The chemical BPA is widely added to food and drink packaging, and more than 80% of teenagers have it in their bodies. But how dangerous is it?

Can exposure to plastics harm your health? It’s a question currently being explored by researchers after a recent study suggested that traces of a synthetic chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA) can be found in more than 80% of teenagers. BPA is added to plastic to create a special form called polycarbonate plastic, used in making robust, impact-resistant materials for everything from food and drink packaging to DVD cases and medical devices. First created in 1891, it has been used commercially since the 1950s and is now one of the most commonly produced chemicals in the world, with 3.6bn tonnes of BPA generated every year.

The problem is that BPA can be ingested or absorbed through skin contact, meaning that humans are regularly exposed through the chemical leaching out of packaging into food and drink – and over the past 20 years various studies have linked BPA to a variety of adverse health effects. The biggest concerns have been the impact on foetuses and young children, who have underdeveloped systems for detoxifying chemicals – the consequences being that the younger you are, the higher the levels of BPA in your body.

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