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Thanks to years of attention to bisphenol A (BPA), used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, there is now quite a bit of attention to various alternatives described generically as “BPA-Free“. Many manufacturers proudly apply a BPA-Free label to their products, even to products that never contained BPA in the first place.
The implication is that BPA-Free products are somehow better or safer than products that contain BPA. Never mind that the BPA-Free label is somewhat deceptive in that it identifies what a product isn’t made from rather than what it is made from.
The label is deceptive because you could never be harmed by something that is not present, but you could be harmed by something that is present. In that light, a BPA-Free label might be viewed as equivalent to a label that declares Buyer Beware, although a product manufacturer would never use that label.
Another topic getting a lot of attention lately is “fake news“. Perhaps it’s inevitable that these two trends would cross paths, but that’s essentially what happened recently.
It’s not only product manufacturers that are interested in BPA-Free. Many scientists have recognized an unexplored field that is ripe for research and are now conducting studies on substances that are said to be alternatives to BPA. If BPA-Free were a substance, it’s now being studied — and that’s the origin of the fake news.
A group of Chinese researchers recently published a study on a substance named fluorene-9-bisphenol (BHPF), which they said is a common alternative to BPA. The researchers reported that “[s]erious developmental and reproductive effects of BHPF … were observed in this study.” That led to alarming headlines such as “BPA Substitute Could Cause Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” which appeared in both popular media and the trade press.
The findings appear to be important since, according to the researchers and amplified by the media, BHPF is now present in a wide variety of plastic consumer products including baby bottles and water bottles that are labelled as BPA-Free. But, as noted by Popular Science, “none of this matters if we’re not coming into contact with BHFP (sic) – it’s only a potential problem if humans are exposed to it.”
If you’ve never heard of BHPF, you’re not alone. There’s little evidence that the substance has any commercial significance, and certainly no evidence that it’s widely used as a replacement for BPA.
Government databases from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicate it’s uncommon in the U.S. at best, and it’s not authorized for use in any FDA-regulated products that contact food, such as water or baby bottles. The claims that BHPF is in widespread use and that people are commonly exposed to it are simply not credible.
In spite of the shortcomings of the research, and the media coverage that lacked much fact-checking, the theme of the study reveals two underlying truths. First, as suggested by the study, replacing BPA may be counter-productive if the replacement is not well-tested and found to be safe for use.
Second and more importantly, BPA is one of the best tested substance in commerce. Based on the extensive scientific data available for BPA, FDA answers the question “Is BPA Safe?” with an unambiguous answer – “Yes.”
If we listen to the science, there’s no need to replace BPA at all, especially with something of uncertain safety. So, should you be concerned about BHPF? In a word, no. You’ll probably never even come into contact with it.
A better question is whether you should be worried about products that contain BPA or are labelled as BPA-Free? The choice is yours, but keep in mind that BPA is well tested and confirmed to be safe. The replacements, well, not so much.
If you’re interested in this story, a longer version of this article is available on Science 2.0. More blogs related to BPA are available at AmericanChemistry.com.
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