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Papermaking waste may offer a safer and greener alternative to BPA

There has been a great deal of concern about possible adverse health effects from exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA). The American Chemical Society has reported via Newswise on March 16, 2014 that a potentially safer and greener alternative to BPA could come from papermaking waste. This research was presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.

 CamelBak brand BPA-free water bottles hang on display at an outdoor supply store in Arcadia, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

BPA has been banned from baby bottles due to its potentially harmful effects on health. However, BPA is still used in many plastics. Scientists have determined a waste product which is made from making paper could yield a safer and greener alternative to the potentially harmful chemical BPA. The BPA alternative has been made from lignin. Lignin is the compound that gives wood its strength.

There are about 3.5 million tons of BPA produced annually worldwide. BPA gives shatter proof plastic eyewear and sports equipment their strength. BPA is also used in high performance glues, in the lining of cans and in receipt paper. A serious concern with exposure to BPA is that it can mimic the hormone estrogen which can potentially affect the body and brain. Some experts have suggested that BPA is not safe for young children and pregnant women to consume.

Researchers at the University of Delaware have developed a process that converts lignin fragments into a compound which is called bisguaiacol-F (BGF). BGF has a similar shape to BPA. The researchers predict BGF will act like BPA. They anticipate showing that BGF has BPA-like properties within a year. They than feel a product with BGF to replace BPA will be ready for the market in two to five years. The design of BGF makes it incapable of interfering with hormones while it retains the desirable thermal and mechanical properties of BPA. The researchers feel BGF will be a viable alternative economically and environmentally to BPA.

This research is significant due to concerns about human exposure to BPA. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says that human exposure to BPA is widespread. In a 2003-2004 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it was found that there were detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older. Furthermore, some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns who are exposed to BPA. Concerns about exposure to BPA therefore appear to be justified and the development of a safer and greener alternative to BPA in the form of BGF certainly appears worth pursuing.

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