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Rethinking Plastic, Yet Again

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salad in plastic container

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Avoiding BPA bottles may not be enough, according to new research.

You’ve avoided drinking water out of bottles containing BPA. You wouldn’t dream of using BPA, which is formally bisphenol-A, in baby bottles, and you seek out food storage that is labeled BPA-free. So, you’re safe from the hormone-alternating effects of the chemical, right? But lest we get smug, researchers have some disturbing news for us. The chemicals that replaced BPA—used as a plastic treatment to make everyday items such as takeout boxes, sandwich wrap, and liners for canned goods—may also be causing problems with chromosomal abnormalities.

According to research published in Current Biology, alternative bisphenols appear to cause problems in the eggs and sperm of lab mice. The mice were inadvertently exposed to these chemicals through their BPA-free plastic cages, cups and bottles.

The researchers say that more work will be needed in order to find out which of the replacement bisphenols are safer than others. And, determining what levels might harm human reproductive and other hormone systems is difficult. However, as scientist Patricia Hunt, of Washington State University, wrote in the study, “regulatory agencies charged with assessing chemical safety cannot keep pace with the introduction of new chemicals. Further, as replacement bisphenols illustrate, it is easier and more cost effective under current chemical regulations to replace a chemical of concern with structural analogs rather than determine the attributes that make it hazardous.” For us consumers, she recommends not using any plastic that shows signs of physical wear, damage or aging, regardless of if it’s marked BPA-free or not.

Someday, alternatives to plastic packaging made be made from casein, a milk protein; liquid wood; and keratin, made from chicken feathers. In the meantime, you can always use glass and food-grade stainless steel to store food in. 


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Savannah. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!.


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