Ask Annie B., For The Home

Easy BPA Substitutes?

polycarbonate bowl

Ask AnnieDear Annie, I am worried about what I read regarding BPA and how if might be a cause of breast and prostate cancer, not to speak of harming fetuses. You are good at alternative solutions, what can you highlight easy BPA substitutes? Thank you, Sam P

Dear Sam,
Many plastic items—#7 polycarbonate bottles (including baby bottles), microwave ovenware, eating utensils, as well as the plastic lining inside metal cans—are made with bisphenol A (BPA). Many studies have found that BPA interferes with hormones as phthalates do. A 1998 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported that BPA stimulates the action of estrogen in human breast cancer cells. A 2012 study also published by EPA, shows that BPA impairs in-vitro success.

There are a number of before-and-after reports of people eating a lot of food that had been stored in plastic packaging and having their blood drawn to see horrifying spikes of BPA after eating packaged food. The discussion about this experiment in Slow Death by Rubber Duck is the most famous. The BPA discussion is becoming mainstream.

All of us—women, men, and particularly those of childbearing age and children—need to make focusing on food packaging a priority if we care to reduce our BPA exposure.

If you haven’t heard enough about why you might want to skip the BPA, evidence suggests that BPA can cause erectile dysfunction.

Here are the top 10 ways I have reduced my family’s exposure to BPA and other plastics. Let me say at the outset that when journalists call me to interview me for my opinion about a healthy home, I no longer go into a detailed account of which plastics to keep and avoid. I now recommend we avoid all plastic that comes into contact with food, as so many plasticizers are endocrine disruptors that it is only a matter of time before most, if not all, plastics will make the list of those to avoid. I am a true believer in the Precautionary Principle, and am happy to report that this is promoted by the EPA as well.

1. All plastic water bottles, and for BPA, polycarbonate: Even if a plastic bottle says BPA-free, I’d avoid it until it is proven without a doubt that the alternative plastic is safe. The list of water bottles includes the big water dispensers at the office, unless they are made of glass.

Alternative: Choose stainless steel or glass water bottles. There are many on the market. Avoid aluminum.

2. Canned Food and Soda: Just skip canned food unless the company uses BPA-free epoxy, such as trailblazer Eden Foods. Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans. Check your pet food company to inquire about BPA-free canned food.

Alternative: Cook your own beans using my 13 Tips for Cooking Beans. Speaking of beans, beans are now available in the frozen section of health food stores. I can even find garbanzos and black-eyed peas in my small health food store in upstate New York. Fresh or frozen food is the way to go.

Skip soda! A study found BPA in the majority of soft drinks.

Note that aseptic packaging, such as Tetra Pak, is BPA-free, but does contain low-density polyethylene (LDPE).

3. Wine and Synthetic Wine Corks, Canned Beer: Wine that has been fermented in BPA-resin lined vats will contain BPA, as will wine that touches synthetic corks that are made with BPA. While it is nearly impossible to determine what wine comes from vats with BPA, you can at least choose wine with real corks. On further reserach I find, happily, that it is extremely rare for wine to be fermented in BPA-resin lined vats to begin with. Most wine is fermented in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks. Wines that have BPA are fermented in concrete fermentation vats.

Alternative: For wine, you can find out from the winery what type of vat they use to ferment their wine. You can also choose wine with real corks. As for beer, buy it in glass bottles.

4. Food Storage/Stain-Resistant Food Storage: Polycarbonate is a hard plastic, so those hard plastic food storage containers are out. As discussed, I suggest avoiding storing any food in plastic.

Alternative: Glass is your best bet. I buy large and small Ball jars and store everything in them. I also have a few sets of store-bought glass food storage containers.

5. Water Filters: Most counter-top water filters have a polycarbonate receptacle.

Alternative: I’ve managed a few workarounds for this. When my daughter was in college I bought her a stainless steel jug and she would place the top of the filter on top so the water would pass through the filter and be stored in stainless steel.

Another other low-budget workaround is to by a PUR filter that you screw into the tap and filter water into a stainless steel receptacle. This is a very effective solution.

6. Kitchen Appliances such as Coffee Makers, Blenders and Food Processors: The receptacle of many kitchen appliances is plastic. For coffee makers, the place to hold the water before going through the system is usually polycarbonate. Most of the actual blender, food processor, and popcorn maker, are polycarbonate.

Alternative: French press.

7. Dental Bonding: Most dental bonding materials contain BPA. A so-called BPA-free alternative bonding material that a former dentist ordered for me arrived only to be revealed in the fine print that the material contained BPA, sealed in with polyurethane.

Alternative:
Check with your dentist to find BPA-free bonding materials. They are getting easier for dentists to find.

8. Cash Receipts: The thermal paper for cash receipts carry large amounts of BPA.

Alternative: Appleton Papers, the leading producer of thermal paper in North America, may be the only manufacturer to date that has eliminated BPA from its thermal paper products (the company did so four years ago), but there was no way to tell just by looking at a receipt. The company’s BPA-free thermal paper is made with noticeable and biodegradable red rayon fibers that look like tiny eyelash-like marks on the back.

9. Plastic Windows: Do a Google search for “polycarbonate” and you will be amazed at how many uses there are for polycarbonate plastic windows. They are used for greenhouses, skylights, porch covers and more. My local bank used polycarbonate plastic for skylights and every time the sunlight was strong they heated up the building, which became overwhelmed by the smell of plastic. Everybody talked about how bad it smelled and I felt so badly for the employees who had to work there. Just because the chemical is inhaled and not eaten does not mean it is any more safe.

Alternative: Glass windows.

10. Computers and Computer Parts, Ski Goggles, CD and DVD Discs, Glasses Lenses, Medical Supplies, Etc.: Polycarbonate, or hard plastic, is ubiquitous.

Alternative: Sometimes there are no alternatives if you want the product, such as a DVD or a computer. The key for your health is to not have the plastic come into contact with food or water (prioritize eliminating those plastic utensils) or for it to heat so that it outgasses fumes into the air. Make sure you have a lot of ventilation when you smell plastic from anything source and remove any source of heat.

Here’s a tip for detecting BPA, a do-it-yourself (DIY) testing method to see if something in your life contains BPA. I haven’t tried this myself, but I plan to. You can learn this tip at home-health-chemistry.com.

Have a question for Annie? Write to her at annie [@] thetruefind [.] com

By Annie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment, Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).

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