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Behind the Science: Is there BPA in my wine?

Health experts are concerned about a chemical found in many food packaging materials

Christina Zapel
Posted: August 12, 2011

BPA is in the news, but that doesn’t mean most people understand what it is and why they should avoid it. Is there a risk this chemical found in everyday plastics could be in your wine? The answer is complicated. We asked the experts what you should know.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical used to make plastics and epoxy resins. BPA can be found in anything from water bottles to takeout containers to cash-register receipts. Many aluminum products, like soda cans, are lined with an epoxy containing BPA. It has been FDA-approved for usage in products containing food since the 1960s.

Why are people so worried about this chemical?

BPA is an endocrine disruptor with estrogenic activity. “It fools the body’s cells, the body’s signaling system, into thinking it’s being stimulated by an estrogen when it’s not,” explained Stuart Yaniger, vice president of research and development at PlastiPure, a company devoted to creating BPA-free plastics. Although BPA has grabbed the limelight, plastics can be made of other chemicals that have similar effects. “You don’t want to take synthetic estrogen into your body,” said Yaniger.

A report by the National Toxicology Program expresses “some concern” over developmental effects in fetuses, infants and children from BPA. “Additional research is needed to more fully assess the functional, long-term impacts of exposures to bisphenol A on the developing brain and behavior.”

Is there BPA in wine?

No studies have confirmed the presence of BPA in wine, but one recent study found estrogenic activity in synthetic corks. Led by George Bittner at the University of Texas, a team of scientists studied hundreds of plastics for the possibility of estrogenic activity. An unspecified brand of synthetic cork was soaked in water for 72 hours and estrogenic activity was high. Any number of chemicals, BPA included, could be causing these results.

Screw caps and fermentation tanks are a different story. Most screw caps contain a BPA-free plastic liner, although there have been no studies to test for similar chemicals. Fermentation tanks, both stainless steel and concrete models, can be lined with an epoxy. No one has tested these epoxy liners so far.

How can you tell if a product is BPA-free?

Some companies, like Alcan, a manufacturer of screw caps, and Tetra Pak, whose bags are used in boxed wines, release statements that their products are BPA-free. There are no concrete ways to determine whether a product is free of estrogenic activity unless a company discloses that information.

Steve Wooden
Montreal, Canada —  August 13, 2011 7:57am ET
"Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical used to make plastics and epoxy resins."

Nice sweeping generalization Ms. Zapel. Perhaps you should check your facts before writing misleading statements. BPA is used to make SOME plastics. It is not used to make polyethylene, polypropylene, or polystyrene, which are by far the most widely used plastics in food packaging.
Christina Zapel
NY, NY —  August 15, 2011 12:45pm ET
The article states that "BPA can be found in anything from water bottles to takeout containers to cash-register receipts." It does not say it is found in all water bottles. Specifically, it has been found in certain types of reusable water bottles. As the article states, the science on this is new and few studies have been done on the possibility of BPA or other chemicals that trigger estrogenic activity getting into wine. More research is needed.
Bernard Kruithof
San Antonio, Texas —  August 16, 2011 1:53am ET
Common sense dictates that synthetic corks are made through a chemical process and thus suseptable to leaching chemicals into wine over time. Wether hot and cold exposure hastens the process is something that, I would think would be simple to test.
Common sense also makes it reasonable and prudent for every winery- business in the world to educate and inform itself about anything that could possibly impede threaten its business and its consumers health.

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