Three reasons 'BPA-free' won't protect you
Plus: What you can do to make sure hazardous chemicals are properly regulated
A walk through the baby aisle of any pharmacy will reveal a sea of products shouting "BPA-free" on their packaging.
Bisphenol-A — better known as BPA — is an industrial chemical that's used in many household plastics and food packages. It's capable of interfering with the body's hormones, particularly estrogen, and scientists have linked BPA exposure to diseases like cancer and diabetes.
With these hazards, the logical solution seemingly would be to shop BPA-free. Unfortunately, it's not really a solution.
What's wrong with BPA-free?
- BPA is in more products than you think.
BPA is so pervasive it’s practically unavoidable. In 2012 the FDA banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups— but it remains used in many other ways, like canned food, water bottles and receipt paper.
- When BPA is removed, it’s often replaced with a similarly dangerous chemical.
This is known as "regrettable substitution." There's no one charged with ensuring replacement chemicals are any safer.
- Many other unregulated and untested chemicals are in everyday products.
So even if we could limit our exposure to BPA, we still encounter thousands of other chemicals — many linked to human health risks — in products we use every day.
What can you do?
Because this problem is so pervasive, we can't solve it just by how we shop (though EPA's Safer Choice label is a welcome start).
For decades, federal law regulating everyday chemicals was weak and outdated. The Toxic Substances Control Act, the main law meant to protect us, allowed companies to sell and use chemicals without showing they’re safe. In June 2016, President Obama signed the Lautenberg Act, finally reforming the 40-year-old law.
Moving potentially hazardous chemicals out of the products on store shelves is a big task. It won’t happen overnight and we can’t expect the new law alone to solve it. And the Lautenberg Act does not cover potentially hazardous, unregulated chemicals in food—like BPA in food cans.
Consumers like you, advocates like us and companies that make and sell products all have a significant role to play. We must keep demanding safer products, get stronger rules in place and strive to go beyond simple compliance with the law.