Steven Hentges, Ph.D
Friday, March 24, 2017

Due to years of attention to bisphenol A (BPA), used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, there is now quite a bit of attention to various alternatives described generically as “BPA-Free“. Many manufacturers proudly apply a BPA-Free label to their products, even though some never contained BPA to begin with.

This action implies that BPA-Free products are somehow better or safer than products that contain BPA. Never mind that the BPA-Free label is somewhat deceptive in that it identifies what a product isn’t made from rather than what it is made from.

The label is misleading because it’s not possible for you to be harmed by something that isn’t there, but you could be harmed by something that is present. In that light, a BPA-Free label might be viewed as equivalent to a label that declares Buyer Beware, although a product manufacturer would never use that label.

Another topic that’s been in the mainstream media lately is “fake news“. Perhaps it’s inevitable that these two trends would cross paths, but that’s essentially what happened recently.

It’s not only product manufacturers that are interested in BPA-Free. Many scientists have identified a field in need of research and are now doing studies on materials that are said to be alternatives to BPA. If BPA-Free were a substance, it’s now being studied — and that’s the origin of the fake news.

One recent study from a group of Chinese researchers  focused on  a substance named fluorene-9-bisphenol (BHPF), which they said is a common alternative to BPA. The researchers reported that “[s]erious developmental and reproductive effects of BHPF … were observed in this study.” That led to alarming headlines such as “BPA Substitute Could Cause Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” which appeared in both popular media and the trade press.

The results seem to be significant since, as noted by the researchers and amplified by the media, BHPF is now present in a wide variety of plastic consumer products including baby bottles and water bottles that are labelled as BPA-Free. But, as noted by Popular Science, “none of this matters if we’re not coming into contact with BHFP (sic) – it’s only a potential problem if humans are exposed to it.”

If you’ve never heard of BHPF, you’re not alone. There’s little evidence to indicate that the material has any commercial significance, and certainly no evidence that it’s widely used as a replacement for BPA.

Government databases from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicate it’s uncommon in the U.S. at best, and it’s not authorized for use in any FDA-regulated products that contact food, such as water or baby bottles. The idea that BHPF is being widely used and that people are being exposed to it is simply not credible.  .

Despite the limitations of the research and the lack of fact-checking in the media coverage, , the theme of the study reveals two underlying truths. First, as suggested by the study, replacing BPA may be counter-productive if the replacement is not well-tested and found to be safe for use.

Second and more importantly, BPA is one of the best tested substance in commerce. Based on the extensive scientific data available for BPA, FDA answers the question “Is BPA Safe?” with an unambiguous answer – “Yes.”

If we listen to the science, there’s no need to replace BPA at all, especially with something that may not meet important safety standards. So, should you be concerned about BHPF? In a word, no. You’ll probably never even come into contact with it.

A better question is whether you should be worried about products that contain BPA or are labelled as BPA-Free? The choice is yours, but remember that BPA has been repeatedly well tested and found to be safe for use. The replacements, well, not so much.

If you’re interested in this story, a longer version of this article is available on Science 2.0. More blogs related to BPA are available at AmericanChemistry.com.