Bisphenol A (BPA) has been around for decades but it’s only recently that has the chemical been linked to a myriad of diseases, ranging from diabetes to cancer. In a series of articles for theÂ June 5 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, Senior Correspondant Stephen Ritter explores in detail what scientifically is known about the safety of BPA. In short, there isn’t an easy way to tell how safe is the plastics additive.
A compound made up of two phenol rings, BPA is used to produce polymers. Since the 1950s, it has shown up in baby bottles, DVDs, and automobile parts. It’s used to make the hard polycarbonate plastic, epoxy resins, and linings of food and beverage cans.
Ritter explains that the estrogenic activity of BPA has been known over 80 years. In fact, its ability to mimic the female sex hormones had once made it a potential candidate for hormone replacement therapy.
But recent studies in laboratories have raised questions about the chemical’s safety. An article by freelance science writer Laura Cassiday, which appeared separately in Chemical & Engineering News, described how preschoolers get primarily exposed to low levels of BPA through their food and drink. Earlier this year, the European Union and Canada banned BPA from being used in baby bottles. In fact, Canada is the first country to declare BPA to be toxic.
Regulators in the U.S. have resisted making decisions about the chemical based on the laboratory studies because many of the methods used to study BPA have not been validated. So, what to do — ban, limit, or let it be?
But, as Ritter explains:
As this debate has unfolded, the public has been bombarded with a steady flow of studies, reports, claims, counterclaims, conflicts of interest, lawsuits, and congressional inquiries regarding BPA. Both sides of the debate have been active in promoting their views to the media and the public. And both sides accuse each other of using spin tactics to create uncertainty about BPA, not unlike the socioscientific debates that have unfolded over cigarette smoking and climate change.
In one of the articles of the BPA series, “BPA Is Indispensible For Making Plastics,” Ritter also discusses replacements forÂ the compound. It’s a challenge to come up with a cost-effective chemical replacement that works just as well as BPA. And it’s not as if the replacements themselves are without consequences.
Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.