Research highlight

Toxicology: Assessing the health impacts of 'BPA-free' plastics

Nature Communications

March 1, 2017

A chemical called BHPF, used in production of some ‘BPA-free’ plastics, may cause adverse pregnancy outcomes in mice, a study in Nature Communications indicates. The research also suggests that BHPF (fluorene-9-bisphenol) found in commercial water bottles may be transferred into the drinking water. However, this study does not provide evidence that BHFP has negative effects on human health, as tests were undertaken only in mice.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plastic softener, widely used in the production of plastics used for food and water packaging. However, it has been shown to leak into food and to mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen, so it is being replaced by alternative compounds that do not have estrogenic activity.

Jianying Hu and colleagues report that BHPF, a substitute for BPA, can be detected in hot water used to fill commercially available plastic drinking bottles, including baby bottles. Tests on cultured cells and in 10 mice showed that BHPF is anti-estrogenic (it blocks the effects of estrogen), and causes low uterine weight, low pup weight, and in some cases, failed pregnancies in mice. They also detected traces of BHPF in the blood of seven out of 100 Chinese students who habitually drank water from plastic bottles. However, it is not possible to determine how BHPF levels were elevated in these individuals as their water bottles were not tested for BHPF.

These findings suggest that further studies should be undertaken to evaluate the safety of BHPF, and possibly of other chemicals used as substitutes for BPA during production of plastics used for food and water packaging. Although some countries screen for compounds with estrogenic activity, anti-estrogenic compounds are not routinely screened for.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms14585

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