BPA is a chemical compound that has long been used to make plastic products including water bottles and to coat cans. But in recent years, following studies warning of the potential health consequences of minute traces, many companies have substituted similar chemicals into their food and drink containers that they then label “BPA-free.”
The widespread use of BPA has, in theory, been reduced.
The problem is that the chemical composition of BPS, short for bisphenol S, varies very little from BPA, or bisphenol A. This means that the supposed health benefits of replacing BPA with BPS and other similar compounds simply don’t exist, according to a new study in the journal Current Biology.
An estimated 93% of Americans have BPA in their bodies, potentially impacting the human body’s endocrine system and causing fertility complications in men and women, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). BPA has also been linked to early puberty in girls and genital deformation in boys, as well as metabolic conditions related to obesity and even some cancers.
In the latest study, researchers from Washington State University and the University of California at San Francisco, wrote that the effects of bisphenol exposure can persist for several generations. That means that even if safe in small doses, the accumulation over time would continue to impact people’s health.
The study wasn’t exactly intentional. When the authors noticed laboratory mice producing abnormal eggs and sperm, they looked for the cause and discovered replacement bisphenols were causing contamination. They then conducted subsequent studies to show how chromosomal abnormalities can persist for up to three generations.
This isn’t even the first time the study authors have stumbled upon BPA’s effects in their labs. In fact, some of the authors of this most recent study are the same that authored a definitive report on BPA in the same journal in 2003 after noticing BPA contaminants in their labs caused female mice to produce chromosomally abnormal eggs.
Over the years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said BPA is safe to use in food packaging. And some food makers, including Del Monte and General Mills, continue to use BPA in cans and food packaging. (Others, such as Campbell Soup, phased out the substance in favor of alternatives.)
A new FDA report expected in 2019 will no doubt set off further debate about how these chemicals should be used and labeled going forward.
Correction, Sept. 17, 2018: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Campbell Soup’s position on BPA. Though the company used the substance in can linings as late as last year, it no longer does.