Below are some of the common myths about bisphenol A (BPA) and the realities we know from extensive scientific study.

Myth:  I will be harmed from BPA exposure if I use my hands to eat french fries or other foods after using a hand sanitizer and touching thermal receipt paper.

Reality: While some receipts made from thermal paper can contain BPA, the most relevant experimental data shows very little BPA exposure from scenarios that are representative of real-life contact with thermal receipt paper. Notably, a recent study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Porras et al., 2014) found no significant exposure to BPA from handling receipt paper using real-life exposure scenarios. BPA exposure from all sources is about 1,000 times below safe intake levels set by government bodies in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Also, available data suggests that BPA is not readily absorbed through the skin.

Learn more: Included in the Finnish study were conditions representative of cashiers (i.e., repeated handling of receipts throughout a workday) and more intensive short-term handling considered to be beyond normal handling of paper receipts. Consistent with these measurements of low exposure from handling thermal receipt paper, recent biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrate that consumer exposure to BPA – from all sources – is extremely low.  In fact, a recent study looking into this very concern, ‘Transfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin,’ (Biedermann, Tschudin & Grob, 2010) shows that while low levels of BPA can transfer from thermal paper to skin, those levels are well below government-set safe intake levels, even under the “worst-case” conditions included in the study. Another recent study, ‘Viable skin efficiently absorbs and metabolizes bisphenol A,’ (Zalko, D., et al., 2010) showed that BPA is effectively converted as it penetrates through the skin to a biologically inactive metabolite, which is then quickly eliminated from the body.

Learn more about BPA and thermal receipt paper here.

Myth: BPA causes asthma in children.

Reality: There is no reliable evidence that BPA exposure causes diminished lung function or wheeze, symptoms of asthma, in children.

A recent JAMA Pediatrics study by A. Spanier et al. suggested that prenatal BPA exposure might be linked to diminished lung function and wheeze in children.  However, the statistical associations reported in this small-scale study were described by the study authors as ‘inconsistent’ and ‘borderline.’ In any case, the study only examined statistical associations and has no capability to establish a cause and effect relationship between exposure to low levels of BPA and asthma. This limited and inconsistent study does little to inform the scientific community or parents about the causes of asthma in children.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. Earlier this year, FDA scientists published the results of a large-scale government-funded study demonstrating that low-dose exposure to BPA did not result in the development of adverse health effects. We know from additional studies that even premature infants have ample capacity and capability to metabolize and eliminate BPA, which indicates that low level exposures are unlikely to cause health effects.

Myth: If I buy a BPA free product, is it safer?

Reality: Materials used in contact with food or beverages in the U.S. are evaluated for safety by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has recently stated that BPA, used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, is safe for currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.

“Free of” claims on food packaging have nothing to do with FDA’s safety determination.  “Free of” claims are frequently used for advertising purposes to signal the absence of a chemical or material. Note that the Federal Trade Commission has specifically cautioned that “free-of claims may deceive consumers by falsely suggesting that … the marketer has ‘‘improved’’ the product by removing the substance.”

Myth: BPA causes breast cancer.

Reality: Studies have concluded that BPA is not a carcinogenic risk to humans.  Linking BPA to breast cancer misrepresents science and scares women unnecessarily. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, one of the leading breast cancer advocacy groups, addresses BPA and breast cancer in a 2014 report:

Links between plastics and cancer are often reported by the media and in e-mail hoaxes…. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting a link between using plastic items, such as drinking water from a plastic bottle, and the risk of breast cancer. 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in some plastic food and beverage containers. Small amounts of BPA from the containers can get into the food and beverages inside. As a result, we can be exposed to low levels of BPA. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and the risk of breast cancer.

There has been extensive research into the leading causes of breast cancer.  The American Cancer Society report Facts & Figures 2013-2014 lists family history of breast cancer, genetic predisposition, personal history of cancer, and lifestyle factors such as obesity/weight gain and physical activity as significant indicators.  Women are best served with facts that can help them take meaningful steps to reduce risk.

Myth: BPA causes prostate cancer.

Reality: There is no evidence that BPA exposure increases the risk of prostate cancer. While a recent University of Illinois study attempted to examine the effects of BPA exposure on the human prostate, the study has very limited relevance to real-life human exposures to BPA as the levels tested were more than 1,000 times higher than typical human exposures.  In addition, the validity of the experimental model studied, which involves grafting ‘humanized prostate-like structures’ derived from human and rat tissues into mice and treatment with an artificial mixture of hormones, has not been well established.

The FDA states that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. Additionally, the causes of prostate cancer have been extensively researched.  According to the American Cancer Society, major risk factors for prostate cancer include age, race, nationality, family history/genes, and lifestyle factors such as obesity and diet. Men can benefit most from facts that help them take meaningful steps to reduce risk.

Myth: BPA causes women to miscarry.

Reality: There is no research that shows women’s exposure to BPA causes miscarriage.  A recent flurry of media stories has significantly exaggerated the findings of one small-scale study of 114 women that reported a limited “statistical association” between BPA and risk of miscarriage.  The study cannot establish – and does not report – any cause-and-effect finding between BPA and miscarriage.

The particular study by Dr. Ruth Lathi of Stanford University has not been peer-reviewed or published in the scientific literature and has only been presented at a conference – meaning that other scientists cannot fully review the data. This small-scale study has not been replicated with other studies and comprehensive multi-generation studies on laboratory animals have found that BPA has no effect on reproduction at any dose remotely close typical human exposure levels.

Learn more: The Lathi study is a small-scale study that cannot establish any cause-and-effect relationship because of the way it was conducted.  It is important to note that the Lathi study relies on analysis of single spot samples of blood to measure BPA exposure. Studies of this type have essentially no capability to establish a cause-effect relationship since BPA has only a very short half-life in the body and single spot sample are not representative of human exposure.

As recently as June of 2013, FDA updated its perspective on BPA, stating that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods and the use of BPA in food packaging and containers is safe. It is important to note that scientific experts at FDA, and other regulatory bodies, review the full weight of the scientific evidence when making decisions about safety. In addition,  the EPA has funded recent, robust research conducted by scientists at the government’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration. Consistent with previous human and animal studies, the Pacific Northwest study (Teeguarden et al.) indicates that, because of the way BPA is processed in the body, it is very unlikely that BPA could cause health effects at any realistic exposure level.

Any further analysis of this Lathi study should include a recent, important expert letter that is co-authored by a CDC author (CDC would widely be considered to be the preeminent expert in biomonitoring), an NIEHS author (NIEHS provided the grant for the Lathi study), and other prominent experts in the US, Canada and Germany, which states:  “…it is seldom possible to verify that serum concentrations of these compounds [specifically referring to BPA] are valid measures of exposure.”

Myth: BPA accumulates in the human body.

Reality: Several studies on human volunteers have shown that the very small amount of BPA that may be ingested by a person during normal daily activities is efficiently converted to biologically inactive metabolites, which are eliminated from the human body within 24 hours. In contrast, similar studies on rodents, which are commonly used for toxicity studies, have demonstrated that rodents are less efficient at eliminating BPA from the body. 

Myth: A harmful amount of BPA gets into your food from storage in polycarbonate food containers.

Reality: Many studies have measured the amount of BPA that can migrate into foods and beverages from polycarbonate containers. The measured amounts are minute, and well below safety standards set by government regulatory agencies around the world. In fact, a consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate plastic each day just to reach the safe intake level set by the European Food Safety Authority.

Learn more: Extensive data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that typical human exposure to BPA from all sources, including from food stored in polycarbonate containers and bottles is approximately 1,000 times below the safe intake level recently set by the European Food Safety Authority. Government bodies around the world have concluded that these levels do not pose a risk to human health. In September 2010, EFSA reviewed over 800 new studies on BPA and concluded that “they could not identify any new evidence which would lead them to revise the current tolerable daily intake.”

Myth: BPA causes heart disease.

Reality: The British Heart Foundation, which has supported research in this area, notes there is no cause for the public or heart patients to be concerned about BPA.

Learn more: Two recent studies published in the journals Circulation and PLoS One reported statistical relationships between levels of BPA metabolites in urine with the incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD) and levels of coronary atherosclosis. In these studies, participants provided a urine sample at a single point in time for BPA analysis. Due to the design of these studies, however, their results have significant limitations and provide little, if any, information on the potential for BPA to cause heart disease. Because the single urine sample provides no information on BPA exposures during the critical time periods when heart disease developed, the studies cannot establish a cause-effect relationship between BPA exposure and CAD or coronary atherosclosis. These limitations led the British Heart Foundation, which supported the first of the two studies with a grant, to state: “We don't believe there is any cause for the public or heart patients to be concerned by BPA.”

Myth: BPA causes cancer.

Reality: The Food Standards Australia New Zealand stated that “BPA does not cause cancer,” and that BPA exposure levels for both infants and adults are very small and do not pose a risk to human health.

Learn more: Based on sound, robust scientific evidence, some government bodies around the world have concluded that BPA is not carcinogenic in humans. In 2008, a comprehensive European Union risk assessment reviewed all relevant scientific evidence and concluded that “BPA does not possess any significant carcinogenic potential.”

Myth: Hundreds of studies have concluded BPA causes a large number of serious diseases.

Reality: When government scientists review studies to make a safety recommendation, they look at the “weight of the evidence,” meaning the information available from all sources, and how well each study was conducted.  The issue is not the quantity of studies, but their quality and the scientific value. Studies are different, and are not of the same quality. Some are conducted according to internationally recognized standards that ensure methodological and statistical reliability, and others are not.

Learn more: BPA has been safely used for decades, and it has been the subject of many scientific studies. Government regulators have the responsibility of reviewing all studies and considering issues like study design and quality and whether the result of any particular study was repeated in other studies. In the United States, the agency charged with this review for food contact applications is FDA. In January 2010, FDA stated that “studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA” and did not take regulatory action. In 2013, the FDA reconfirmed this perspective when it released an update stating that “BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.”

Myth: Government agencies rely on only a few industry-funded studies and ignore other science when making safety determinations about BPA.

Reality: In June 2013, the FDA updated their perspective stating that “BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods,” based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies.

Learn more: Government agencies have established procedures regarding how they review scientific studies. Once agencies establish these rules, they apply them objectively and consistently, regardless of what entity provides the funding, what lab conducts the research or which researcher oversees the study.