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Are BPA-Free Plastics Any Safer?

| March 5, 2014 | 21 Comments
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By Mina Kim and Molly Samuel

Some plastics leach chemicals that are dangerous to developing fetuses and children.

Some plastics leach chemicals that are dangerous to developing fetuses and children.

Maybe you’ve noticed the words “BPA-free” on the packaging of plastic products like sippy cups and Tupperware. Studies have linked the chemical BPA, or Bisphenol A, to a host of health problems, particularly in pregnant women and their infants. But lab tests by the Oakland-based advocacy group Center for Environmental Health, have found that the chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as harmful.

KQED’s Mina Kim spoke with Mariah Blake, who wrote about the findings on plastics and synthetic estrogens in Mother Jones:

Estrogenic chemicals found in many common products have been linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals. According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. “Pick a disease, literally pick a disease,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA.

In 2008, Blake explained, there was a “BPA panic.”

“The public suddenly became very aware of the fact that BPA was potentially harmful,” Blake said. “Around that time, many manufacturers began moving away from BPA products.”

U.S. law doesn’t require a chemical be proven safe before it goes on the market; a chemical is presumed safe until proven otherwise. Nonetheless, given the public furor, manufacturers began replacing BPA with other kinds of plastics, including one called Tritan, manufactured by Eastman Chemical.

“This was the plastic to use if you wanted a truly safe product,” Blake said.

But recent tests by the Center for Environmental Health show Tritan is not so safe, after all. The Center sent 18 sippy cups to CertiChem Inc., in Austin, Texas, for testing. The lab found detectable estrogenic activity in chemicals leaching from five of the products, including products containing Tritan.

Scientists with CertiChem, Georgetown University and the University of Texas, had already published a National Institutes of Health-funded study in 2011, testing estrogen exposure from a wide range of plastics, including baby bottles and other products advertised as BPA-free. “In some cases,” the researchers reported, “BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA [estrogenic activity] than did BPA-containing products.”

Eastman sued CertiChem Inc., to prevent it from publicizing the findings.

On its website, Eastman stands by the safety of Tritan. And the American Chemical Council, a plastics industry group, questions if there is even any danger in BPA.

“Many government bodies around the world have evaluated the scientific evidence on BPA and have declared it safe as used in food contact materials,” the American Chemical Council said in a statement released Tuesday. And it called attention to a recent FDA study that found rats weren’t harmed by BPA.

Blake isn’t so sure about that. “I’m actually working on a story about that study now,” she said. “There are a couple of issues that raise questions about its findings.”

She said the FDA used a breed of rat that’s not sensitive to estrogen and that there appeared to have been contamination in the lab that conducted the study. (A note at the top of the Mother Jones article addresses the study.)

When it comes to BPA and possibly other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, Blake said, there is no known safe dose. “Unlike other kinds of chemicals, it’s not like they’re only harmful when you reach a certain threshold,” she said. “The scientists I’ve spoken to who study this chemical say there is no safe level of exposure. Any level of exposure is potentially harmful, especially for young children and developing fetuses.”

But she acknowledged, it’s hard to go plastic-free in our plastic world. “It’s a difficult situation because plastic is so ubiquitous and the available evidence suggests that there is no surefire way to avoid exposure as long as you’re using plastics,” she said.

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KQED Science brings you award-winning science and environment coverage from the Bay Area and beyond by the flagship Northern California PBS and NPR affiliate.
  • Isabel Aranda

    If you think about most of the items we use today contain chemicals that are harmful. Our society uses plastics everyday and we are just going to have to learn to deal with it. Some people may say BPA-free plastics are safer than those with BPA, but all plastics no matter what, contain chemicals. Our society depends on plastic so it would be hard to get rid of them. I havent heard of any one getting sick or died because of using plastic such as cups bowls or any other plastics we use for containing our food in. If it was dangerous for us to use then they shouldn’t be on the market. The plastics contain a low amount of chemicals that will not harm us. On the other hand if you are drinking water from a plastic water bottle that has been sitting in the hot sun, then thats a different story. You can be consuming the chemicals that have leaked out of the bottle and been soaking in the water. Now if your doing this consider not drinking that water because thats how you affected by the chemicals. Even if you do come with contact with plastics you won’t be affected by it . What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, remember?

  • Jacob Lout

    The world has been trying to prevent people from littering plastic bottle, especially into the ocean. Now we have to worry about if BPA plastic bottles are safe. Studies shown that there is a chemical on these plastic bottles. They can cause heart disease, liver disease and even cancer! Not only have they found this toxic chemical on plastic bottles, there is a potential chance it can be on sippy cups which children drink. Scientist have been trying to find a dose for this but there has been no luck so far. It is very true to make this world go plastic free, which makes it harder for the world to prevent these problems, especially global warming.

  • Amber Hernandez

    From what i have read from the article had really seemed to be suprisingly amazing because there’s some things as we learn from the past that we didn’t really know before as to be reasoning, that bpa’s could possibly become a serious issue that could become dangerous for others to be able to have. For example, the plastic cups that we or others buy at the store may probably have chemicals inside of them that can be infected with some thing that could affect your children that they may not probably know about. If the parents don’t know anything about it, “how will they be more careful about what they are giving there own children?” If the children begin to pick up a disease it will surely be able to affect the others and will pass on around the world if it’s not notified by then. As an example, the estrogen exposure can be an illness that could affect the way babies live there live because it’s an illness from plastic rubber cups that will affect the children who are innocent that don’t know anything about it if there parents don’t catch it before it gets to them. As a result I believe that this is a serious issue that could affect children that will be happening to have all of the diseases that are contained in the bottle if they wouldn’t be able to realize it all.

  • Carlos Coronel

    After reading this article on BPA chemicals in plastic bottle caps, I realized that these chemicals are harmful to all of us and have been around us for so long. These chemicals are harmful to mostly young children and pregnant women. The scientist supposedly began to use a new safer substance to make these plastics. However, unfortunately, recent studies show that these chemicals are just as harmful. The chemicals used in these can cause several illnesses. My reaction towards this is shocked. I am shocked because I would never think the United States would give us something that would be harmful. Or at least not in that form. A water bottle? How could a water bottle be given to us when it can harm our bodies. Who would have known it can cause heart disease and several other diseases. I believe that it should be stopped and should find a way to make plastics safer.

  • Diana Custodio

    We are NOT surrounded at all in a safe environment. This is because we are made in man made world. Nothing is natural anymore, so of course the materials we create are going to do some kind of harm. It’s up to the people to think if what they are using is safe for them. Plastic isn’t something we can replace, its everywhere. Like what the article said “it’s hard to go plastic-free in our plastic world.” It isn’t that shocking that it can cause heart diseases, asthma and even cancer. It is though crazy that people did not test out before the amount of harm it can cause with even a little bit of exposure. This just shows how much the world does not care. So now that I know about the harms I will be more cautious I wonder how many people had been seriously affected but don’t know that plastic was the cause.

  • Alexis Rodriguez

    I’m really not sure how to respond to this. Some scientists say the BPA plastic is safe and others say it’s not. I am not sure who to believe. I think it’s safer to think that the plastic is harm so that way I won’t be exposed to harmful plastics. I think scientists should work hard to find a safe plastic. Many babies and small children use plastic bottles and toys. It would be harmful to their health to be exposed to harmful plastics. These plastics can cause asthma, cancer, and low sperm count. We need to keep our Earth and people who live on it safe. If companies know their plastics are harmful they should stop making them. People should use glass products to avoid being exposed to harmful plastics. Overall people should play it safe and not use any plastic. This article was very informative and opened my eyes to the plastic world.

  • http://google.com Trevor Canepa

    How is it possible that any chemical that can cause many serious problems or complications to someones health be let out on the market! The fact that BPA is so harmful and still used is just wrong. It is in cups men’t for children and can seriously harm them. They are not tested until its to late. Every time a company or manufacture uses non BPA free plastics they are possibly give some cancer or other problems. These products need to be tested and made safe before they are put out to the public and cause serious harm to a lot of people.

  • Jailen Sainez

    Honestly ,I believe that everything is safe at some point. There always comes a time when all these things that we use on a daily basis are now harmful to everyone. If BPA Is harmful to mainly infants and pregnant women then they should be restricted to them. Even though these products are harmful, I believe that people will still continue to buy them. Once the factories start making new products that are safer, all the other factories won’t know what to make. I find this article not surprising because I have heard of this before. A lot of people will try to stay away from from these products, but some stores may continue to keep selling them. If they are still being sold then people will be tempted to buy them. I agree with Carlos because water bottles are the most common things used now a days. How is it that it’s been around for a long time and now they are harming us. The reason why we carry them around is to recycle and help the planet. Now instead of hurting the planet, it’s hurting us humans. How sure are they that the next product exposed will be safe ?

  • Liz Carrillo

    They say that the BPA in the plastic water bottles are harmful to the women that are pregnant and the women’s infant while the pregnancy.They made a study that a male frog can become a female. It makes problems for humans and animals. It causes asthma,cancer,infertility,a low sperm count for the men,genital deformity,heart disease, liver problems and ADHD for the humans that drink out of the BPA plastic water bottles.The BPA in the water bottles cause lots of problems for us humans an the animals that live on this Earth with us. Humans an animals that drink from BPA water bottles can die if they get any of the problems that are listed above that we can get.They say that the US law doesn’t require any chemicals to be proven safe if they are using it for anything.The manufacturers replaced BPA plastics with other kinds of plastics with one that is called Tritan.They made a discover after testing Tritan that it is not a safe product.They declared that BPA is safe and is used in our food contact minerals.They also say that they use a breed of rats that aren’t sensitive to estrogen and appear to contaminate the lab that conduct the study.They say it is hard to have a plastic free world in the entire world. There is a quote that the scientist say there is no safe level for the exposure.

  • jose casas

    Carlos coronel is right. After reading this article, I have gained a couple of questions about this topic. The chemical Bisphenol A otherwise known as BPA is known to cause countless of health problems. Some leading from birth defects to Asthma. The Oakland-based advocacy group Center for Environmental health have found that chemicals that say they do not use any BPA chemicals are actually worse than the products that use BPA. These chemicals used to replace BPA have caused male frogs to become female !! DES, which was once given to prevent miscarriages causes low sperm count, gential deformity, and infertility. I have to say I agree with Alexis I do not know how to fell about all this there are two sides in this problem, some say its okay and others say it is harmful. Why can’t these two sides find a agreement. Sadly, like Diana said we live in a man made world and of course some materials we make will be harmful to us. I truly do hope we find a solution to this problem soon because ti will affect our children for some time.

  • Leo Bautista

    After reading this article, I found out that the chemical “Bpa” is harmful. People use plastics without BPA but either way, plastic in general can be harmful. I barely found out that this is a serious issue. I would’ve never known that this can be harmful. We can be affected by many of the things that surround us each and every day and we never would even know it. These chemicals can cause heart diseases, liver problems, and cancer. Anyone can be affected by this problem. Studies show that this harmful chemical is even found in the sippy cups that children use. I think the only way we can solve this problem is by stopping the use of plastic completely. We would have to replace plastic with something else thats less harmful. These are my thoughts about this topic.

  • rogelio

    when I read the article i can see that BPA plastic is very bad for the world and for are mankind so i think we should not use it because it can lead to caner and i dont more people with cancer because it it very bad to be in there shoes and i agree with of the people because mostly everyone thing it very bad for the heath and it harmful of pergnant woman and young little kid and the world can be a nice place with out BPA plastic the evironment can have less bad drought mor claimte change so the world can. we should srop hurting the planet so stop making BPA plastic because every time we should hurting us very bad and it has bend test by many people and it bad i think we should stop making it

  • eddie chavez

    The article i read it really amazed me because BPA`s is a serious issue is very dangerous. Like for example most of the plastic products in the store it can have chemicals it can affect children. The estrogen exposure is very serious because it can be an illness to babies. This cause is very big because it can cause heart disease and lung problems. I know we are not surrounded in a safe environment because we don`t know what plastics have chemicals that affect us. They really can affect really young children and pregnant mothers. This causes to harm our bodies do to this large issue. I am very surprised how the United States give us something very harmful. This got me very angry how the world doesn`t care about us. The chemical hurts many people that can be affected by this diseases. A water bottle can be given to us but it can harm our bodies like really bad. I don`t think were in a safe environment anymore. This really effected me how we can count on our government.

  • Arelina Centeno

    I personally believe that everything can be harmful and that’s proven when topics like this are brought up. I can’t rap my head around something being safe until proven otherwise. If I buy something off a store shelf I’d like to believe it’s safe to consume or have. Now knowing about BPA and the harm it can cause is eye opening. I would have never thought that. Knowing that researchers have taken the time to go in and do research about a huge topic like this is good to know. Many people could get a cancer, infertility, and many more life changing diseases all because a product was considered “safe” before putting on sale. I’ve never heard of Tritan before but if it really is harmful I wouldn’t want it to be used in something id buy. After reading this article i will be more careful and causation of what I’m buying at the store.

  • Berenice Leon

    I agree with Alexis because from what I read, this information makes water bottles seem unsafe. Both BPA water bottles and BPA-free bottles still contain chemicals. This may harm young children, innocent babies, pregnant women and/ or everyone else. In this case, scientist should find or make a plastic that doesn’t contain any chemicals. That way everyone would feel safe while drinking out of those bottles. These plastics may also cause many disease that scare people away. They chose to not drink or buy these bottles in order to not get any chemicals. This makes our society feel insecure about the bottles. We need to keep our country and the people in it safe. If a water bottle is unsafe and contains chemicals, the world starts to question everything else. How can a small thing such as a bottle harm our bodies. Everyone will start to double think and question everything they consume inside their bodies. Overall, I believe any bottle does contain chemicals and until scientist find a resolution people on Earth are going to have to deal with it.

  • tre babauta

    When aren’t we in danger anymore? First we have diseases like ebola, now we have to worry about our plastics giving us health issues? This whole time we were unaware that even the simplest of objects can harm us. Who would have thought that what we use in our everyday life can actually kill us. Its scary to think that we are not safe from anything at all. Whether its a natural disaster, or man-made things that were made to “help” us. After everything I’ve witness/ read about, I kind of lost faith in the new things people make to “help” us in our daily lives. This comes to show that we we even have to be extra careful now to drink WATER out of a bottle.

  • Luis Avalos

    After reading the article I realized that these chemicals can be harmful. When i read this article i found out the harmful issue that chemicals in plastic has.The chemicals are harmful to the children and to the pregnant women. I agree with the last comment because the chemicals are harmful. i agree because it these chemicals can cancer, liver disease, and even heart disease. Another thing why i agree because the chemical cause a lot of disease. Also the scientist have began to use a safer substance to make plastic. Scientist should start making safer substance for plastic because there is many kids and babies that have toys that they are made out of plastic. My reaction to this article was shocking because i never thought that plastic was that harmful. The chemicals that the plastic has are every harmful to the little kids. why would the government expose use tho these chemicals in the plastic. Also who will know about what the chemicals in the plastic could do and the things that could be harmful. I believe that it should be stopped because they should find a way to make the plastic safer.

  • Justin David

    Its crazy what you use every day can kill you. Who knew that plastic bottle caps can lead to cancer, asthma, and even cancer. Now people have another thing to worry about besides diseases. People are going to have to be more cautious about what they use. We are in danger because think about how many people use plastic bottles. If you think about its a lot. This is crazy because our loved ones could be in danger and they don’t even know it. They can run away from it and they can’t escape it. This just shows how much we care about each other because no body is trying stop it. This needs to end because if it doesn’t it will only harm another person.

  • Gaby Tamayo

    After reading this article so many questions were going through my head and I felt more cautious about all these chemicals in plastic objects. Obviously it wasn’t going to be any safe, but if it was going to be harmful they should’ve at least thought of some other type of plastic to use because BPA causes diseases to all kinds of human beings. Babies can get asthma or any other disease just by playing with their toys and drinking some milk from their bottles. Honestly if the companies already knew that BPA was harmful why put out a product to sell? Also, you cannot litter because if you do the trash and all these BPA products will somehow get to the ocean and will harm the animals there. In 2008 there was a “BPA panic”, and I guess you can say that they tried to solve the problem cause the article informed, “…many manufactures began moving away from BPA products.” I guess you can say that companies didn’t continue to stop making BPA products since they’re still around. Yeah, the world isn’t safe but yet again, who said it was?

  • Estrella Estrada

    I ask myself the same thing when are we safe now but we aren’t safe because we make it this way. Yes, we have to worry about BPA and other possible things with endocrine-disrupting chemicals. We just have to try to avoid plastic espcially children it affects their brain development. I believe that we did not kmow about this because we are so blind and believe everything that a label says. This just makes us look closer at things and be opened when it comes to all these possible health issues. I agree with you that supposibly the things that are made to “help” us but it it really causes a lot of damage to us. The only choice that we have now is to avoid using plastic or be more careful on what we use. I also lost faith on the new things that are created now a days because this article just proved to us that hungs like this arent safe. We just have to start using glass instead of plastic. We have to do it for all the children and pregnat womens out there and especially for our own health.

  • Jackie Ceballos

    After reading this article, I didn’t know whether we were safe or in danger anymore. There’s so many different questions that I have for this article. It’s really crazy how even by drinking water, buying a waterbottle, or doing those little habits of biting on the bottle cap can do so much harm. I think it’s really important we keep plastic away from our children and ourselves as well. BPA can be a really dangerous think especially reading the fact that it can cause brain damage, cancer, and many other harmful things! Instead of the government and companies making other things like phones, computers, or etc., we should be worrying about more important things like making safer plastic. Or safer cups. Stuff that can really help us, unlike new iPhones or iPads. We need to open our eyes and realize what’s killing us, and what’s really important.