What is BPA?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient: Bisphenol-A (BPA)

What it is: BPA is a carbon-based synthetic compound belonging to the group of diphenylmethane derivatives and bisphenols. It’s been in commercial use since the 1940s to make rigid polycarbonate and epoxy resins. It is still one of the highest volume industrial chemicals produced, with approximately 6 billion pounds manufactured annually. It was one of the 62,000 chemicals presumed safe and “grandfathered in” when Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976.

What it does: BPA is most commonly used as an epoxy resin and to harden plastics. And it’s found in a stunning array of products: medical devices, dental sealants, water bottles, the lining of canned foods and drinks, cash register receipts (!!), and many others. With this kind of environmental prevalence it should come as no surprise that almost everyone has some amount of BPA in them. Detectable levels of BPA were found in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older.

Why we’re featuring it today: BPA is included in our Honestly Free Guarantee and despite its recent reappearance in headlines claiming maybe it’s safe after all, we believe the evidence against BPA far outweighs the small handful of studies (many industry funded) demonstrating “safety.”

A long and complicated history, it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of studies that have been conducted on BPA. First synthesized in 1891, BPA did not set off a wave of controversy until the late 1990s, when an animal study linked low-dose BPA exposure (the amount the National Toxicology Program deemed safe in the 1980s) with reproductive damage. This was followed by an Food & Drug Administration (FDA) study showing BPA contamination in samples of canned infant formula and Consumer Reports reporting BPA leaching from baby bottles when heated.

A wave of studies then ensued that confirmed reproductive damage along with early puberty, behavioral and brain defects from a low-dose of BPA. Then in 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hired an industry contractor to lead an evaluation on the safety of BPA. While eventually the contractor was fired for ties to the chemical industry, it was not before a preliminary report was released stating that BPA was “safe.”

NIH then funded a panel in 2007, known as the Chapel Hill panel, who reviewed all the literature on BPA and concluded that our current levels of exposure posed risks to human health. Following this, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released its own report linking BPA to early puberty, breast cancer, prostate effects and behavioral problems. The NTP also highlighted that pregnancy and early life are especially sensitive periods due to higher exposure and limited ability to metabolize the chemical.

It was then revealed in 2008 that one of the FDA’s Science board members accepted a $5 million donation from a retired medical device manufacturer with links to BPA manufacturing. While the FDA has issued updates on its stance, including amending food regulations to require no BPA in baby bottles or sippy cups in 2012,  it still believes that BPA is safe at very low levels. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the NTP teamed up to assess the growing body of research and they believe there is cause for concern.

While everyone hashes out the toxicological details, we’re erring on the side of caution and are committed to avoiding it.

Want your home to be Honestly Free of BPA? Here are the most important steps you can take:

  • Avoid canned foods and beverages. This is the number one exposure source for most people, so by taking this one simple step, you go a long way towards protecting your family’s health.

  • Avoid polycarbonate plastic, especially for food and beverages. Avoid plastics labelled with the number 7 in the chasing arrows symbol and the letters PC. (Not all #7 plastics are polycarbonate, so ask the manufacturer if you’re unsure.) When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.

Have any questions about BPA? Let us know in the comments. We’re always happy to help!

Learn more:

Works Cited

“Federal Register, Volume 77 Issue 137 (Tuesday, July 17, 2012).” Federal Register, Volume 77 Issue 137 (Tuesday, July 17, 2012). Web. 09 Apr. 2014. <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-17/html/2012-17366.htm>.

Palanza, Paola, Laura Gioiosa, Frederick S. Vom Saal, and Stefano Parmigiani. “Effects of Developmental Exposure to Bisphenol A on Brain and Behavior in Mice.” Environmental Research 108.2 (2008): 150-57. Print.

Palanza, Paola, Kembra L. Howdeshell, Stefano Parmigiani, and Frederick S. Vom Saal. “Exposure to a Low Dose of Bisphenol A during Fetal Life or in Adulthood Alters Maternal Behavior in Mice.” Environmental Health Perspectives 110.S3 (2002): 415-22. Print.

Saal, Frederick S. Vom, Benson T. Akingbemi, Scott M. Belcher, Linda S. Birnbaum, D. Andrew Crain, Marcus Eriksen, Francesca Farabollini, Louis J. Guillette, Russ Hauser, Jerrold J. Heindel, Shuk-Mei Ho, Patricia A. Hunt, Taisen Iguchi, Susan Jobling, Jun Kanno, Ruth A. Keri, Karen E. Knudsen, Hans Laufer, Gerald A. Leblanc, Michele Marcus, John A. Mclachlan, John Peterson Myers, Angel Nadal, Retha R. Newbold, Nicolas Olea, Gail S. Prins, Catherine A. Richter, Beverly S. Rubin, Carlos Sonnenschein, Ana M. Soto, Chris E. Talsness, John G. Vandenbergh, Laura N. Vandenberg, Debby R. Walser-Kuntz, Cheryl S. Watson, Wade V. Welshons, Yelena Wetherill, and R. Thomas Zoeller. “Chapel Hill Bisphenol A Expert Panel Consensus Statement: Integration of Mechanisms, Effects in Animals and Potential to Impact Human Health at Current Levels of Exposure.” Reproductive Toxicology 24.2 (2007): 131-38. Print.

Saal, Frederick S. Vom, Susan C. Nagel, Benjamin L. Coe, Brittany M. Angle, and Julia A. Taylor. “The Estrogenic Endocrine Disrupting Chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) and Obesity.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 354.1-2 (2012): 74-84. Print.

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  • What about BPS regularly used as a replacement for BPA?

  • Graciele_Gra

    The first time I heard about BPA was here on the Honest Company Blog:

    I learned so much from you guys and Dr. Thalia Farshchian that day. You guys made me so curious and so inspired to learn more.

    I started reading Articles, then saw an interview in Portuguese and found out we have plenty of BPA Free Products here in Brazil. I was all happy, shopping around, then bum! – came to know about BPS and that made me feel really frustrated.

    I made contact with the Company couple days ago, and they told me their products are also free of BPS. I really hope they were telling me the truth.

    Meanwhile, I will keep making changes around the house, buying glass containers and everything it needs to be done.

    Thank you all for the opening eye articles you always post here.

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  • ConcernedChemist

    BPS was never ever ever ever used for food contact coatings.
    That was all a hypothesized next step since the receipt paper makers had made that transition.
    The Sulfur containing portion of the BPS would add a horrible taste to the food material packed inside.
    This is all internet legend…

  • Eriko Azuma

    Thank you for this informative article! My question is… how does a manufacturer get the product to be certified to be “BPA-free”? Is it certified by the government or a private organization? Thank you for your insights!

  • Best Feed

    This article should be read by all responsible parents.Why take risk when we can ensure our children’s health with BPA free stainless steel feeding bottle. http://www.bestfeed.weebly.com