sanitizer makes the chemical penetrate the skin faster and in larger amounts than with dry hands.
Another recent study pointed to the fact that BPA might cause a temporary blood pressure increase, which affects the circulatory system and leads to chronic heart issues.
What makes chemicals such as BPA even more insidious is the fact that because it is present at relatively low doses regulatory bodies can be persuaded to believe that exposure in the general population is well below the threshold level when in fact the cumulative effect of multiple exposures makes such beliefs unrealistic and dangerous in the long run.
Recycled paper products also contain BPA, which can be transferred not only to hands and food but also to other paper products during recycling, and the result is, as expected, more BPA. Low doses add up and they do so for humans as well as the environment, specifically the aquatic life, where the estrogenic effects of BPA are seen in various water-dwelling creatures.
Countries such as Canada and the United States have for now concluded that the BPA present in food packaging does not represent a threat to the general population, while others have decided to ban the chemical from coming in close contact with food.
The recommendation by the Canadian health authorities that infants are to be exposed to as low as possible doses addresses very few if any of the concerns regarding BPA exposure, as recent research has demonstrated that pregnant mothers expose their unborn babies to various sources of BPA as they go about their daily activities, which translates into the growing body of the fetus being exposed.
By now, research has made it abundantly clear that BPA does not just pass through the body but affects the endocrine balance in more than one way, and its effects are seen as developmental abnormalities and chronic diseases in adults.
Could BPA-free products bring relief from BPA exposure and the risks associated with it? Not quite. The two chemicals from the same family that are already replacing BPA, or will soon be, bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF), have both been shown to negatively affect humans and rodents due to their estrogenic properties. BPS is also bad news for the environment, as BPS is more environmentally persistent.
We need to take a fresh look at how food is being processed and offered for consumption, at how various chemicals are being assessed, ideally by independent labs with no ties to regulatory organizations or the industry, and above all, we need to remember that if a few of us are not safe, no one is.
The case of BPA is still unfolding and research will keep on bringing new reasons to reconsider our choices.