BPA-free may not be enough

For several years environmental groups have focused on BPA as the bad actor in plastics. Governments have responded with limited regulations and all kinds of products are now labeled as BPA-free. New research published earlier this year in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, suggests that many plastics which are BPA-free may still exhibit estrogenic (hormone disrupting) activity. The researchers report that most of the more than 500 plastic products that they tested released substances having detectable estrogenic activity when subject to somewhat aggressive testing. These somewhat more aggressive tests include exposure to UV light, microwave radiation, boiling water, or dishwashing.

These results, if confirmed, have several implications for consumer product manufacturers and brandowners. BPA-free labels on products that use plastics other than polycarbonate might become an inappropriate and possibly illegal label because they imply to the consumer that the product is free of estrogenic activity when the replacement material is also estrogenically active. Replacement materials may also come under criticism or regulation in some jurisdictions. Consumers might well be advised not to use some of the suspect materials in microwave ovens, dishwashers,  or with boiling water.

The research has been criticized by the American Chemistry Council, an industry organization, and some have noted that the lead researchers are associated with a company which produces plastics claimed to be free of estrogenic activity. Nevertheless, it seems likely that at least some of the findings will reinforced in future as more research focuses attention on the estrogenic activity of some BPA-free plastic materials.

The article, as well as the ACC criticism and the author response, is freely available at http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003220#f1

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