Year in review: BPA alternatives aren’t benign

Replacements cause problems in lab animals

receipt handling

BAD TRADE  In trying to swap out the potentially toxic compound BPA in their products, manufacturers may be using chemicals that are just as bad, researchers found this year.


A popular alternative to bisphenol A isn’t as benign as people had thought, at least not in lab animals.

After a growing body of research identified hormone-mimicking effects from BPA — a compound found in some plastics, dental sealants and cash register receipts — consumers began reaching for BPA-free products. But there is now evidence that at least one of the chemical substitutes, bisphenol S, can enter the body and trigger developmental and physiological changes.

A study published this year found that BPS can boost heart rates and lead to heart-rate variability in rats. Another reported altered brain development and behavior in fish (SN: 4/4/15, p. 10).

The effects in humans are unclear, but store cashiers who handled receipt paper at work excreted more BPS in their urine after a shift. Researchers also detected the structurally similar compound BPSIP in the blood of cashiers who handled receipts with and without BPSIP and in the urine of some people who don’t work as cashiers, suggesting another widespread source (SN: 10/3/15, p. 12).

COMPOUND SWAP With consumers seeking BPA-free products, BPS and BPSIP are serving as alternatives. But scientists haven’t established the safety of these replacements. E. Otwell

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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