BPA (bisphenol-A) is a chemical used in commercial production of polycarbonate plastic, epoxy resins, and thermal papers. The food industry uses these plastics and resins for packaging and for linings of food and beverage cans in order to make the journey of our food and beverages from producer to consumer safer. Thermal papers are used for carbonless receipts in order to make transactions faster. The alarming fact is that the estrogen-like chemical BPA is also a potential endocrine disrupter, linked to health concerns.
The BPA industry asserts that actual exposure to the chemical through food and beverage packaging is minimal, putting consumers at no serious health risks. However, the NTP (part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health) states that there is “some concern” over potential negative effects on development of the brain and the prostate gland and on behavior in fetuses, newborns, and youngsters based on current rates of exposure to the chemical. How then can we minimize exposure?
Environmental watchdog As You Sow, partnered with Green Century Capital Management, has prepared a report card that grades food and beverage companies on their commitment to phase out BPA. Of twenty-six companies examined, only Hain Celestial, ConAgra, and H.J. Heinz received A’s for their efforts to transition away from the use of BPA. General Mills and Nestlé also earned high grades for responsible behavior. The watchdog report does indicate that almost one-third of the surveyed companies have created corporate timelines for removal of BPA from their packaging.
What about those carbonless receipts (the type we receive at the gas pump and many other locations)? Environmental Working Group commissioned lab tests in several U.S. areas, finding that 40% of thermal receipts from sampled commercial outlets tested positive for BPA. If we handle a receipt made of BPA-coated thermal paper, then touch our mouths or food, we could come in contact with much larger amounts of the chemical than we do through food and beverage packaging. Receipts from a few outlets – including Target, Starbucks, and BoA’s ATMs – presented little or no traces of BPA, however. Also reassuring is the fact that the largest producer of thermal paper in the U.S., Appleton Papers, Inc., removed the chemical from its products in 2006.
To minimize exposure, you can seek products from companies that have taken steps to exclude BPA from their product packaging, avoid thermal receipts whenever possible, and remember what your Mom said: Wash your hands with soap and water (after handling thermal paper receipts)!
http://www.bisphenol-a.org/ (chemical industry information)
http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/media/questions/sya-bpa.cfm (U.S. government information)
http://www.greencentury.com/bpareport2010.pdf (watchdog information regarding corporate responsiblity)
http://www.ewg.org/bpa-in-store-receipts (watchdog information with tips on reducing BPA exposure)