BPA Found In Sports Bras and Athletic Shirts

Here's what you need to know.

Are you conscious of BPA levels when purchasing water bottles, cookware, or food storage items? You might want to extend that vigilance to your workout gear as well. Legal notices were sent out by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) to 14 athletic wear manufacturers following tests that showed their products - sports bras and athletic shirts, specifically - may expose consumers to unsafe levels of BPA. The press release published last week noted that these garments could subject people to BPA exposure up to 22 times the acceptable limit under California law.

The list of brands notified comprises big names like Nike, PINK, Athleta, The North Face, All in Motion, Brooks, Mizuno, Reebok, New Balance, FILA, and Asics. These companies have a 60-day window to collaborate with the agency in addressing these violations. Should they fail to rectify the issue within this period, CEH will proceed to file a complaint.

What Is BPA?

BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical incorporated in the manufacturing of plastics and some metal products like cans for food and bottle caps. It's been linked to hormone disruption, and research indicates it could lead to health complications in fetuses, infants, children, and adults, including blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as mentioned by the Mayo Clinic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that low levels of BPA exposure may occur if small amounts from the packaging migrate into foods or beverages. But, according to FDA-approved uses, BPA in food containers and packaging is safe. Studies from the FDA's National Center for Toxicology Research have found no impact from low-dose BPA exposure. Exposure is not confined to ingestion. "Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time," said Kaya Allan Sugerman, Illegal Toxic Threats program director at CEH. She voiced concern over finding high levels of BPA in clothing items like sports bras and athletic shirts, which are often worn for long periods and designed for sweating. Jimena Díaz Leiva, Ph.D., Science Director at CEH, added that sweat acts as a solvent and has been found to pull contaminants out of clothing. BPA mimics estrogen and can disrupt normal bodily functions, such as reproduction, metabolism, growth, and development, according to the CEH. BPA exposure holds higher risks for pregnant people since a fetus is more susceptible to BPA than an adult, and the effects of exposure can last a lifetime, says Hugh Taylor, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He believes that exposure may lead to behavioral changes, fertility issues, and risk of estrogen-sensitive diseases, such as breast cancer and endometriosis. According to Proposition 65, California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the state is required to publish a list of chemicals (including BPA) that are known to cause reproductive harm and cancer. The law also ensures residents are informed about exposures. In California, the permissible level of BPA exposure "via skin is three micrograms per day," as reported by CNN. While CEH cites California law in its recent report, the legal notices sent to identified brands transcend California's borders. "While we litigate under Prop 65, California's Clean Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, the repercussions of our settlements extend beyond California," said Emily DiFrisco, director of communications for CEH.

The Bottom Line

According to Dr. Taylor, you shouldn't worry about short-term exposure to BPA through your workout gear as it doesn't accumulate in the body over time. Rather, it's prolonged exposure that can pose health risks. Post-exercise, try to remove your sports bra promptly to limit contact duration. Instead of tossing out all your sporting goods, a more practical approach would be to verify the BPA content of your fitness attire. Dr. Taylor recommends contacting manufacturers directly for this information. If any item is found to contain high levels of BPA, he advises disposal. Furthermore, attempt to keep the wearing period of athletic clothing as brief as possible, a suggestion also endorsed by the CEH. Dr. Taylor highlights that we encounter Bisphenol A routinely from multiple sources every day, so the objective is not total elimination but rather minimizing exposure.

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