Plastics Labeled ‘BPA-Free’ Might Be B.S.-Filled [UPDATED]

A new study from the University of Calgary shows that BPS, a common BPA substitute, may have the same negative health consequences.

(Photo: Gary Bryan/Getty Images)

Jan 13, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

UPDATED Jan. 14, 2015—5:15 p.m.

The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's largest trade organization, issued a statement on Jan. 13 extolling the safety of both BPS and BPA.

If the health warning on water bottles had read “BPA-Free, Now Full of Chemically Similar BPS!,” it's likely fewer people would have bought them. But as it stands, an estimated 81 percent of Americans currently test positive for BPS in their urine.

Bisphenol-S, better known as BPS, has been touted as a safe substitute ever since the FDA banned the use of BPA in 2012, but until recently, no extensive studies had been done on its health effects.

The University of Calgary set out to change that in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It tested both BPA and BPS on zebrafish and their larvae and found that both chemicals caused abnormal growth surges in neurons, which resulted in hyperactivity.

Because zebrafish share about 80 percent of their genes with humans, it’s more than likely that BPS would have—and is having—a similarly negative effect on people. According to the study, “zebrafish are a widely accepted biomedical model for understanding embryonic brain development.”

But, the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's largest trade organization, disagrees. In a statement issued shortly after the study was released, the ACC said, "The relevance of this limited study on zebrafish, as asserted by the authors, is not at all clear, and it would not be scientifically appropriate to draw any conclusions about human health based on this limited experiment." The ACC also noted that the zebrafish embryos in the study were exposed to much higher dosages of BPS than any human would.

The university researchers found that BPS disproportionately affected male zebrafish hormones, which, when translated to human subjects, could indicate why more boys than girls are diagnosed with neurological and developmental disorders.

That BPS has been widely used for several years without adequate testing shines a spotlight on the larger issue at hand: the FDA’s overall negligence.

“A lot of the alternative chemicals have not been adequately tested because they don’t have to be,” lead study author Deborah Kurrasch told The Washington Post. “A compound is considered safe (by the Food and Drug Administration) until proven otherwise.”

The FDA has not commented on the study.