Please Explain: BPA

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bisphenol-A, known as BPA, is an important building block of several plastics and plastic additives. Concern about the use of BPA in consumer products has been growing, and questions about its safety and its effect of human health have led some retailers to remove products made of it from their shelves; some states, cities, and even countries have even banned its use altogether. On today’s edition of Please Explain, we’ll look into what the studies of BPA show, why the scientific community continues to be divided over exactly what levels of BPA are harmful to human health, and how the Food and Drug Administration has handled consumer concern over BPA. We’ll speak with Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Report's and and Consumers Union's Director of Technical Policy. She'll be joined by Meg Kissinger, investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has been writing the series Chemical Fallout."


Meg Kissinger, and Dr. Urvashi Rangan,

Comments [64]

Bonn from EV

In the 1980s I saw that in England they used biodegradable plastic bags. I don't know how true or effective that was. But worth looking into. By the way, DON'T reuse that plastic water bottle. You will leach the chemicals into your drinking water.

May. 16 2014 12:54 PM
RS from NJ

I use natural wax paper instead of plastic wrap, and wax bags (the kind that cafes might put a baked good in) instead of plastic bags, whenever I can. It seems better than plastic, I hope it is.

Store-bought frozen meals aren't the best thing for you anyway, but if you do buy them, it's easy and effective to open the plastic packaging and simply place the frozen food in a dish and heat it that way like any other food.

Feb. 22 2013 02:10 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

Thanks for this discussion!

How safe are plastic storage containers, like Ziploc and Tupperware - cloudy, soft plastic. How safe are they for storing foods in the refrigerator?

Thank you!

Feb. 22 2013 01:41 PM
CChemist from Pittsburgh

Whether BPA is safe or not, the discussion is decided. Most can manufacturers are actively switching and evaluating alternatives. As of today, almost every Tuna can produced in the US has a BPA free coating on the inside. Most 2 piece pet food products are also BPA free. The definition of BPA free is another hotly debated topic; the cans may be made without any BPA contact, but with the chemical being present in water tank liners, the environment, shipping materials, processing equipment, etc., traces can be found, especially when you start measuring parts per trillion.

Feb. 26 2010 04:39 PM
Nancy from Nyack, NY

My family is completely overwhelmed with BPA in food packaging, especially canned tomatoes. My father just went through a year and a half of cancer treatment and we do not want BPA contaminated foods. My youngest sister has stopped buying canned food for her young family and my mother has pulled back. I have suggested writing to the food companies and tell them why they are not buying canned crushed tomatoes or sodas. I think that will have more of an impact. If Eden Foods can do it, they all can.

Feb. 10 2010 07:47 AM
G Brit

In Great Britain, Co-op supermarkets removed all BPA fom packaging by 2004. All other supermarkets only sell tomatoes in TetraPak. There are other changes pending.

Feb. 10 2010 06:46 AM
Diane Schramm from Dayton, Ohio

In response to Sally I don't know where you get information from but you're wrong about what's listed in patents. It's not an idea or why is the government making them prove what is in a product to protect us?

Feb. 09 2010 07:19 PM
Orly from Bridgehampton, NY

On one hand Sally is correct. A manufacturer may use BPA or it may not, but it is not meaningless. If researchers are finding BPA in carbonless and/or thermal paper, then they are obvoiusly using it. What does one do when a manufacturer goes on the record and tells a reporter they do not use BPA in their carbonless copy paper and then you find employees from the same paper manufacturing plant who can testify to mixing the BPA for the very same product?

Feb. 09 2010 07:14 PM

Sorry, but a substance being listed in a patent is meaningless. A patent is an idea. It doesn't mean that it is actually used in a product, even if a company filed a patent.

Feb. 09 2010 08:10 AM

After hearing your show on plastics I contacted Brita about their pitchers. This is the reply I received.
Thank you for contacting us.

"The pitcher lids and filter housings are made of Polypropylene plastic. The reservoirs and pitchers are made either from NAS (a Styrene based plastic) or SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile). The soft-touch handles are made from an elastomer called Santoprene (not to be confused with Latex or Neoprene). Our products do not contain any bisphenol A and are all tested by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) for safety and wetted contact. Unfortunately the pitcher materials are not recyclable, and therefore do not have a plastic number. Please contact us at any time if you have additional questions.

Again, thank you for contacting us.

Shelley Preston
Consumer Response Representative
Consumer Services

Feb. 08 2010 02:48 PM
Diane Schramm from Dayton, Ohio

Thank you Sharon from Ithaca, New York, for your input when it comes to proving it in court. Patents don't lie what they have put into the paper.

Feb. 08 2010 12:26 AM
BDE from Basking Ridge, NJ

I am trying to resist personal attack on Ph.D. [17, 48, 49, 51]. I'd trust the expose and results of investigative reporting more than many, many fake reports, dressed up as scientific research, being peddled around in the media by vested interests. Also, there are countless number of fake scientists around. Thank you Leonard, Meg Kissinger and Dr. Urvashi Rangan for bringing out and pushing the issue more into the mainstream. There are lot of examples of fake results being pushed around without scrutiny as scientific data. How could I trust the information from FDA and that depend on direct/indirect support, including research data, from parties benefiting from the information? We have to take things into our own hands and be cautions. For recent example of peddling fake information, I can not get over the recent "Glaciergate" fabricated in the UN climate report (before publication, the error was pointed out, but still it went through.)

Feb. 06 2010 04:41 AM
Sharon from Ithaca, NY

The patents show that the manufacturer in Dayton used BPA in their carbonless and others. Maybe someone should go to the US Patent office and do a search with the Dayton company and BPA and/or it spelled. It pulls up numerous patents. Sometimes you have to check the referenced patents and then their referenced patents to get an accurate picture of the chemicals involved. One patent came up with 25 other patents to get an accurate list of chemicals including BPA. The problem in diagnosis, that many treating physicians do not know US OSHA law demands MSDS, raw date and all chemicals be given to a person's physician to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment. The manufacturers try everything not to give this information. What we need is enforcement by the Federal government to make manufacturers disclose to physicians. The manufacturers deny that any of their employees are sick or injured. Just look above and then view their workers' comp records in the various states. I would suggest checking Europe for accurate information on BPA and other chemicals. How can a manufacturer say BPA is not in their product when their patent lists BPA.

Feb. 06 2010 12:20 AM
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. from summit, nj

Re 47 and 50: Me, a hired gun??? This show with 2 like-minded guests, coupled with this comment board, is what I'm talking about. We need more objectivity and accuracy here. I have worked in research focused in psychology, education, and children's health for nearly 20 years. I read up on and write about parenting and children's health research - and care passionately about respecting the scientific method. I have also taught research methods and statistics in addition to other health-related courses. I am not affiliated in any manner with any industry, not the chemical industry, not Big Pharma, or government agencies. And yet, voicing a moderate view, asking for some objectivity, simply questioning whether we are jumping the gun here and overestimating the risks (and there are decades of good research attesting to its safety but yes we need more with more nuanced methods for sure) - I become villified? I threw away the BPA baby bottles and sippy cups. It's not that I am not worried about BPA. But I'm equally concerned with the fear-mongering and one-sided debate in the media and our playgrounds. I really expected more out of NPR and the show, which I normally enjoy.

Feb. 05 2010 09:50 PM
Nancy from Nyack, NY

Polly Ph.D. sounds like a hired gun from industry.

Feb. 05 2010 06:08 PM
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. from summit, nj

RE: 47 (comments by guest, Meg Kissinger). For matters of clarification, psoted a very long and critical report of Meg Kissinger's Chemical Fall-Out Series in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Feb. 05 2010 04:30 PM
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. from summit, nj

RE: 47. Please check out the mission statement. It is an independent organization that receives funding from a variety of foundations no doubt - they are not in league with any corporations. They are a non-profit dedicated to accurate information (science-based) in the public discourse. So you'd rather trust a journalist than a group of objective scientists? I'm amazed. NPR is funded by a variety of big foundations, among them, the Lily Foundation. Yes, the pharmaceutical heirs. Do you not trust them?

Feb. 05 2010 02:58 PM
Meg Kissinger from Milwaukee, WI

Correction for Polly Palumbo [17]: is not independent. The latest tax returns show that STATS was funded exclusively by the Sarah Scaife Foundation. The bulk of Scaife's money comes from Exxon, one of the major BPA makers. STATS' mission is to monitor news coverage.

Feb. 05 2010 02:03 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Corning and Pyrex is made of borosilicate glass and is safe. Some clays are glazed with lead based glazes and should not be used. Some enamelware also has lead and should be avoided if you don’t know for sure. Lead crystal should be fine if you’re not heating it and it isn’t your everyday glassware.

Feb. 05 2010 12:54 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Lynn # 44.
Plastic film may or may not have phthalates. It’s the chemical one of the guests mentioned that makes plastics soft or flexible and was in some baby products. Check out Wikipedia for Phthalates and Phenols or Bisphenol A. Should be reasonably accurate.

Feb. 05 2010 12:50 PM
j from bklyn

Re: Glassware
There was a previous show on lead contaminates in different types of clay/porcelain and glass containers awhile back.
Corning Ware brand glass [I don't work for them] is made from the same idea as their laboratory equipment, so as not to have cross contaminates. From what I know , this is the safest glass dishes and cooking ware publicly available. They finally got around to having some nice designs in the past few years, and KMart usually carries several of these patterns, in NYC as far as I'm aware of.

Feb. 05 2010 12:49 PM

Is BPA in the plastic that covers frozen dinners? Does it leech when you microwave the food? The instructions usually say to make a slit in the plastic but of course it touches the hot food. How safe are the containers?

Feb. 05 2010 12:44 PM
Jennifer from NYC


Feb. 05 2010 12:42 PM
Polly Ester

FYI, polyester fabrics are finished with formaldehyde which is rather toxic. Do a search or check out

Feb. 05 2010 12:41 PM
tony daniel from Queens, NY

It would seem that since BPA is so prevalent in use, that it would be a reasonable to assume that when in doubt, or if a company refuses to disclose what is in the product, that it is in use.

Feb. 05 2010 12:41 PM
James from Teaneck

I was wondering if there is any concern over DHMO (dihydrogen monoxide) in canned foods and baby formula?

Feb. 05 2010 12:39 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

And another note on BPA… Sounds like this is going to be the next asbestos.
For a long time asbestos was the next best thing after sex. It was in EVERYTHING. It was an industrial wonder. Now we know it is fantastic, but also bad when inhaled.
People who worked in industries around asbestos do have legitimate concerns, but a lot (although not all) of the asbestos the general public came into contact with was encapsulated and safeish (safeish but not 100% safe because it could be weaponized, so to speak).
We should move to limit or eliminate the use of BPA, but let’s not get all freaked out because there may be 1 PPM of BPA around us or blame BPA for everything that ails us.

AND… some things can be lined with plastics/resins, but others can be lined with wax like in some milk cartons. It depends on the alkalinity or acidity of the food and if the food is abrasive along with the amount of time the product is expected to be in the container.

Feb. 05 2010 12:38 PM
Kitchen Philosopher from Central New Jersey

If BPA acts as an estrogen, could there be a connection with breast cancer?

Also, perhaps the people at the FDA look back at their own history and decide just what the agency was originally designed to do; it's my naive guess it had something to do with protecting the public. It seems a simple thing, no, to insist that only studies done or financed by others than manufacturers be considered; end of story.

Feb. 05 2010 12:37 PM
Sue Rossi from Beacon NY

just looked up BPAs in Brita filters and apparently it's BPA free!

Feb. 05 2010 12:37 PM
pat from atlanta

regarding pur and brita filters, see the following blog, which suggests that they are bpa free

Feb. 05 2010 12:36 PM
Janice Hall from Brooklyn

I have contacted both Brita and Cuisinart about their use of BPA in their products. They both emailed and called(!) several times to reassure me that they had never used BPA in their products... this includes the older models of their products. I also contacted Kitchenaid about my blender. I have Never heard back from them, leading me to believe that there may be BPA in the product.

Feb. 05 2010 12:35 PM
kate bell from port washington

I'm wondering about plastic where boiling water is poured, such as mellita style coffee makers.

Feb. 05 2010 12:35 PM
kara from catskill, ny

Tomatoes...I've been buying tomatoes in aseptic packaging for my tomatoes. Does that have BPA?

Feb. 05 2010 12:35 PM

Here's one find from a google search on Brita and BPA:

UPDATE 9/17/09: While you may not be able to find information on Brita’s website regarding BPA, you can call them at (800) 24 BRITA for the scoop. The first thing you’ll hear is a statement confirming that each of their products is 100% BPA-free.

We checked with Simple Steps to find the answer. Here’s what they learned in speaking with the Brita company:

A company representative tells us that there are 2 main parts to the pitchers. The clear bottom part which holds the filtered water is made from 100% styrene acrylonitrile and the reservoir part of the pitcher (as well as the filter canister which goes inside) is made of 100% polypropylene. Therefore, it appears that Brita filter pitchers do not contain any polycarbonate plastic and are not made from the same material as Nalgene or Avent baby bottles. That’s good news for Brita users.

The Green Guide also recommends Brita pitchers as a safe option in their article, “Are Brita Containers Safe?”

Feb. 05 2010 12:33 PM
hjs from 11211

i won't microwave those plastic take out containers (which i too use over and over) but i feel it's ok to store stuff in the fridge. I'd like to know if there're OK to use.

Feb. 05 2010 12:33 PM
Betty Anne from UES

Is it me or did this blind eye approach to chemical use start to get out of hand during the last 12 years in this country?

Feb. 05 2010 12:32 PM
Chana Adar from NY 10025

re: yogurt and sardines containers and BPAs?

Plastic food wrappers of raw milk local cheeses?

The plastic bags on rolls in supermarkets
used to package vegetables to take to the checkout counters.

My water filter is made with plastic canasters
- I rely on this to remove chlorine, etc.

Feb. 05 2010 12:31 PM

what about POWDER baby formula? lined with bpA?

Feb. 05 2010 12:31 PM
Cynthia from long island

Julia (13), I just called Natural Balance. (I had the same concern.) They said that their cans do not contain BPA.

Feb. 05 2010 12:31 PM
Betty Anne from UES

What are we suppose to do about canned tomatoes, tomato paste?

Feb. 05 2010 12:29 PM
lynn from manhattan

I don't understand--I thought BPA has been banned in Canada and Europe for sometime now.

Feb. 05 2010 12:29 PM
Rick Bruner from Morningside Heights

It strikes not all the canned foods I use have linings. E.g., tuna cans. I'll pay more attention now as I recycle which do and don't, but it seems to me a lot of what I recycle is just metal. What about those?

Fear of cans was recently brought to my attention by a friend who was just following her mom's advice to buy Pomi brand tomatoes in boxes, rather than the Italian canned ones I usually buy. Really? What about what about the lining of Pomi's box?

This is just that kind of science scare news that ends up being impossible to abide as a consumer. :-/

Feb. 05 2010 12:28 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Laura @ 8,
I saw that same episode of “How It’s Made” and that opens up a whole other can of worms.
1.Metal can need to be coated on their interiors to be safe. Uncoated steel can lead to botulism, uncoated lead (not that you should eat out of lead) can turn you stupid, verdigris from copper is toxic which is why it’s antibacterial, and aluminum may or may not contribute to Alzheimer’s.
2.The SIGG bottles on HIM used to be coated with a film that may or may not have BPA, SIGG has refused to disclose the chemical makeup of its former coating, but now uses a new coating. Check out all of the buzz over whether SIGGs are safe and whether or not you should use glass or stainless steel.

Feb. 05 2010 12:27 PM
Pliny from nyc

does it leach out more with certain types of foods?
tomatoes which are acidic for instance.

Feb. 05 2010 12:27 PM
denise from nj

You say that bpa is found in 93% of americans, and that it can have an outsized effect on infants due to their developing systems. Have there been studies on the content of bpa in breastmilk? Does it get filtered by the mother's body?

Feb. 05 2010 12:26 PM
Ash from Chelsea

I think its tragic that in this country our government does not seem to be interested in protecting its citizens, only its businesses. In any other country, if there was even the hint of adverse health effects, the product would be removed from the market immediately, or at least be labeled. Our government will quickly criticize the chinese for this sort of thing, but when BPA's adverse effects were known, they first met with the manufacturers to see how to play down the information! Very sad state of affairs.

Feb. 05 2010 12:26 PM
Cynthia from long island

Would plastic food bags like those used in chips potentially have BPA in them?

Feb. 05 2010 12:26 PM
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. from summit, nj

Where is the expert who doesn't believe BPA is as a great a threat as your two guests, one a journalist, the other employed by a consumer organization? I'm a mother of three (who threw away the bottles) but I'm also a former researcher who reviews children's health research and has followed BPA. Your coverage is disappointing. And Leonard, the FDA didn't "reverse" their opinion, they still believe it safe in it's current levels (we receive) - they did say it merits further study. Please check out - an independent organization at George Mason University that has objectively written about BPA - including the Milwaukee paper's very biased coverage. Please, please be more balanced!

Feb. 05 2010 12:25 PM
lynn from manhattan

I was horrified to find out my son's pediatrician recommended bottles that had BPA in them.

I did not learn of BPA from his ped., but from a co-worker when my son was 6 month's old. I always thought I was educated, but it is only now that BPA is becoming a bigger issue. My son is now 2.5 and healthy, but I worry of what I may have exposed him to for the first 6 months of his life.

Feb. 05 2010 12:25 PM
Marcos from the Bronx

Is it in personal electronics, like cellphones?

Feb. 05 2010 12:24 PM
Henrietta from Manhattan

I use Brita filters and plastic containers to purify and store my water. Am I adding PBA while taking out other contaminants?

Feb. 05 2010 12:24 PM

what about pet food cans? should I stop feeding my cats from cans?

Feb. 05 2010 12:23 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Some basic basic facts about Bisphenol A that neither guests nor the host seems to have information on.
BPA is an organic phenol (a kind of hydrocarbon) used to either help preserve, synthesize, plasticize, or probably stabilize a resin (AKA plastic) I’m no expert, so correct me if I am wrong.
As well as having an industrial function, this chemical also acts as a fungicide and an estrogen. So it is not that estrogen is just being thrown into things for kicks, it is that it is a chemical acts in multiple ways.
I’m not implying it’s safe, but simply describing it as a estrogen without explaining its functional reason or reasons for being in resins is misleading.

Feb. 05 2010 12:21 PM
Matt from UWS

The scientist just said that she recommends replacing plastic containers with glass or other materials when heating up food. But I wonder whether the glazes on my ceramic dinnerware (produced in China, of course) is safe to be microwaved or heated.

Feb. 05 2010 12:20 PM
James from Chelsea

I carry my refrigerated lunch to work in a kind of soft plastic container and heat it up just to luke=warm level: would BPA be released (or at a lower level) if the temperature is kept to, say, 100 deg. F?

Feb. 05 2010 12:19 PM
Cesar from Astoria

From the minutes of a May 28 meeting of the BPA Joint Trade Association.

Very interesting (and nefarious):

Feb. 05 2010 12:18 PM
Laura from NYC

"How It Is Made" featured an episode on the manufacture of those aluminum water bottles. I was surprised to see that they coat the inside of the bottles with a layer of plastic. So many people have switched from plastic to metal. Are these a problem too?

Feb. 05 2010 12:17 PM
Sandra from NJ

How can we find canned foods Not lined with BPA? I've read that Eden Foods doesn't use it, but their cans don't seem to be labeled as such. How can I tell which cans have BPA and which don't?

Feb. 05 2010 12:16 PM
Fish from brooklyn

Will BPA leave the body over time, if you stop ingesting it?

Feb. 05 2010 12:13 PM
Patricia Hume from Charlotte, NC

Is that how BPA is getting into our recycled pizza boxes and other food packaging?

Feb. 05 2010 11:32 AM
Diane Schramm from Dayton, Ohio

I worked in a paper mill that makes carbonless copy paper and thermal paper where Bisphenl A was used and recycled. I am now very sick and disabled. I have diaabetes, neurological problems along with other problems. I have many former co-workers who are now deceased from cancers, neurological disorders, etc. This is a very, very dangerous chemical.

Feb. 05 2010 11:32 AM
Mildred Jackson from Chesapeake, VA

On 2/2/10 an article was published in Environmental Health News on BPA. It stated there are high levels of BPA in carbonless copy receipts and also in thermal paper receipts. It may seem small, but I worked as a customer service rep for Bell Atlantic. I handled this paper for over 20 years and I am disabled from the chemical exposures. I saw Meg Kissinger was the first to resport on duplicate forms/receipts over a year ago. Can you ask your guest about the research into BPA exposure and carbonless copy paper?

Feb. 05 2010 10:43 AM
tom from nyc

Hi – I order frequently here at work from nearby Chinese place, partly b/c food is good but also because they have great containers: figure it’s safe to reuse them for storage in ‘fridge or cupboards but wondering about using them to heat stuff up – like soups. Bad move?

Somewhat related: our cat recently died of cancer. She had a tumor on the bottom of her tongue which turned out to be very common for cats her age (12 yrs). Not sure what the cause was, but could be the cumulative effect of nuzzling things over the years, or from cleaning herself or from certain foods. Just wondering if there’s any evidence that humans can develop same type of squamous cell carcinomas as result of all the plastic that gets into our food.

Feb. 05 2010 10:08 AM
JT from Long Island

Is the plastic used for groceries BPA free? It wouldn't make sense to worry only about water bottles when it's used for so many prepackaged foods.

My family made the switch to glass and metal when reports of BPAs dangers came out. Better safe than sorry. Besides, glass and metal containers are easier to clean than plastic.

Feb. 05 2010 10:03 AM

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