Okay, so we’ve established that Bisphenol-A (BPA) doesn’t seem to be a major threat to human health in its current concentration levels, right? Humans are exposed to far less BPA than is generally recommended as “safe” by many governments all over the world, so it appears that BPA is far smaller of a problem than people make it out to be. However, BPA is still bad for humans, regardless of concentration. This dangerous chemical can still have many adverse effects when ingested or absorbed into the human body, which occurs via many food and water sources. Unfortunately for us, a significant portion of the food we eat and water we drink comes from water sources supplied by the ocean.
When plastics are exposed to the high levels of UV radiation and salt present in around the world’s oceans, they degrade, leaving behind some harmful chemicals. Specifically, when plastics like polycarbonates or epoxies break down, they leave behind traces of BPA, which leach into our water sources. According to a study done at Carnegie Mellon University, many of these water sources are not treated to remove BPA before or after they come into contact with us. This means that over time, the BPA concentration in the water coming from our sinks and showers will increase as we expose the water to more BPA and fail to filter it, leaving the BPA to continue to enter our bodies at a faster rate. Studies have confirmed this possibility, showing that fish (a large source of food for many humans) have shown almost a 10X increase in BPA concentration since 2011 due to the breakdown of plastics in the ocean and exposure to everyday sources of BPA. If we fail to do anything to remove this BPA, the concentrations in the water that we drink and the food that we eat could exceed the government-prescribed “safe” concentrations.
If our own exposure doesn’t seem like a large enough problem, think of all the marine life and aquatic plants that are exposed to this same harmful chemical as a result of our negligence. In an article published by the American Chemical Society in 2010, it was stated that BPA may have a damaging effect on many forms of marine life, and many other sources have shown that BPA may have long term negative effects on marine ecosystems. In the article, it was stated that “molluscs, crustaceans, and amphibians could be affected by BPA, even in low concentrations”. Two 2017 collaborative studies by three Chinese Universities have also shown that high concentrations of BPA can negatively affect root growth in plants. If we continue to dump BPA-containing plastics into the ocean and/or fail to remove existing plastic from the ocean, these concentrations could eventually reach significantly damaging levels for all kinds of marine life.
Now that we’ve established that BPA concentrations are approaching problematic levels, we must ask ourselves what we can do to solve this problem. The first easy answer is to stop putting plastics into the ocean. Yes, some small plastic parts may make their way into the ocean accidentally, but there are definitely ways to prevent large bags of trash or large plastic parts from reaching the ocean through better consumer recycling education and industrial waste removal practices. See my blog on Ocean Microplastics here:
for more information on developing plastics manufacturing waste removal/reduction procedures.
The next step in solving the growing BPA problem is to start removing trash from our oceans in any way possible. This is actually being done in a lot of coastal cities by trash skimmers like this one in Baltimore:
Which are already removing a large amount of waste with pretty minimal effort. While this isn’t a permanent solution, it’s still having a great effect on even the smallest amount of trash we leave in the ocean.
Lastly, researchers have developed experimental methods of removing BPA and other harmful chemicals from our water during the filtration process. For example, one group introduced a special kind of bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) into a lake in Malaysia with the intent of removing BPA. While we don’t exactly know how safe this bacteria is to us, this is a really interesting way to remove BPA that may promote future studies. Another solution was proposed at Carnegie Mellon University, where TAML activators (catalysts) were used to break down and remove BPA and other harmful chemicals in water samples. After testing, these catalysts were found to be 99% effective at removing high concentrations of BPA within just 30 minutes. Finally, some groups have even found that BPA can biodegrade naturally when in contact with natural sediments and microorganisms. More info on BPA degradation can be found at:
If nothing else, these potential solutions have started a conversation about ways to remove BPA from our water, which we will need to do eventually to prevent any kind of BPA-related danger to us or the marine environment. For now, it would be good practice to test drinking water sources for BPA content after they have been treated normally, and then treat further in one of the ways described above if necessary to remove harmful levels of BPA.
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