Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the term “BPA.” It is known to be an unhealthy chemical inside the plastic of water bottles. What is less well known is that a Washington State University professor is credited with discovering the harmful effects of the chemical—officially known as “bisphenol A.” Bisphenol A is a chemical that’s found in food containers like water bottles, plastic wrap and canned food. BPA has been linked to many health concerns, with most people coming in contact with it on a daily basis. It has also been found to be harmful to the development of infants because of the hormones it transmits.
WSU researcher and professor Patricia Hunt discovered the harmful effects in 1998 while working at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Hunt says it is a chemical that “mimics a number of different hormones.” BPA effects vary depending on the stage of life in a person’s body, she said. The effects are more pronounced in development before birth.
Hunt observed the harmful effects of BPA by accident. When conducting experiments with mice eggs, she noticed changes that could be traced to a cleaning agent used on the mouse cages. After developing and testing the hypothesis that BPA is harmful to fetal development, she found that exposure to BPA can cause harmful effects on young children.
One contentious aspect about BPA’s effect on health issues is rebranding. “BPA-Free” bottles aren’t any better than bottles containing BPA, according to Hunt. “They’ve taken this molecule, BPA, and they’ve tweaked it a little bit. So now technically it’s not BPA it’s BPS or BPF or BP something else,” she said. The “BPA-free” label is just a marketing ploy to get people to feel safer about it.
To avoid BPA, Hunt recommends using a metal bottle or glass bottle, such as a Hydro Flask. The Washington State Department of Health also recommends switching to glass or porcelain containers for hot food and throwing out any damaged plastic food containers.
Evergreen State College is one campus in Washington state that has taken the initiative to go plastic free by joining the “Ban the Bottle Initiative,” which prohibits the sale of plastic water bottles on school campuses nationwide. By prohibiting the sale of plastic water bottles on their campus, Evergreen not only cuts plastic waste, but BPA concerns as well.
Scott Morgan, Director of Sustainability at Evergreen State College says the best way to encourage students to use their own water bottles is through filling stations.
“If you make it easy for people to carry their own water bottle and refill it before and after class they’ll stop buying more water.” — Scott Morgan, director of sustainability at Evergreen State College.
“Every time we put in bottle stations, behaviors change.” Morgan explained. “I see a lot more people filling water bottles. If you make it easy for people to carry their own water bottle and refill it before and after class, they’ll stop buying more water.”
While the state health department has banned BPA from sports bottles, it doesn’t mean other rebranded forms of BPA aren’t present. It’s important to know what products are actually BPA-free.
To know if your plastic has BPA, follow these simple steps
- Check for the number 7 on all plastics.
- If the number 7 is in the bottle, check for the letters “PC” which show BPA.
- If a plastic container says “BPA-Free”, check that it doesn’t list bisphenol as one of the materials in the product.
Even if the above factors aren’t present, if the plastic is clear and hard, it most likely has some form of BPA.
Hunt reminds people that BPA is not only transmitted through ingestion. “One more place that you do need to worry about BPA is those pressure-printed receipts that we all handle on a daily basis,” Hunt explained. “[It will] expose you to BPA through your skin and you might think ‘well really that’s not the same as eating it.’ But in fact, it looks like it may be worse to take it in through your skin.”
BPA is being used less and less in the average water bottle, but people can still come in contact with it on a daily basis. According to Hunt, going paperless and using metal or glass containers are some of the wisest steps to take.