For a long time we’ve known of the dangers of BPA, once commonly found in bottles, containers, lunchboxes and other plastic items. By and large it’s been replaced with a substitute called BPS – but now research has also cast doubt on its safety.
University of Calgary researchers have found bisphenol-S may have the same harmful health effects as bisphenol-A – or worse. BPA, which can migrate from containers into food and drinks in small amounts, has been linked to health problems such as obesity, cancer, childhood neurological disorders, asthma, heart disease and infertility.
The scientists believe their research is the first to show that BPS causes abnormal growth surges in an animal embryo, according to the Washington Post. The same surges were found in BPA – but to a lesser level. For this reason, the researchers suggest all structurally similar compounds used by plastic makers may be unsafe.
The tests were conducted on zebra fish, which share 80 per cent of their genes with humans and are considered a good model for brain development studies. The surges led to adverse brain development and hyperactivity, says the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Report co-author Hamid Habibi describes it as “almost like finding a smoking gun”, while lead author Deborah Kurrasch says the research suggests pregnant women in particular should limit their exposure to plastics.
But the American Chemical Council tells the Washington Post humans are exposed to tiny levels of BPA through the diet and “it is well known that humans efficiently convert BPA to a substance with no known biological activity and quickly eliminate it from the body”. “It would not be scientifically appropriate to draw any conclusions about human health based on this limited experiment,” it says.
In Australia, the federal government announced a voluntary phase-out of BPA in baby bottles in June 2010. Food Standards Australia New Zealand says this was in response to consumer demand, rather than health and safety fears. It says a study by ACCC in 2010 found no detectable amounts of BPA migrated from typical baby bottles, sippy cups or formula tins. It is continuing to monitor all research on BPA.
But it’s clear that more research into BPA substitutes such as BPS is also needed. “A lot of the alternative chemicals have not been adequately tested because they don’t have to be,” says Dr Kurrasch.