Canada has recently declared a chemical known as BPA to be a toxic substance. Europe has partially banned BPA from consumer products. The United States also faces a similar push to remove BPA from products in which the chemical can be ingested. Claire Zurlo ’14, a recipient of an Emerson Summer Grant, and Amanda Ng ’14, funded with summer research funds, will spend the summer contributing to this effort. They will work with Professor of Chemistry Tim Elgren to perform a BPA analysis on various beer samples.
The project, “BPA Analysis in Beer” has the potential to make a significant change in the production process. BPA, which is used in many plastics, is known to interfere with the endocrine system due to the similarity in structure to several naturally occurring hormones. Many food and beverage manufacturers have already begun removing BPA from their products and packaging, while other firms are interested in pinpointing where exactly BPA enters the product during the production process.
While taking Chemistry 125 at Hamilton, Ng and Zurlo completed an independent project on the BPA content in beer, comparing the concentrations of the chemical in bottles and cans. They did not expect the bottled beer to contain any BPA, yet surprisingly these beers had more BPA than their canned counterparts. This summer, Zurlo and Ng will work to find if this generally true by testing beer bottles and cans from a number of manufacturers.
The group will employ a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry instrument, or GC-MS instrument, to test different solutions for BPA. The instrument will show BPA as a peak on a spectrum, where the intensity of the peak refers to the relative concentration of BPA in solution. Initially, Zurlo, Ng and Elgren are calibrating the GC-MS by running solutions with known concentrations of BPA through the instrument, adjusting the instrument to the ideal temperature and timing. In this way, they are fine-tuning the GC-MS to be highly sensitive to BPA.
After this stage is completed, they will be able to sample the bottled and canned beer from the many sources. By testing each beer sample and comparing the observed BPA peaks on the spectra, Zurlo and Ng will gain perspective on which samples of beer have the highest concentrations of BPA relative to the preceding samples.
In the meantime, Ng explains that she and Zurlo are gaining valuable experience in the chemistry department. They have become very familiar with the GC-MS instrument and are getting to know more chemistry faculty members. Ng plans on pursuing an environmental studies major, and she believes that her current project allows her to begin build the skills she will need in this field.
In Chemistry 125, Zurlo and Ng chose to work with beers because they thought it would be interesting to examine a BPA source that is relevant to some college students. They look forward to presenting their results and hope that the brewing industry will refine its practices in accordance. The group plans to complete two papers on the project. The first will be for a toxicology journal about BPA in bottled beer. The other paper is for an education journal about the significance that research performed by college students can have, as underclassmen are rarely given the opportunity to inspire such valuable changes.
Outside of this project, Zurlo remains dedicated to environmental action and public health issues. She was an active participant in the anti-hydrofracking group on campus and recently attended a rally in Albany to protest hydrofracking. She also participates in the Hamilton Community Garden, volunteers with Rust to Green and is a member of the Hamilton dance team.
Ng is very interested in music, and she plays viola for the Hamilton College Orchestra, as well as piano and violin. Both students look forward to contributing to a healthier production process for beers.
Amanda Ng is a graduate of Westford Academy in Westford, Mass. Claire Zurlo is a graduate of Hershey High School in Hershey, Pa.