By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
UPDATE: Some readers alerted us that some answers are outdated. We apologize. We have removed outdated questions below. For more information, go to www.healthytomorrow.org or www.ewg.org
I wrote a story in today's paper about citizen pressure being placed on the state to ban bisphenol A, the common chemical that can found in baby bottles and infant formula.
I'm also getting a lot of questions from people about BPA in a host of other products and thought it a good idea to republish a Q and A we did about a year ago with Mia Davis, a BPA expert with the National Work Group for Safe Markets, a coalition of environmental groups. Read on for an edited version.
Q. How do you tell if the bottle contains BPA or not if the bottom is marked with the recycle number 7A. The recycling number 7 is a catchall for many types of plastic. Just because it says number 7, doesn't mean it has BPA, but most 7s are made with bisphenol.
A: For a quick test, if the plastic is shatter-proof, hard, and transparent (they can still be tinted a color) it likely contains BPA. Sometimes they have no recycling number. In that case, perform the test and let common sense rule.
Q. What about basic canned goods? I am talking about soups, beans, kids' pastas and things like that? Are those cans toxic also? And how about bottled juices?
A: Bisphenol A is in the resin that lines a lot of canned goods, including canned tomatoes, corn, soups, and soda cans. Juice bottles are not made with bisphenol A. I advise people to try to limit their exposure to BPA by using fresh or frozen ingredients over canned whenever possible.
Q. What about the large 5-gallon spring water jugs that are used in offices.?. For example, Poland Spring jugs are #7...do they contain Bisphenol?
A. I believe so.
Q: Is the issue only with heated liquids/solids or any substance at any temperature?
A. Recent studies have shown that when bottles are heated, the rate of bisphenol A leaching increases significantly. However, leaching can occur at room temperature. I advise people not to use bottles made with bisphenol A. In our studies we found that fatty substances like milk or acidic substance like tomatoes can increase leaching.
Q: Do I just add this to the growing list of products to avoid like tuna fish and baby powder? What should you use as a substitute besides glass?
A: Yes, add this to the list unfortunately. I would use glass or number 5 plastic or stainless steel. It's all about cumulative exposure. Can you avoid bisphenol A in all its applications? No. But can you switch to a safer water bottle? Yes.
Q: A confusing part of the plastic bottle controversy is that on the Today show they listed types 3, 6, and 7 as bottles to stay away from. In the Globe article they just mention 7. So, what are the types of plastic bottles to stay away from ?
A: Polycarbonate plastic contains bisphenol A and is a number 7 bottle. Containers with the recycling numbers 3 can contain lead, phthalates and can create dioxin, a human carcinogen. Number 6 is polystyrene and doesn't break down. Staying away from 3, 6, and 7 is a good idea. Should we stay away from plastic bottles altogether? I would say limit your exposure as much as you can.
Q: If we are not to use plastic for carrying water, what are we suppose to use? I have not come across any made of glass that have a protective cushion that I can carry?
A: People tend to think of glass as more fragile than it is. I have friends and family who have been given glass bottles to their toddlers and only one broke - on ceramic tile. Glass is quite durable.
Q: I want to toss my water bottle. Can I include it in my recycled plastics bin or will that simply keep toxins in the recycling loop? How should I dispose of it?
A: Bisphenol A should not be in food or beverages. If we were able to recycle it into some other use - eyeglasses for example - that would be a good recycling effort.
Q: What about dentures -- do they contain bisphenol A and can it leach from them?
A: I don't know about dentures but bisphenol A is used in dental sealants. There is little data on whether it leaches. But the absence of data does not meant it's safe.
Q: I think people are overreacting to the usual "scary" media hype about this topic. Is it a good idea to avoid BPA in products when possible? Sure, but the fact is, we live in an environment loaded with contaminants that can be harmful and freaking out about it doesn't really help. Ultimately stress has more direct impact on our health than most of these environmental contaminants. Relax, don't overly stress over what has already happened and just live your life.
Being born leads to death 100 percent of the time, but aren't you still glad that you're alive?
A: Indeed, I am glad we were all born. And I agree that stress is no good for long-term health. However, most of us would like to live a life free of preventable illness, like many cancers (for example, 9 in 10 cases of breast cancer now occur in women with no family history) and reproductive and behavioral problems while we’re enjoying our time here, so I definitely think that we should be precautionary about toxic chemicals in consumer products.