"One Word: Plastics." That now-famous line delivered to a young Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film classic The Graduate has proven to be prophetic. We live in a plastic world. From the plumbing in our homes and the fillings in our teeth to the containers we eat and drink from, plastic is everywhere – including the headline news.
In 2006, health warnings first appeared about something called BPA as a potential health hazard, especially for fetuses, infants, and young children. (Reference: Canned Soup Consumption and Urinary Bisphenol A: A Randomized Crossover Trial, Journal of the American Medical Association) What is BPA? It is an epoxy resin derived from bisphenol A and is the main component of polycarbonate that hard, clear plastic used in contact lenses, CDs, food storage containers, and yes, water and baby bottles, among a host of other common items. Since those original reports, BPA has become one of the most studied -- and controversial compounds -- in history thanks to differing opinions over what constitutes safe exposure levels.
The Research and Debate Continue
Some scientists have tied BPA to illnesses ranging from asthma, cancer, infertility, and genital deformity to heart disease, liver issues, and ADHD. "Pick a disease, literally pick a disease," Dr. Fredrick vom Saal, a biologist who studies the impact of BPA at the University of Missouri-Columbia, recently told Mother Jones magazine. Dr. vom Staal is not alone. Some 38 other scientists have issued a consensus statement noting that 95% of people in developed countries are exposed to levels of BPA that are known to cause health problems in animals and likely do the same in humans. But, there is the rub. What actually determines safe BPA exposure levels?
European Union officials are taking a proactive stance on the issue of BPA by setting BPA migration limits into food at no more than 1 mg/Kg. They also recently set a very strict 0.1 mg/1 BPA migration limit in toys for children. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012, it has found no evidence or data to date that indicate the need for regulatory limits or restrictions on BPA leeching into food or into children's mouths from plastic toys. Then again, the FDA daily limit for BPA is 50mg/kg/day, considerably higher than the European limit.
Using Science to Advance Safety
Scientists at PerkinElmer are using the AxION® 2 Time-of-Flight (TOF) Mass Spectrometer and the Flexar™ FX-10 UHPLC system to develop methods to measure the presence of BPA in both canned foods and in plastic toys. These instruments are so precise they can detect the presence of BPA as low as one part per billion. To give you a sense of just how accurate these instruments are, one part per billion is equal to a pinch of salt compared to 10 tons of potato chips.
Researchers across the globe are hard at work assessing compounds like BPA and alternative products that may someday replace synthetic epoxy resins that have become so pervasive in modern life. Until then, it is reassuring to know that companies such as PerkinElmer continue to introduce advanced scientific instrumentation like the AxION 2 TOF and Flexar UHPLC to help global manufacturers provide products that not only look and taste good, but are also safe to eat and use as well.