As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve done a lot of research as a striving-to-be-responsible parent when it comes to providing the best for my son. In his first year, such homework led to my discovery of the ubiquitous toxic chemical bisphenol A (commonly abbreviated as “BPA”), and my subsequent disposal of all of his plastic bottles in favor of glass ones.
See, unless the plastic items you buy say “BPA-free” on them, chances are good they have BPA in them. The issue? Bisphenol A has been linked to cancer, obesity and other disorders, and at the very least has been deemed a “chemical of concern” by the 2010 President’s Cancer Panel. And my BPA radar went up again when I learned that all currently produced beer cans include BPA in the liner that buffers the walls of the can.
Before I move on let me make two things clear: 1) I’m no scientist and make no claims that I’m particularly knowledgeable about BPA; I’m simply processing what I read in a variety of sources. 2) I’m not a telling anyone they should avoid cans. I drink my fair share of canned beer and am exposed to BPA in countless other ways that I don’t even know about, I’m sure. However, the fact is BPA does exist in all beer cans and it is something you should be aware of.
While attending a beer dinner at the Oskar Blues brewery in Longmont, Colo., in November, I brought up the issue with the brewery’s likable marketing director, Chad Melis. After all, Oskar Blues is one of the most well-known canners of craft beer. And though cans are sometimes ignorantly dismissed as a packaging befitting only cheap beer, the metal containers have several well-publicized advantages to both the beer and the environment. Since I always pour my beer into a glass (thereby avoiding the complaint many raise about beer in cans tasting metallic), the BPA issue is the only possible question mark I have about cans.
“[The Ball Corporation is] actively trying to offer a BPA-free coating, but to date with no success,” wrote Oskar Blues marketing director Chad Melis in a December 2010 e-mail. “Once such a coating exists, we will have it in our cans.”
Melis was on top of the issue and we discussed the common sense belief that BPA is most likely to leech from liners or plastic vessels into food or liquid when the vessel is heated, as in a microwave. Such heating up of the plastic plays a major role in the concern about baby bottles, as reported in a 2008 study published in Toxicology Letters. Beer, of course, is best served cold or at cellar temps, so the heating factor is of little to no concern here. And the trace amounts present in the liners are also small enough for many to dismiss as harmless.
Still, the unknown nature of BPA raises concerns for some, and Melis directly addressed BPA in e-mail exchanges with me since our November discussion.
“BPA is an organic compound that is used as a hardener in the epoxy coating that lines our cans so that the metal stays away from the food,” Melis wrote in a December 2010 e-mail. “There is a BPA-free lining that exists, but it is only FDA approved for neutral [pH] foods such as beans. The FDA will not approve BPA-free linings for use with other foods that have a level of acidity (beer, tomatoes, soda, etc.) due to the fact that acidic foods are able to react with the metal through the container’s lining if the lining hasn’t been hardened with BPA, therefore defeating the purpose of the lining all together.”
He added that he and Oskar Blues’ can manufacturer, Ball Metal Container in Golden, Colo., are in close contact about the issue of BPA. “We are staying up to date with whatever new information and innovations come about,” Melis wrote via e-mail. “[Ball is] actively trying to offer a BPA-free coating, but to date with no success. Once such a coating exists, we will have it in our cans.”
The concerns of some craft brewers over BPA’s presence in cans are evident in the recent decision by Linus Hall of Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co. to invest in a new bottling line rather than convert to canning his beer. BPA was one of four factors listed in a blog post by Hall that detailed his decision to stick with glass bottles.
“I didn’t even know what [BPA] was until I started doing more research, and while I am not one to pay attention to every health scare issue, this is one I began to think about,” Hall said in the post, dated January 27, 2011. “Apparently BPA, which is a chemical in the lining that is sprayed into each can to line the can, can act like a synthetic hormone in humans. Some doctors and scientists believe BPA can [leech] from the linings of cans, and build up in the bloodstream of young children. There it might act like a synthetic form of estrogen, causing young girls to hit puberty much earlier than normal. I don’t know—the evidence is inconclusive. But I do know that there is building political pressure to find an alternative to BPA in can linings—in fact, [in October 2010], Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance to humans, which will lead to bans in soda and beer cans. I’d rather wait and see how it all shakes out before investing in a new canning line. Here is a link to the story.”
Hall’s concern is that his significant investment in a canning line could be rendered useless by a possible (and as of now, unpredictable) U.S. government ban on BPA-lined cans—again, the only types of cans currently available for beer.
In response to the Canada ruling and to public inquiries about BPA in its beverage cans, Ball Corporation published a document dated Oct. 15, 2010, that “is intended to help you learn more about BPA, its use in packaging and government review of that use.” Though the company could clearly be seen as biased, given that it is defending its own product, the two-page information sheet is definitely worth a read for some balance on the issue. Many thanks to Chad Melis for sharing it with me for my research.
I for one won’t stop drinking beer from cans at this point; given the option of the same beer in a bottle or a can, though, I’m choosing the bottle. Even then I may not be able to avoid ingesting some level of BPA, as the plastic liners on the underside of bottle caps undoubtedly contain the chemical as well.
Clearly there is much more to be learned by the science and craft beer communities when it comes to bisphenol A, and I’ll follow up on this topic as appropriate.