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Bisphenol-A (BPA) & Substitutes

What is it? The most well-recognized famous toxic chemical in plastics is the hormone disruptor Bisphenol-A, or BPA, which is a synthetic estrogen. It’s used in plastics for hardness, clarity and heat resistance. The good news is that the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and children’s sippy cups in 2012. However, it’s likely still found in many other plastics. The bad news is that studies are showing that its replacement, BPS, and other Bisphenols in the same chemical family, may be toxic as well, showing some of the same hormone-disrupting effects as BPA.[1]

Health concerns: BPA is linked to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity[2], and breast cancer[3],[4],[5],[6]. During pregnancy, health effects from exposure to BPA show spontaneous abortion, childhood obesity, asthma, and neurodevelopmental problems[7].


What are they? Phthalates are plastic softeners used to make items flexible, transparent, durable, and long lasting. Because these chemicals are not tightly bound to the other molecules in the plastic, they often “migrate,” moving from the plastic and finding their way into our bodies[8]. They are used in a wide range of products from children’s toys, packaging, personal care products, medical devices, shower curtains, food containers and wrappers among other products.

Health concerns: Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are linked to reproductive malformations in baby boys, reduced fertility, developmental disorders, asthma, and increased allergic reactions[9]. They’ve also been identified by Project TENDR[10]  as “a prime example of chemicals of emerging concern to brain development.”

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

What is it? Rather than being a chemical, PVC is a type of plastic that’s widely known as the most toxic plastic for health and the environment. PVC is used extensively in #3 or #7 plastics, which are pervasive across a wide range of products (toys, car interiors, shower curtains, clothing and flooring, solvents, and perfumes)[11].  PVC is used in items from construction materials and medical devices, roofing material, children’s toys to water and gas pipes, among many other products.

Health concerns: In its production, PVC releases dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium and other toxic chemicals[12]. They can leach these harmful chemicals into the water or food being stored in them. That’s how these hazardous chemicals get into our bodies.


What is it? Vinyl is a plastic made of the same material as PVC, with phthalates added to make it soft. It can be found in crib mattress covers, shower curtains, bibs, and other waterproof items.

Health concerns: From production to use to disposal, vinyl releases chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious chronic diseases. There is no safe way to manufacture, use, or dispose of this toxic material.[13]

[1] BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous, Scientific American
[2] OEHHA: Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Chemicals Considered or Listed Under Proposition 65: Bisphenol A.
[3] Muñoz-de-Toro M, Markey CM, Wadia PR, et al. Perinatal exposure to bisphenol-A alters peripubertal mammary gland development in mice. Endocrinology. 2005;146:4138-47
[4] Murray TJ, Maffini MV, Ucci AA, Sonnenschein C, Soto AM. Induction of mammary gland ductal hyperplasias and carcinoma in situ following fetal bisphenol A exposure. Reprod Toxicol. 2007;23:383-90
[5] Jenkins S, Raghuraman N, Eltoum I, Carpenter M, Russo J, Lamartiniere CA. Oral exposure to Bisphenol A increases dimethylbenzanthracene-induced mammary cancer in rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2009;117:910-15
[6] Wadia PR, Cabaton NJ, Borrero MD, et al. Low-dose BPA exposure alters the mesenchymal and epithelial transcriptomes of the mouse fetal mammary gland
[7] Bisphenols and Phthalates with Dr. Carol Kwiatkowski, Green Science Policy Institute, Six Classes series
[8] Phthalate-Free Plasticizers in PVC, Healthy Building Network
[9] What’s that Smell – Chemicals of Concern Commonly Found in Fragrance Used in Cleaning Products, Women’s Voices for the Earth
[10] Chemicals & Pollutants Project TENDR, Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risk
[11] Bisphenols and Phthalates with Dr. Carol Kwiatkowski, Green Science Policy Institute, Six Classes series
[12] Center for Health, Environment and Justice, PVC, the Poison Plastic Unhealthy for Our Nation’s Children and Schools
[13] Vinyl: The Plastic Poison, Workgroup for Safe Markets

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