Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, is a chemical that has been used for more than 40 years in the manufacturing of many hard plastic food containers (such as baby bottles) and reusable cups and the lining of metal food and beverage cans, including canned liquid infant formula. Trace amounts of BPA can be found in some foods packaged in these containers.
Is it harmful?
In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of toxicology research and information on BPA, and, at that time, judged food-related materials containing BPA on the market to be safe.
Recent studies have reported subtle effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals. Animal studies have found that exposing fetuses to doses of BPA below the FDA's safety threshold can affect breast and prostate cells, brain structure and chemistry, and even later behavior. But other studies have found no association. Canada declared BPA toxic in October 2010, but industry and regulators in the United States and in other countries maintain that health concerns are overblown. Last month, the FDA denied a petition to ban the chemical citing that they need more study-based evidence of its ill effects.
How can I limit my exposure to BPA?
As a good practice, only use containers as directed. That means, only put containers labeled "dishwasher safe" in the dishwasher, and those marked "microwave safe" in the microwave. Those labels are there for a reason - temperature matters! Do not put very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA, as the BPA levels rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food. Also discard all food containers with scratches, as they may harbor germs and may lead to greater release of BPA.
What do the small numbers on the bottom of the container mean?
Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. In general, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are very unlikely to contain BPA. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle code 7 may be made with BPA.
The FDA report specifically mentions products for infants in its report - do I need to throw away my child's bottles?
You should follow the same protocol for your child as listed above. Inspect bottles and throw them away if they look worn or scratched (note: most major bottle brands sold in the US stopped selling bottles with BPA in 2009). If you're using formula sold in cans, do not heat them on the stove or in boiling water, nor should you mix powdered formula with boiling water in the can.
The bottom line:
Err on the side of caution when you can. Aside from BPA, there are unfortunately several other potentially toxic chemicals lurking inside the containers that hold the food we put into our bodies. The problem really lies with the manufacturers of the containers and the bureaucracy around getting them to reveal what chemicals are in their products. So, until that larger problem is solved (ahem, FDA), consumers (and brand owners) can only do so much.