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Study: BPA Alternative Also Toxic

New research shows BPA replacement BPS disrupts hormones, is a "cause for concern."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Photo: Marisa McClellan

Have you been reaching for products with the BPA-free label?

You may still be exposing yourself to hormone-disrupting chemicals, according to a first-of-its kind study on BPS (bisphenol S), a BPA (bisphenol A) alternative.

Consumer backlash over the health effects of BPA, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, reproductive defects and diabetes, led to a plethora of BPA-free products on shelves, while the European Union and the FDA banned its use in plastic bottles for infants.

But swapping out BPA for BPS may have meant "jumping from the frying pan to the fire."

A study published Thursday by René Viñas and Cheryl S. Watson of the University of Texas shows how low concentration ranges of BPS, the levels likely to be present in foods, are linked to the disruption of estrogen and are "cause for concern."

"People automatically think low doses do less than high doses," said lead author Watson, a University of Texas biochemistry professor. "But both natural hormones and unnatural ones like [BPS] can have effects at surprisingly low doses."

While BPS might not sound as familiar as BPA to many consumers, Environmental Health News says that BPS is everywhere:

In the past several years, BPS has replaced BPA in the printing of thermal paper used for cash register receipts. Every thermal receipt tested in a study published last year contained BPS. [...]

Nearly everyone worldwide is exposed to BPS. Eighty-one percent of urine samples from eight different countries contained traces of it, according to a study published last year. In comparison, about 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine. [...]

A lesser-known use for thermal paper is for ultrasound and other medical machine printouts. According to a 2012 report by the EPA, these BPA-free printouts largely contain BPS.

“I think we should all stop and be very cautious about just accepting [BPS] as a substitute for BPA,” Watson said.

Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health and environment watchdog, agrees.  "We've long been concerned about Bisphenol S and the other bisphenol chemicals used in receipt paper and other consumer products. We urge EPA and the industry to carefully scrutinize these findings, and avoid jumping from the frying pan to the fire by replacing BPA with a similar looking and similarly toxic chemical," said EWG senior research analyst Sonya Lunder.

The study's findings also highlight the public health risk that comes with current chemical policy, Watson warns. “We should question the whole process about how we introduce chemicals into the marketplace without properly testing them first.”

From the study:

BPS dramatically disrupted E2 [estradiol]-induced PRL [prolactin] release, as do other XEs [synthetic agents that can mimic and disrupt the actions of physiologic estrogens]. Disturbances in the timing or amount of PRL released can lead to a variety of physiologic complications including disruptions in electrolyte imbalance, growth and development, metabolic dysfunctions, behavioral disturbances, reproductive failure, or lactation failure. [...]

Our study is the first to demonstrate that the BPA-substitute BPS can induce rapid non-genomic signaling in estrogen-responsive pituitary cells at low (femtomolar-picomolar) concentrations. That BPS also interferes with physiologic E2 signaling leading to several functional endpoints is a cause for concern.

Read the whole study here.

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