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BPA is used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins; it has been in commercial use since 1957. BPA-based plastic is clear and tough, and is used to make a variety of common consumer goods (such as baby and water bottles, sports equipment, and CDs and DVDs) and for industrial purposes, like lining water pipes. Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as coatings on the inside of many food and beverage cans. It is also used in making thermal paper such as that used in sales receipts.
Chemicals like BPA are known as "endocrine disruptors" because they mimic the body's hormones; because hormones trigger biological responses at minute concentrations, the thinking goes, so might these synthetic cousins. Exposure to BPA has been linked, primarily in lab animal studies, to a range of possible health problems ranging from obesity to infertility.
Another recent study, small but instructive, found that a family reduced its exposure to BPA 60% by swapping fresh foods for canned and packaged foods. (There is at least one BPA-free canned food alternative, from Eden Organic, which costs more but comes without the chemical worry; $25.50 for 12 15-ounce cans of black beans, for instance, at amazon.com.)
Tests showing that BPA leached from plastic baby bottles into formula prompted at least eight states, along with most major retailers and bottle makers, to phase BPA out of plastic baby bottles. Many water bottle makers have followed suit. But BPA remains a component of the lining of canned foods and canned beverages like soda. (It's also been found in residue left on fingers after handling sales receipts and dollar bills.) For those concerned about exposing themselves, or for pregnant women concerned about exposing their developing baby, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in place of canned foods is one important strategy.