Is There Poison in Our Food? Concerns About BPA

For years, researchers have implicated Bisphenol A (BPA) as a cause of cancer, obesity, diabetes and more. What’s the story behind this chemical?

| February/March 2012

Ziploc Containers

Food container manufacturers such as Ziploc have responded to BPA concerns by removing it.


The synthetic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) — often found in plastic containers and the linings of metal cans — is a potent, estrogen-mimicking compound that can leach from containers into food and water. In this interview, published by Yale Environment 360, an online magazine from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, BPA researcher Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri’s Endocrine Disruptor Group harshly criticizes U.S. corporations and government regulators for covering up or ignoring what he believes are serious health risks of BPA. — MOTHER  

Yale Environment 360: Everyone’s heard of BPA, but I really don’t think people know what it is. What is it? 

Frederick vom Saal: Bisphenol A is derived from petroleum. You take benzene, this sort of basic building block that corporations like Exxon produce, and they sell this to corporations like Dow Chemical. And they’re the ones that turn this, through a manmade chemical reaction, into this chemical called Bisphenol A. And this is an extremely reactive chemical that has the shape that any biochemist will look at and say, “This chemical will act as an estrogen-mimicking hormonal chemical.”

Yale Environment 360: This chemical was originally investigated by... 

vom Saal: Charles Edward Dodds. He was a British chemist, one of the leading chemists of the 1930s and 40s, and he won the Nobel Prize for synthesizing a chemical — people would love to dig him up and take the prize away from him — called DES, diethylstilbesterol, which was given to millions of women and has destroyed the lives of many of them. They were looking for synthetic, orally-active estrogens. Bisphenol A is highly absorbed, unlike the natural hormones that are degraded almost immediately in the stomach. And DES is highly absorbed. DES is, both structurally and functionally, very similar to BPA. There are lots of other, much more sophisticated, 21st century molecular assays that show BPA is actually as potent, and in some cases more potent, than DES.

Yale Environment 360: And why can’t we use BPA, for example, as a birth control hormone? 

andrea miller
2/26/2012 6:11:12 PM

Just found this Scientific American article, which also cites vom Saal, Says polycarb products have the #7 on the bottom which I wasn't aware of and wasn't sure if it was mentioned previously. Thought it was good info for anyone else that is concerned. Thanks again!!

andrea miller
2/26/2012 5:59:25 PM

I was just curious if anyone knows of BPA concerns related to gardening equipment. Should I be concerned about using plastic planters, etc? I do believe BPA is harmful and stopped using plastic (everything) as soon as the "BPA free" baby bottles became available. We are hoping to move before summer so I'm doing most of my planting in pots for now so I can take them with me when we move. I've always used clay, glass, or stone pots simply due to my negative opinion of plastic (involving BPA and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) however, this year I am in need of A LOT of pots and plastic ones are much cheaper than the alternatives. Of course, I don't want to poison my organically grown produce by using plastic pots! I greatly appreciate any helpful info on the topic. Thanks for the article!

robert browning
2/19/2012 1:22:27 AM

The moderator didn't like my previous post. OK I'll restate. If BPA is in effect a synthetic estrogen and allowing children to ingest it daily from just after birth, wouldn't it have an effect on sexual development. Therefore, if someone published a paper correlating the abnormal sexual development of children to BPA, you could get the public groundswell needed To get the type of media exposure needed to effectively eliminate BPA, you would need a headline something like "CAN PLASTIC MAKE YOU A HOMOSEXUAL?" The chemical companies, fearful of lawsuits, would eliminate BPA within weeks, not the decade that the author claims would be needed. You cannot fight multinationals on their turf and expect to win.

t brandt
2/17/2012 10:32:53 PM

If you do a search for "BPA" on the Medscape site, you get several pages of references. The review article was the 2nd to last on page 4; "Bisphenol A: a Scientific Evaluation". Almost all the other references are summary articles of research papers, written by journalists and not usually giving enough info to evaluate the credibility of the original paper....Keep in mind, animal studies generally use absurdly hi level exposures, and differences in animal vs human systems may not make comparisons meaningful (cf- effects of Lasix in humans vs race horses). Human studies only show correlations and correlation does not prove causality...While BPA is related to estrogen, and therefore may have effects like estrogen, the usual exposure levels are so low that there doesn't seem to be any discernable effects on our health.

nancy myers
2/17/2012 6:53:12 PM

I can't get the link to go. Ironically, I search for bpa on medscape and the overwhelming majority of the search results were cautionary about BPA. Yes, yes, I agree, that's not proof of anything. Still, I'd welcome the link you reference, thanks.

nancy myers
2/17/2012 6:32:20 PM

See reply to the comment above yours - most bags are made of polyethylene, which does not contain BPA. Note also that canning jars don't have BPA, but canning lids do. Lastly, although some soups and tomato products are available in (bpa free) tetrapaks, ironically the paks themselves...aren't recyclable.

nancy myers
2/17/2012 6:30:12 PM

check with the supplier of the bags, but odds are very good that the vacuum pack bags are polyethylene, the most common resin used for bags. Polyethylene does not contain BPA.

adam swenson
2/1/2012 9:41:50 PM

I agree with what you are saying. I'll just add that I cited the progestin concentration because it is hard to imagine how powerful endocrine disruptors can be just looking at numbers.

t brandt
2/1/2012 1:07:49 PM

The interviewee has vested interest in proving a "problem" exists in order to gain research funds. No problem; no funds. The majority of his publications were no doubt in the popular press, aimed at influencing the naive. ..The review artice I sited includes the whole of the medical lierature...Your example of a progestin- not an estrogen- is comparing apples to hub caps. They are neither the same class nor are the concentrations stated necessarily analogous & comparable...While some specific estrogens may be necessary but insufficient factors in the production of prostate ca, some estrogens are used in the treatement of prostate ca...By analogy, are all athletes capable of hitting a 90mph fastball? Are all athletes capable of blocking a 320lb defensive end? Can all athletes air dribble a soccer ball for 10 minutes? They're all athletes, so why not?...As the review artcle states "the human doses of BPA...are ORDERS of magnitude LOWER than acceptable daily intakes. ...There are no poisons, only poisonous doses. Even H2O & O2 are poisonous when taken in excess.

adam swenson
1/31/2012 11:48:16 PM

The legitimate medical literature? So the 43 published papers the interviewee had a hand in don't count him as an expert? ".001 to .1 mcg/Kg..." Doesn't sound like much until you see that levonorgestrel (a progestin) effectively renders women sterile with 99.7% certainty at concentrations of .3 mcg/Kg.

t brandt
1/31/2012 12:00:01 AM

This sort of pseudo-scientific article does a great disservice to a public concerned about the health dangers we could be exposed to, possibly diverting attention & resources from real problems. Here's a review of the research from the legitimate medical literature : Part of its summary: " To evaluate the risk, if any, from BPA, investigations were undertaken to more precisely determine human exposure levels and more carefully study the validity of the low-dose effects reported. On the basis of the most realistic studies of BPA levels in food and drink, as well as in human urine, it has been estimated that human exposures, including those of children, are very low and range from about .001 to .1 mcg/kg body weight (bw)/day. The results of the additional toxicology studies indicated that the low-dose effects could not be consistently replicated. In light of this, a number of governments and agencies brought together independent expert panels to carefully evaluate the toxicologic studies and provide regulatory guidance. These panels came to a similar conclusion, namely, that low-dose effects have not been demonstrated. They also supported the acceptable daily intake levels previously calculated on the basis of high-dose effects shown in laboratory animals. Comparing these acceptable intakes with the best exposure estimates reveals that human doses of BPA from migration of the compound into food and drink are orders of magnitude lower than acceptable daily intakes. Thus, it is very unlikely that humans, including infants and young children, are at risk from the presence of BPA in consumer products."

adam swenson
1/30/2012 11:18:39 PM

Excellent article! I would like to know if we're missing a sentence here though: "Hard, clear [bottles] that do not say "BPA free." They contain other chemicals that I would not recommend being exposed to. And the water in there is not pure, nor is it regulated. "

j hefner
1/30/2012 6:09:47 PM

I would like to know where to find the information on the vacuum packs also...are they safe to use?

peri fenton
1/30/2012 4:06:06 PM

So he no longer uses canned food in his household...........does he buy only frozen veges? I mean, I get that the best thing would be to grow and can your own, but aside from that, are the plastic bags frozen veges come in safe or at least "safer" than cans? What about the plastic bags I use with my vacuum packer? This aids me tremendously in being able to provide my own food, but are they safe?

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