Posted by Claudia Grazioso on June 15, 2011
It may only be May, but those of us with the plan-ahead gene (or maybe it’s the summer vacation denial gene) are already thinking about school supplies. Specifically, new lunch boxes, food containers and, at least where I live, the now-omnipresent designer water bottle. Last year, I very proudly invested in plastic containers that were BPA-free and I was pretty happy. They were convenient, sturdy and, I admit it, I’m a label slave: They were designed by someone really cool. But best of all, they were BPA-free. By now most people are aware that Bisphenol-A, a chemical compound used to make food storage containers as well as children’s and infants’ toys, is associated with thyroid dysfunction, prostate and breast cancer, reproductive failure, heart disease, obesity and possibly even developmental difficulties, among other problems. So the idea of BPA-free products that still had the convenience of plastic was really attractive.
But now the question has arisen: Is BPA-free really safer? Or even safe at all?
In March of 2011, researchers in the United States set out to answer that question. They tested 500 BPA-free products. Were they as safe as we’d hoped? Were they, in fact, the magic bullet to solve all of our lunch-packing/food-storage/teething-toy problems? YES! … And if you believe that, you can email me your social security number, bank account and routing information because apparently you have a long-lost relative who asked me to wire you your enormous and completely unexpected inheritance.
No, sadly — truly sad for all of the people who invested in BPA-free products thinking they were protecting their children — 92 percent of the products tested still released potentially-harmful chemicals after undergoing what most of us would consider normal wear and tear: dishwashing and exposure to sunlight and heat. Far from being the easy fix we’d hoped for, the BPA-free products seem to do exactly what BPAs do — mimic estrogen in the body. In fact, researchers found that even the so-called safe recycling numbers — plastic containers with a 1, 2 or 4 on the bottom — released some estrogenically-active chemicals. In fact, two chemicals in the BPA-free plastics, Polyethersulfone (PES) and polyethylene terepthalate glycol (PETG), were found to cause the same or higher levels of estrogenic activity than BPAs. Basically, BPA-free products don’t seem to be better for you, and they might even be worse.
We will never live in a plastic-free world. It’s convenient, and it’s not all bad. It can be recycled and reused, and in a world with limited resources, that’s a good thing. But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to limit your exposure. I replaced our Tupperware with glass food storage containers, and am learning to be less clumsy. This year, I think I’ll spring for the stainless steel food containers for the kids’ lunch boxes.
And I’ll feel very smart, indeed, until I start hearing about what chemicals are used in those products.