Exposure to chemical found in plastics ‘hard to avoid’ in everyday life

Terms: In the News

This is an interesting article that demonstrates the pervasiveness of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA).  BPA is considered an endocrine like compound that can have an impact on our hormones and our metabolism. The disturbing thing about this research is that it is difficult to avoid. 

This highlights the need for a more comprehensive look at what regulations are needed to prevent the wide spread use of toxic chemicals. 

Dr. Michael Kane 

The article:


February 5, 2018


University of Exeter


86 per cent of teenagers have traces of
Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound used to make plastics, in their body,
new research has found.


Measurable levels of BPA,
an endocrine-disrupting chemical, were found in the urine of the vast majority
of the 94 17-19 year olds tested, according to research at the University of
Exeter led by Professor Lorna Harries, Associate Professor in Molecular
Genetics, and Professor Tamara Galloway, Professor of Ecotoxicology.

They called for better
labelling of packaging to enable consumers to choose BPA-free products.

The citizen-science
project was carried out in a real-world setting to provide young people with
first-hand experience of all aspects of scientific research.

Students designed, took
part in and published the research study into whether changes in their
lifestyle and diet could have an impact on BPA in their bodies.

They found that chemical
is so ubiquitous that trying to reduce exposure by avoiding food packaging and
food likely to contain BPA has no measurable impact on exposure, according to
research published in the BMJ Open journal.

The research, An engaged
research study to assess the effect of a ‘real-world’ dietary intervention on
urinary bisphenol A (BPA) levels in teenagers is the largest self-administered
intervention study of exposure to BPA in unrelated individuals. Teenagers are
thought to be one of the population demographics with the highest levels of

BPA passes relatively
swiftly out of the body with a short half-life of around 6 hours, but
measurable BPA was detected in 86% of the participating students, with an
average level of 1.9ng/ml. This is similar to population exposure levels in
other countries around the world, and reflects the exposure to BPA in the

The study concluded:

“We found no
evidence in this self-administered intervention study that it was possible to
moderate BPA exposure by diet in a real-world setting. Our study participants
indicated that they would be unlikely to sustain such as diet long term, due to
the difficulty in identifying BPA free foods.”

BPA is an industrial
chemical which has been used since the 1960s to make certain types of plastic.
The chemical can be found in plastic containers and water bottles, till
receipts, on the inside of cans and bottle tops and in plastic packaging and
tubing. DVDs, CDs and sunglasses can also contain BPA though this is not a
major route for exposure through skin.

BPA, a chemical with
similarities to oestrogen, can get into the body through our diet.
Highly-processed foods, or foods packaged in some plastics, can contain high
levels of BPA. It is capable of causing changes to the expression of
oestrogen-responsive genes, and the regulation of hormones, previous research
by the Exeter team has found.[i]

Endocrine disruptors are
chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system. A wide range of
substances, both natural and human-made, are thought to cause endocrine
disruption. The EU Member State Committee (MSC) has said that Bisphenol A is an
endocrine disruptor.[ii]

Leaching of BPA from
products can increase with higher temperatures and with time and use, for
example through repeated use of plastic water bottles if they contain BPA.

The Exeter academics said
consistent labelling of packaging would enable consumers to identify products
containing BPA.

Professor Galloway said:
“We found that a diet designed to reduce exposure to BPA, including
avoiding fruit and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and
meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, had
little impact on BPA levels in the body.”

“Our students who
followed the BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it
long term, because labelling of BPA products was inconsistent. They found it
difficult to source and identify BPA-free foods.”

Professor Harries,
Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Exeter, said:
“Our study shows that currently we do not have much of a choice about
being exposed to BPA. We believe that much better labelling of products
containing BPA is needed so people can make an informed choice.”

The teenagers’ urine was
tested before they took part in the trial and afterwards to see if the diet made
a measurable difference to levels of BPA in the urine.

Overall, teenagers who
spent a week following guidelines designed to reduce BPA exposure in their diet
did not see a drop in exposure. However, some of those with the highest levels
of BPA in their urine did show some reduction.

The students from schools
in Devon followed strict guidelines that they had designed as part of the
research team for a week which included avoiding plastic packaging which
contains BPA, switching to stainless steel and glass food and drink storage
containers, and avoiding tinned food. They were also asked to switch to ceramic
or glass food containers before microwaving.

Professor Galloway said:

“Exposure to the
endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A is ubiquitous. There is growing
evidence that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals may be associated with
adverse health outcomes. Measurable levels of BPA were present in the vast
majority of our participants. They were unable to achieve a reduction in their
urinary BPA levels over the 7-day trial period despite good compliance to
supplied guidelines.”

Students who followed the
BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it long term,
because labelling of BPA products was inconsistent and the difficulty of
sourcing and identifying BPA-free foods.

Professor Harries,
Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics at the University of Exeter, added:
“BPA is a pervasive endocrine-disrupting chemical widely present in our
food chain and our environment. Most people are exposed to BPA on a daily
basis. In this study, our student researchers have discovered that at the
present time, given current labelling laws, it is difficult to avoid exposure
by altering our diet. In an ideal world, we would have a choice over what we
put into our bodies. At the present time, since it is difficult to identify
which foods and packaging contain BPA, it is not possible to make that choice.

“This study shows
that it is possible to involve school students in real research. We wanted to
give the students an authentic experience of what being a researcher is really


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for
style and length.


Journal Reference:

1.    Tamara S Galloway et al. An
engaged research study to assess the effect of a ‘real-world’ dietary
intervention on urinary bisphenol A (BPA) levels in teenagers
. BMJ Open,
2018 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018742