BPA substitute safety concerns

A new study has raised concerns over the safety of BPA-free plastics.

It's BPA-free, but is it safe?

Plastic products labelled as "BPA-free" may not be the 100% safe alternative they're touted as, according to a new study published in the journal Endocrinology.

Used to strengthen plastic, BPA has been linked to certain cancers as well as various reproductive and developmental disorders. Concerns about the health effects has led to "BPA-free" labels popping up on a wide range of plastic products, from water bottles and children's sippy cups to food containers. 

But this latest study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a chemical commonly used as a substitute for BPA, called BPS, can also interfere with the reproductive system of zebrafish.

"Our study shows that making plastic products with BPA alternatives does not necessarily leave them safer," says Professor Nancy Wayne, who led the study.

BPA-free label creates halo effect

While a "BPA-free" label tells consumers a product doesn't contain BPA, it doesn't tell them what has been used to replace the BPA. As it turns out, the push to phase out BPA may have led industry to replace it with chemicals that have not yet been thoroughly studied.

This is an unfortunate situation given consumers may consider something labelled as BPA-free to be a safe alternative. For example, researchers at the University of Missouri have shown that a "BPA-free" label can influence purchasing decisions, with more people choosing a product labelled as "BPA-free" over an equivalent product made with BPA, even when they were told little was known about the safety of the chemical substitutes. They were also willing to pay more for the BPA-free item.

Should I avoid BPA-free products?

Despite this latest study, Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide says BPS is still a safer alternative than BPA.

"Studies of the migration of BPS into food have shown that as little as between 0.3% and 3% of BPS leaches into foods compared to BPA. Combine this with the recent Australian Total Diet Study that showed most food contains no detectable levels of BPA, and it suggests the risk from PBS is even more minuscule," Dr Musgrave says.

If you're concerned about either BPA or its substitutes, then choose products in containers made from glass rather than plastics or metals, where possible.