3 questions you should ask about BPA

Plastic bottles are everywhere. In 2010, a report published about Clean Up Australia Day, found that 10 per cent of all litter collected consisted of plastic bottles. Yet the trend for storing water and other liquids in plastic containers is still going strong, despite the reputed various associated financial – as well as health – disadvantages.

In 2008 a report by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) raised concerns about the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a common by-product found in plastic bottles. This began the move towards BPA-free bottles as well as other non-plastic options for liquid storage and the general promotion of eco-friendly products.

While many people may realise that plastic bottles are expensive, what are the key pieces of information to know about one of the chemicals they contain?

1. What is BPA?

The NTP describes BPA as a chemical which at room temperature is a white solid and has a slight phenolic (hospital-like) smell. The substance is mainly created in large amounts during the production of polycarbonate plastic, the type of material which forms most drinking bottles. 

Polycarbonate plastics (and in turn BPA) tend to also be mixed with other materials to form epoxy resins that coat metal products, including many items that people routinely come into contact with, such as food cans and bottle tops. In addition, some substances used to seal dental work can contain polymers that have traces of BPA product. 

2. How can you tell if BPA is present?

As BPA is normally apparent in polycarbonate plastics that have a hard and clear appearance, the product will often be labelled with a recycling symbol and/or the initials 'PC' near this sign. As well as this, BPA can be found in dust, air and water – such as when swimming or bathing. However, the biggest source of BPA in humans is through diet, especially as the chemical has the ability to move from the container into the food that it holds. 

This is where the urban legends surrounding not re-using plastic bottles too many times and not refrigerating or storing food in its original container originate from.

3. Why is BPA unsafe?

While the full implications of BPA exposure are still uncertain, what is clear is that it can be potentially harmful. John Bucher, Ph.D, NTP Associate Director states that "BPA may affect human development", including reproduction and brain behaviour.

While the current levels of BPA that most people are exposed to are unlikely to cause harm, avoid the potential for danger as well as help the environment by using BPA-free water bottles.