RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Bisphenol A (BPA), better known as the plastics chemical that's found in baby and water bottles and nearly all canned foods, has caused a lot of panic over the years. As more studies linked the hormone-disrupting chemical to health problems ranging from altered brain function, sinking sperm counts, and certain cancers to developmental problems in babies, health-conscious cooks switched from canned veggies to fresh or frozen, and athletes traded in plastic water bottles for stainless steel versions. Companies responded to consumer demand and started researching BPA-free alternatives or avoiding plastic entirely and switching to glass packaging. But now a new government study published in the journal Toxicological Sciences suggests that BPA might not be the bad actor it's presumed to be.
To figure out bioactive levels of BPA in the body—in other words, the form of BPA that could pose a risk if present in high enough levels—researchers fed study participants meals of canned food and then tested their blood and urine over a 24-hour period. The bioactive form of BPA was so low it was undetectable in 83 percent of the people tested.
So is it safe to say we should all start eating out of BPA-lined metals cans and plastic water bottles again? Not so fast. Environmental health experts say there are major flaws in this study, noting that dozens of previous studies find reasons for concern when it comes to BPA risks.
For starters, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts, the study researchers never tested BPA levels in the food given to the participants, despite calling those meals high BPA exposure sources (numerous studies have found that the levels of BPA in canned foods can vary depending on the type of food). Beyond that, the scientists didn't indicate the brand of canned food used. Previous research has shown that some manufacturers' cans have much higher levels of BPA than others', even when they contain the same food. "Green beans from manufacturer X could have a lot of BPA, while green beans from manufacturer Y could have very little."