Chemicals of Concern in Packaging Linked to DNA Damage

IMG_5689Article Author: Brooke Linnehan, Biology Major, Class of 2021, POB Science Translator 

As our world starts to transition back to “normal” following the 2020 pandemic, you’ll likely find yourself on the go again. For many, this means lots of portable snacks and drinks, many of which are wrapped in packaging that may contain chemicals of concern. Bisphenol A (BPA) and Styrene Oxide (SO) are common ingredients used in plastic for everyday products like water bottles, cosmetic bottles, and food packaging. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over five million tons of synthetic materials commonly containing BPA and SO are produced every year. The World Health Organization deems BPA and SO as carcinogens. A recent study investigated the roles of BPA and SO in DNA damage that can potentially lead to tumors or cancer. 

DNA damage pertains to the actual structure of DNA. It is important to avoid DNA damage because DNA gives cells the exact instructions to make the proteins needed to survive. DNA consists of two strands that wrap around each other like a spiral staircase. Damage can be pictured as a pair of scissors cutting through either one of the strands, or both. Damage like this makes it more difficult for the cells to physically access the instructions within the DNA because its structure has been changed. If the DNA instructions become altered, this is called a mutation. When the DNA is changed or mutated, it can tell the cell to make a different protein. This can have negative effects on the health of your cells and organs. Mutations can arise from many different factors, such as exposure to chemicals, Ultraviolet, or X-rays. Mutations are not always harmful individually, but the accumulation of many mutations can increase the risk of health issues like cancer. Both mutations and DNA damage are harmful to the health of cells and organs and may be linked to a potential cancer diagnosis, including breast cancer. 

In a March 2021 study, researchers found that BPA and SO were associated with DNA damage in lung fibroblast, liver cancer, and kidney cells (Hu et al., 2021). They measured the damage by using a chemical that stains areas where both DNA strands had been broken. They found that higher doses of BPA and SO resulted in higher levels of DNA damage. The researchers also compared the DNA of cells treated with BPA and SO versus untreated cells so they could measure the difference in mutations. They found that BPA and SO-treated cells had more mutations than untreated cells. Together, these results show that BPA and SO have a concerning potential to both mutate and damage DNA in different kinds of cells in the body. 

Though this study focuses on the impacts of BPA and SO on cells instead of real people, the results highlight the possibility that these negative effects could also occur in a variety of cell types, including breast cells. Some ways to reduce exposure to BPA and SO are to use a stainless steel reusable water bottle and to use to-go containers made of glass or other safe materials. By purchasing snacks and food products in bulk and dividing them into your own safer containers, you are not only saving money but also saving yourself from these exposures. It is always important to be mindful of the chemicals of concern found in plastics and packaging because knowing how to look for safer options can help to prevent a future breast cancer diagnosis. 


Hu, X., Biswas, A., Sharma, A., Sarkodie, H., Tran, I., Pal, I., & De, S. (2021). Mutational signatures associated with exposure to carcinogenic microplastic compounds bisphenol A and styrene oxide. NAR cancer, 3(1), zcab004.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites.  POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.  


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