Has BPA Fight Obscured Wider Dangers of Plastics?

Nearly two decades after scientists discovered that the common plastic additive BPA is linked to health problems, new evidence suggests even plastics labeled "BPA-free" may expose us to similar effects. Mother Jones reporter Mariah Blake found that potentially dangerous plastics are still everywhere — from your baby's bottle to your toothbrush. In her article “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics,” in the March/April issue of Mother Jones, Blake looks at all the plastics in our homes and the potential worrisome health effects.

In 2008 multiple studies showed that BPA, a plasticizer frequently found in baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, the liners of aluminum cans, and other products, mimics the hormone estrogen. Exposure can lead to behavioral and health disorders — especially for infants and young children. The United States and other countries have banned BPA in infant products, and many consumers switched to BPA-free products.

However, a 2011 study showed that many plastics contain estrogenic chemicals, not just those with BPA. Scientists tested 455 commercially available plastic products and found that the majority of them had estrogenic compounds. But Blake said the plastics industry has systematically attacked and attempted to discredit that study and others showing similar results, in what she described as a “Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury findings.”

Blake said that unless plastic products are made specifically to avoid estrogenic chemicals, chances are they do contain them. That includes baby bottles, plastic sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and water bottles.

“I was shocked when I started working on this story how little we know about the chemicals we use every day,” said Blake. “[Companies] don’t have to test these chemicals for safety. And if they do test and find them harmful, they don’t have to disclose that to the public.”