If you’d asked me when Mila was born, I’d have told you I knew BpA (Bisphenol A) was bad. It was hard to miss the signs of “BpA free” now amassing on children’s sippy cups and some bottles. But if you’d pressed me – and sadly, no-one did – I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much more than that. I now find my blase stance incredible, and I’m annoyed at myself about that. I researched almost everything else from breastfeeding to babywearing, co-sleeping to baby-led weaning. I guess somehow I thought that the only products with BpA in were sippy cups and bottles, as they were the only products I’d seen BpA-free labels for – and if I just bought the BpA-free versions it was a non-issue. Oh boy was I wrong…
OK, let’s just dive in. BpA – or Bisphenol A – is an organic compound used in the manufacture of many plastics and resins. The most common plastic in the world uses BpA. You can find it in:
- plastic water bottles (labelled 7 on the bottom)
- baby bottles
- sippy cups
- teethers and baby toys
- Both plastic and metal bottle tops (when the underside of the bottle top is sealed with plastic)
- Baby food containers
- plastic storage containers
- cardboard milk containers coated with plastic
- the lining of tin cans
- Glad wrap and plastic food packaging
- CDs and DVDs
- some dental fillings, dental sealants and medical devices
- shop receipts (in highly toxic amounts – I suggest you decline receipts unless it’s really important)
- sports equipment
- contact lenses
- the coating of water supply pipes
- soft drink cans
- The lining of tins of formula. Babies fed infant formula are among the most exposed to BpA, especially if the formula comes in a plastic bottle
- beauty products; it is used as a solvent and in the packaging.
You can also find it in the environment, for example in the ocean as plastic waste degrades and leaches BpA; and in fruit and vegetables that were packaged in plastic. You’d almost certainly find it in your own body, but more on that later.
In other words, that shit gets everywhere.
BpA is a xenoestrogen: it mimics the hormone eostrogen in human and animal bodies and disrupts our endocrine (hormone) systems.
By mimicking the effects of oestrogen, it interferes with hormone levels and cell signalling systems and elevates the risk of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate and breast cancer, infertility, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
From another source:
The list of negative health effects associated in some way with exposure to BPA is remarkably long. The most visible effect may be aneuploidy, a chromosome abnormality found in more than 5% of pregnancies. Most aneuploid fetuses die in utero. About one-third of all miscarriages are aneuploid, making it the leading known cause of pregnancy loss. Among conceptions that survive to term, aneuploidy is the leading genetic cause of developmental disabilities.
Because kids are smaller than adults, the concentration of BpA in their bodies per kilo of body weight is greater. And because their brains are still growing, the effects are worse. What staggers me is how ubiquitous BpA is in products designed for and marketed to children and babies.
It’s not new news that BpA acts like an eostrogen. In fact, BpA was invented in the 1930’s during the search for synthetic eostrogens. I’m not sure who exactly takes the credit for adding it to millions of everyday products, but to that genius I’d like to say: fuck you.
To give these scary facts some back up, let’s look at what the governments of the world have said about BpA.
- The notoriously big-company-loving and slow-moving US has admitted that BpA is of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A”, and 6 states have banned BpA from children’s products
- Canada has categorised BpA as toxic to both human health and the environment, and has banned its use in baby bottles
- The European union has banned its use in baby bottles
- Japanese canned food manufacturers have voluntarily removed BpA from tin can linings, and BpA levels in Japanese citizens have since declined up to 50%
- Denmark, France and Turkey have all passed bills banning BpA from certain products.
And New Zealand?
New Zealand’s plastic regulations for food packaging and food and drink vessels is governed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. They say:
FSANZ has evaluated the safety of BPA in food, including that consumed by infants and concluded that levels of intake of BPA are very low and do not pose a significant human health risk for any age group. For example, to reach the safe level (TDI)* for BPA:
- A nine month old baby weighing 9 kg would have to eat more than 1 kg of canned baby custard containing BPA every day to reach the TDI, assuming that the custard contained the highest level of BPA found (420 parts per billion) in a recent survey by CHOICE.
I’m guessing that FSANZ wouldn’t do very well in School C maths.
Sure, your baby won’t eat a kg of custard per day (though my toddler would sure like to try). But custard – or whatever item you want to substitute that custard for – is not the only BpA source your baby is exposed to. If they’re formula fed, it’s also in both the milk and perhaps the bottle. If you spoon feed, it’s probably in the spoon, and maybe the bowl, and in whatever other food your baby is eating. It’s in the plastic teether they chew on for comfort, and the plastic toys they play with. The plastic dummy they might use. In the shampoos and baby body lotions, bubble baths, plastic high chairs and baby bathtubs. In the sippy cup and sometimes the water in the cup. And a newborn baby that weighs 3kg not 9kg has a much greater exposure to BpA per kilo. Get the idea? It’s not just one product that contributes to BpA build up, it’s the fact our kids grow up in a plastic, BpA riddled world.
*Also note: the safe daily level was what researchers decided on more than twenty years ago. This was an era when studies into BpA were almost exclusively industry-funded. There’s been a tonne of research since then, and most of it has not concluded that BpA is safe and benign.
FSANZ admits that the:
Australian Food and Grocery Council and New Zealand Food & Grocery Council members are voluntarily phasing out the use of BPA in polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and many companies have BPA-free options available.
But insists that “this is in response to consumer preference and demand and not an issue about product safety.”
What a load of bollocks. For a country that claims to be “clean and green”, we could certainly be doing much better to protect our children from toxins.
What’s the solution?
Unfortunately, BpA is so commonplace that it’s hard to avoid. But you can significantly reduce how much BpA you and your kids are exposed to.
1. Don’t just pick BpA free plastics. OK, switch to BpA free plastics as a first step if you like. But be aware that BpA is not the only toxin in plastics; they can also contain phthalates and heavy metals like cadmium. One study showed that most plastics, even BpA free ones, leach hormone-like chemicals. There have also been cases where companies claimed to have BpA-free products which in fact still contained BpA. And some unscrupulous companies like Avent – who now market their products in NZ as BpA free – have simply sent their old shipments of BpA-containing products to the Middle East where there is apparently less consumer awareness of BpA.
2. Reduce your consumption of ALL plastics:
- Use cloth bags instead of plastic
- Drink tap water or use a glass or aluminium drink bottle
- Don’t drink from water coolers
- Buy glass baby bottles if you need them, and glass storage containers for food.
- Buy wooden or fabric toys for babies and toddlers, or let them play with the metal saucepans and kitchen utensils, cardboard recycling or a sensory tray of rice or oats.
- Limit your use of tinned food
- Buy bulk foods instead of small quantities wrapped in plastic
- Swap your plastic electric jug for a metal one, and plastic chopping boards for wooden
3. Eat fresh food. A study in which families ate fresh, unprocessed food (and stored it in plastic-free containers) found: “After the intervention with fresh foods, BPA levels dropped on average by more than 60 percent and phthalate levels were cut in half. When the participants returned to their normal habits, their BPA levels went back up.” This was after only three days eating fresh food. Pretty neat stuff.
4. DIY. Try making your own bread, muesli bars, cleaning products, cosmetics, hair care products, toothpastes and whatnot to avoid all the packaging. I’m pretty new at this, but so far all the recipes I’ve tried are ridiculously easy. For example: try switching your regular conditioner for diluted apple cider vinegar. I’m no Einstein, but even I can manage that.
5. Arm yourself with knowledge. There are loads of good resources out there, but here are a few I like.
Jeanne Haegele‘s tips on using less plastic
Time Magazine’s “The Perils of Plastic“