How Safe are BPA-Free Plastics?
Bisphenol-a, AKA BPA, is on everyone’s lips these days — and not in a good way. The common plastic additive is used in a huge range of industrial processes, and some researchers fear it may have estrogenic activity in the body, causing endocrine imbalances and health problems.
Thanks to rising consumer concern about BPA, numerous companies have started turning to alternatives to make healthier plastic products, especially it comes to children’s toys, water bottles, nursing equipment and other things people come into direct contact with for sustained periods of time. Children in particular are vulnerable to long-term health effects as a result of early exposure to estrogens, so it’s particularly important to keep them safe from a compound that may act like an estrogen or another hormone in the body.
Hence, the wave of products advertising BPA-free plastic. Companies committed to using and making BPA-free resins pledge that their products are healthier and safer for their customers, less prone to issues like breaking down under heat and UV stress to release harmful chemical compounds into water, juice and other foods. Likewise, such products are supposed to be safe enough to put in a baby’s mouth or use in sterile environments. BPA-free plastics firms have a lively industry that’s showing no signs of slowing down.
One such company, Eastman Chemical, is going to court over a claim that its products, labeled as BPA-free, contain other compounds that could have an estrogenic effect. The claim has the potential to be tremendously damaging to Eastman, which has a lot riding on the alleged safety of its resin products in an era of health-conscious consumers. Consequently, lots of eyes are on Texas to follow the proceedings and their outcome.
The claims originate from firm PlastiPure and CertiChem, who say that wear testing and followup testing to confirm the original results both indicated the Eastman products were unsafe. Notably, the firms are sister companies with close ties to each other, and thus they cannot be viewed as fully independent when evaluating the Texas case. That said, their results could have been explosive for Eastman, which is why it pursued the matter so aggressively, and if the firm wins, it may push PlastiPure and CertiChem under, with so much of their reputation riding on the case. In the course of expert testimony to discuss the nature and rigor of the testing, the court will have a chance to hear the concerns of both sides about methodologies, plastic components and the larger industry.
It’s a bit of a battle of titans, and one with potentially serious implications for consumers. If PlastiPure and CertiChem are right, the number of compounds with estrogenic effects in plastics and resins may be higher than previously believed, a not entirely surprising finding, but one indicative of the need for more research to find safer manufacturing methods. And, in the larger picture, to determine if it’s safe to keep making and using plastic at all, especially given the environmental issues that accompany the health concerns about plastic.
If Eastman prevails, it may mean the company was right and its product was safe — or it could mean that important research about hormones in plastics and their role in the human body will be suppressed, making it that much harder to improve consumer safety.
Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys.