Bisphenol A (also called BPA) is a chemical that is used for many purposes, such as making certain plastics and the resin that lines food cans.
How you’re exposed to bisphenol A
Bisphenol A is used to make:
- polycarbonate plastics (typically very hard, clear plastics, such as hard, reusable water bottles and children’s sippy cups)
- the resins that line food cans
- some dental materials, such as sealants or composite fillings, which contain low amounts of BPA derivatives (BPA is only present in saliva for up to 3 hours after a dental procedure that uses sealants or composite fillings)
Some reports suggest that bisphenol A may leach out of polycarbonate plastics, food can linings and other materials, possibly exposing humans to levels that are higher than the current suggested safe levels.
Many plastics have a recycling code (1–7) on them, usually at the bottom of the container. Polycarbonate plastics are labelled with a recycling code 7 and may contain BPA.
Bisphenol A and cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reviewed the evidence and wasn’t able to determine whether exposure to BPA does or does not cause cancer in humans. Find out more about how cancer-causing substances are classified.
Some research suggests that bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor. This means that it may mimic or disrupt hormones – in this case, estrogen. Being exposed to endocrine disruptors may lead to certain types of cancer.
Some research also suggests that being exposed to bisphenol A at levels much lower than what is currently thought to be safe can affect the health of laboratory animals. This research has not been done in people, and scientists do not know whether the results of the studies in laboratory animals apply to humans. Recent studies on laboratory animals exposed to very low doses of bisphenol A at a young age have shown that BPA exposure can:
- affect sperm production
- affect fertility
- cause persistent changes in mammary gland (breast tissue) development
- cause persistent changes in the prostate gland
These doses are at levels much lower than what was previously thought to be harmful. However, scientists disagree about the results of these studies and what the studies mean for humans. Though there is some research on bisphenol A in humans, it is very limited.
We do not know if exposure to bisphenol A increases your risk of cancer or can have other effects on your health.
Tips to reduce your exposure
The federal government is most concerned about infants and children being exposed to bisphenol A leaching from polycarbonate baby bottles and from canned infant formula. For more information visit their website.
If you’re concerned, there are ways you can reduce your and your children’s exposure to this chemical:
- Prepare infant formula according to Health Canada’s recommendations.
- Avoid children’s toys, bottles and dishes made with polycarbonate plastic. You may have to contact the manufacturer to find out what the item is made from. Visit our section on phthalates to learn more about certain plastics in children’s toys.
- Consider using drink containers made from stainless steel, glass or polypropylene plastic (recycle code 5) for your children.
- Choose food and drink containers made of glass for yourself, or ones that are not made of polycarbonate plastic.
- Choose fresh or frozen foods over canned when possible.
- If you’re having dental work, talk to your dentist about the materials being used and the options available.
You may be able to reduce, but not eliminate, your exposure to bisphenol A. Its wide-ranging use means that there are probably many sources of exposure for most Canadians.
Suggested links for more information
General information about bisphenol A
These pages provide information about sources of bisphenol A exposure, potential health risks associated with bisphenol A exposure, how you can minimize your risk, and the role of government in Canada as well as internationally in monitoring current research and managing the risks associated with exposure.
Government of Canada: Chemical Substances – Chemicals Management Plan – bisphenol A
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (US) – Questions and answers about bisphenol A
European Food Safety Authority – About bisphenol A
Information about endocrine disruptors
Learn more about the potential health effects of endocrine disruptors.
US Environmental Protection Agency – What are endocrine disruptors?
European Commission – Endocrine disruptor research