Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper's Guide to Food Safety
Plastics and the BPA Story
Bisphenol A is a material used in hard, lightweight plastics called
polycarbonates. Some baby bottles and water bottles are made from bisphenol A.
Enormous amounts of BPA are produced each year -- about 6 billion pounds.
Although bisphenol A came to fame on the nightly news as a potential poison
in our water bottles, our main exposure comes from the linings of canned foods,
according to Vandenberg, who studies BPA.
"Over a dozen studies clearly show that BPA is not only leaching from
cans, but it reaches the food stored inside," says Vandenberg.
The BPA we ingest gets into our bloodstream. Regular monitoring by the CDC
shows that more than 90% of us have detectable levels of bisphenol A in our
Among all the other plastic substances that get into our food, BPA stands
out, according to Vandenberg, for its ability to disrupt the functions of
hormones -- especially estrogen.
Hundreds of studies show that high doses of BPA disrupt reproductive
development and function in laboratory animals. Levels in humans were thought
to be too low to be of concern, but more recent research has challenged that
perception, Vandenberg tells WebMD.
"Several animal studies suggest that BPA has effects at much lower doses
than previously believed," says Vandenberg. "The levels of BPA in
people frequently exceed the levels shown to have effects in rodents in these
studies," she adds.
Chemical industry sources are quick to point out that this "low-dose
hypothesis" has not yet been proven. They cite studies that have not
shown harm from BPA at low doses in rodents. However, a new study in a
prestigious journal also shows the low-dose BPA effect not just in rats but in
monkeys, whose systems are more like humans.
One large, well-conducted study in humans showed that people who had high
levels of BPA in the urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and
Altogether, Vandenberg believes a "fragile consensus" exists among
scientists that BPA might be harmful. "Looking at the data we have, there
is no reason to conclude we are all safe from BPA's effects," she tells