When compelling evidence arose showing that plastic with the ingredient bisphenol A, or BPA, mimicked estrogen and was linked to heart disease, asthma, cancer and more, "BPA free" alternatives began popping up all over. Many of these new plastics are using bisphenol S or BPS as a replacement for BPA. Research is now showing that this new type of plastic might have some of the same effects as the old plastic.
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BPA is what scientists refer to as an "endocrine disrupter", meaning that the endocrine system is confused by these chemicals that mimic hormones. The endocrine system gives out the directions for our hormones. If it cannot do that properly, then our bodies don't function correctly.
There are many reasons that BPS might cause similar issues as BPA. First and foremost its chemical structure is very similar. Both chemicals are made up of 2 identical sturdy ring structures. The similarities in chemical structure result in similar effects of the chemical on the body and environment.
A recent study published this February in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that rats exposed to BPA or BPS both exhibited irregular heart beats. These heart irregularities could lead to heart disease. Also published February 2015, was research showing that when zebra fish are exposed to low levels of BPS during development that it seems to cause hyperactivity in adulthood.
Although BPA has been removed from things like baby bottles and reusable water bottles, it is still found in common items like cash register receipts. There are not many restrictions on the use of these chemicals in our everyday products.
So how do we educate our children about risks such as these without having everyone under a constant state of panic? I think awareness for everyone is key, and tying risks that result from manufacturing products into materials science lessons and environmental awareness lessons is important. Why not have students research these health risks in a biology class or elective and then have them debate the risks and advantages of using these plastics. Learning about plastics could go in many directions- how do scientists develop polymers? How can we conserve plastic? What are plastic alternatives? When did we develop plastic anyway? More lesson ideas follow in the resources section.
For now, I'm sticking with my stainless steel reusable water bottle. Can't go wrong with a Klean Kanteen! Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Stainless Steel Water Bottle (27-Ounce).
- Science News for Students: "Replacement 'plastic' may be as risky as BPA"
- Scientific American: "BPA Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous"
Plastics Education Resources:
- American Chemistry Council- Plastics Science Analysis Lab
- Educator Resources for Teaching Plastics
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Summary of Endocrine Disruptors
- Plastics Additives Unit