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The Impact of Plasticisers on Human Health

The bisphenol family of chemicals in plastics are common in our food and beverage supply (and in many other products) and have been implicated in many health conditions. In this article, Cliff Harvey PhD reviews the research on the implications of BPA and related chemicals on health.

Key Findings:

The impact of bisphenols on health is becoming more widely studied and understood

There is now sufficient evidence to consider BPA a significant risk factor for health

Alternative bisphenols (BPAF, BPF, BPs) are likely to be as toxic as BPA

Bisphenols are known to be toxic to the kidneys and neurons

Bisphenols are known endocrine disruptors

They may increase DNA damage and cancer formation

Bisphenols may also precipitate weight and fat gain (in children and adults) and increase the risk of diabetes

Bisphenols might also predispose children to allergy and asthma

It is unclear whether current intake levels offer an appreciable risk to health, but emerging evidence suggests that previous recommended ‘safe’ intake levels could still be harmful

Bisphenols such as bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol S (BPS) are chemical ‘plasticisers’ that function as raw materials for the production of many plastics including storage containers, food and beverage packaging, and lacquers and sealants for a range of other products (such as the BPA or BPS containing treatments on thermal cash register receipts).1 They are one of the most common industrial chemicals that we come in contact with due to our extraordinary use of products made from plastic. These plasticisers have been found in food, house dust, rivers and lakes, and personal care products,2, 3 and in a review of 500 studies, BPA was found in greater than recommended levels in effluent, surface water, sewage, sediment, soil, air and other environments in more than 50% of samples from Europe, Asia, and North America.4 They have also been identified in human blood, saliva, and urine samples.5 While some exposure items like thermal paper, may not appreciably increase internal exposure (i.e. we don’t know exactly how well it is absorbed through the skin), it is known that BPA is transferred from thermal paper to the skin and can be absorbed,6 and we ingest the bisphenols as a result of food and beverages stored in plastic or exposed to it during processing.

There were, up until relatively recently, relatively few studies on the toxicity and effects of bisphenols but in recent years, much larger amounts of data are emerging. (See figures below)


BPA had typically been considered a low-risk substance with little potential for harm. However, it is now known that it can cause appreciable health harms, even at low doses,7 and is toxic to a range of animals and organisms including humans.8-10 In a study which evaluated BPA from milk alone, exposure levels were considered to be a concern to human health.11

As knowledge of the health effects of BPA have become more well known, there has been a movement towards using alternative bisphenols in its place. This has led to an increase in exposure to other bisphenol chemicals, in particular, BPAF, BPF, and BPS, and this has resulted in similar or even greater levels of exposure and accumulation of these chemicals in humans.12 The various bisphenols; BPAF, BPB, BPF, and BPS (and not just BPA),  have been shown to exhibit anti-thyroid, oestrogenic, and antiandrogenic properties. These analogues also exhibit hormone-disrupting effects, toxicity and damage to both cells and genes, reproductive toxicity, immune dysfunction, dioxin-like effects, nephrotoxicity (damage to the kidneys), and neurotoxicity (toxicity to the brain and central nervous system) and are carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals).9, 12-14 BPA analogues are, in many cases, even more toxic than the BPA they replace. For example, BPB is more acutely toxic and cytotoxic (toxic to cells) and more oestrogenic than BPA,5 while the evidence for the toxicity of BPS is somewhere between less toxic, but most likely to be at least as toxic as BPA.3, 15

BPA analogues are, in many cases, even more toxic than the BPA they replace


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