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What Is BPA?

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Plastics containing bisphenol A, or BPA, are marked with the recycling symbol "7."

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Definition:

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical compound used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. BPA has been in use for over 50 years, and is often used to make plastics hard and shatter-resistant. It's also used to coat metal items like the inside of food cans, bottle caps and canned drinks.

You can find BPA in plastic baby bottles, sports equipment, compact discs, water bottles, medical equipment, dental sealants, eyeglass lenses, electronic devices, paints, and countless other consumer products. Even cash register receipts can be coated with BPA.

Health Effects of Bisphenol A

BPA has come under increased scrutiny in recent years for its possible connection to birth defects and reproductive problems. Studies have shown that BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, and it might be linked to problems like lower sperm counts, hormonal changes, enlarged prostate glands, brain and behavioral abnormalities, early onset of puberty, obesity and a host of other health problems. (It shares many of these problems with another plastic additive, phthalates.) It's unclear at what levels BPA will health problems, or if BPA studies in animals can be applied to humans.

People can be exposed to BPA through many sources, though food and drink account for most exposures. The recycling symbol "7" indicates a polycarbonate plastic containing BPA. Metal cans, however, will usually not indicate whether they contain a BPA lining or not.

If you're concerned about exposure to BPA, follow these simple suggestions from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. (Look for the recycling symbol #7 on the bottom.)
  • Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
  • Use baby bottles and toys that are BPA-free.
Pronunciation: BIS-fen-all A
Also Known As: Endocrine disruptor, hormone disruptor
Common Misspellings: bisfenol, bisfenol a, biphenol, biphenol a
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