The controversy over BPA has again arisen. It appears that The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now reopen investigations of BPA effects and impact on health. Concerns about BPA have been raised since the 1930's (the first reported synthesis of the substance was in 1905 by Thomas Zincke of the University of Marburg, German). Zincke reported key physical properties of BPA (e.g., molecular composition, melting point, solubility in common solvents) but did not propose any application or use for BPA or the other materials he synthesized. In 1953, Dr. Hermann Schnell of Bayer in Germany and Dr. Dan Fox of General Electric in the United States independently developed manufacturing processes for a new plastic material, polycarbonate, using BPA as the starting material.
BPA has been widely used in plastics and the coatings of metal cans for decades since that time. It has many favorable properties, but over time, it can leach out of the plastic. Studies have shown that BPA can find it's way into the human body. Numerous studies have indicated little evidence of definitive health risks from BPA. On the other hand, a number of research studies have raised concerns about the effects of BPA on the liver, endocrine system, as well as in the effect of hormones an breast, prostate and other tissues. The use BPA has been banned in Canada in all infant and baby bottles and sippie cups. Many manufacturers in the US have voluntary moved to BPA free plastic products for infants and children. This new FDA attention should be welcome as long as it properly assesses the risks and benefits from the use of BPA in commercial applications. It would wrong to leave a potential harmful product on the market simply because it has been in use for many years. However, it would be equally wrong to pull a very versatile and useful product based on limited data and unfounded fears. Let's hope the FDA will review all aspects of the BPA issue fairly come to an informed opinion on the correct role of BPA in the food marketing system.
The FDA is concerned about possible health risks from bisphenol-A (BPA) a widely used component of plastic bottles and food packaging that it declared safe in 2008. The agency said Friday that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and would join other federal health agencies in studying the chemical in both animals and humans.
BPA is a chemical building block that is used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins (these line the inside of most food and beverage cans). Over four decades of extensive safety research on BPA shows that consumer products made with BPA are safe for their intended uses and pose no known risks to human health. Polycarbonate plastic is a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, optical clarity, high heat resistance and excellent electrical resistance.
Because of these attributes, polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of common products including digital media (e.g., CDs, DVDs), electrical and electronic equipment, automobiles, sports safety equipment, reusable food and drink containers, and many other products. Epoxy resins have many uses including engineering applications such as electrical laminates for printed circuit boards, composites, paints and adhesives, as well as in a variety of protective coatings. Cured epoxy resins are inert materials used as protective liners in metal cans to maintain the quality of canned foods and beverages, and have achieved wide acceptance for use as protective coatings because of their exceptional combination of toughness, adhesion, formability, and chemical resistance. Polycarbonate looks and feels like glass but is light and difficult to break.
The plastics and coatings made with BPA have many attractive properties and, among other things, are particularly good at not absorbing flavors or changing the flavor of items stored in them. Over time, the chemical can leach into the contents of a plastic container, particularly one that is used in a microwave oven or cleaned in a dishwasher.
BPA’s potential to disrupt the hormonal system, however, has made its use in plastics for food purposes controversial. Some animal studies have found that BPA apparently accelerates puberty and poses a cancer risk, and, while the issue's focus has been on the safety of children, the chemical has also been tied to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes in adults. In a draft risk assessment in 2008 the FDA said that at levels found in products on the American market, it appeared to be safe. Suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930s, concerns about the use of bisphenol A in consumer products were regularly reported in the news media in 2008 after several governments issued reports questioning its safety, and some retailers have removed products made of it from their shelves.
The chemical can leach into food, and a study of more than 2,000 people found that more than 90 percent of them had BPA in their urine. Traces have also been found in breast milk, the blood of pregnant women and umbilical cord blood.