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Are BPA-Free Plastics Safe?

4/29/2011 2:08:12 PM

Tags: Kristen Conn, Mighty Nest, BPA, bisphenol A, plastic, plastics, Tritan

Kristen ConnDedicated to the safety and health of her family and others, Kristen Conn founded MightyNest to share her knowledge and educate others about simple ways they can create a safe, nontoxic home for their families. 

By now you’ve likely heard that it's best to avoid the endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). But what about BPA-free plastics—are these safe, and are they the best solution?

The Atlantic recently published an article by Elizabeth Grossman that is one of the best summaries I’ve seen tying together the ubiquity of BPA, the potential risks posed by BPA, the challenges of eliminating BPA, and the lack of research that has been done on the rush of new plastics that are coming to market that are BPA-free. It is that last portion that that really caught my attention.

To outline the concern, the author focused on one popular BPA-free plastic replacement called Tritan. As she calls out in the article, the point is not to pick on Tritan but instead to use it as an illustration of the broader problem. Here are a few quotes:

• "among the more widely used plastics now marketed as "BPA-free" is Tritan copolyester"
• "sales of Tritan copolyester quadrupled between March of 2009 and March 2010"
• "Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for 23 different compounds sold under the Tritan copolyester name (each intended for different product applications)…list no toxicity data and note that the compounds' environmental effects have not been tested."
• "it's entirely permissible to launch a new material into high-volume production without disclosing its precise chemical identity or any information about its toxicity."  
• "despite EPA and FDA policies that support "safe" alternatives to a chemical of concern like BPA, neither federal agency conducts safety testing of new materials destined for consumer products before they come on the market.

The bolded statement above really stands out to me.  BPA is a very disconcerting chemical, but in several cases the plastic alternatives to BPA also contain synthetic chemicals that we know very little about.

My take on all plastics is to play it safe. Whenever possible look for the following alternatives to avoid BPA and other potentially harmful chemicals:  

• Use glass, high-quality stainless steel, ceramic or silicone containers.

• Opt for foods packaged in alternatives such as glass jars.

• Avoid canned foods with the highest BPA concentrations (coconut milk, tomatoes, soup, meat.)

• Do not microwave food in plastic containers.

• Choose fresh or frozen vegetables over canned.

If you must use plastic for food and beverages, know which ones are safer (free from known toxic chemicals).  Click on the link for a plastics cheat sheet. 

One final thought: As you read the article from The Atlantic, it is easy to feel like BPA is everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid entirely, which can be maddening. But I strongly believe that limiting exposure to BPA and other chemicals over the course of a lifetime can make a difference. Try taking whatever steps you can to limit your exposure each day. Over time they will add up for you and your family.

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