September 11, 2008

New Studies Point to Health Risks of BPA

The National Toxicology Program this month released a report on the safety of bisphenol A, or BPA, reaffirming an earlier draft report that said there is “some concern” that BPA can affect neural and behavioral development in fetuses, infants and children.

“There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects,” John R. Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, said in a statement, as reported by the Washington Post. “But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed.”

The chemical is commonly found in the liners of food cans and baby formula, and hard plastic containers, such as baby bottles, which makes exposure at an early age a particular concern.

The final report is at odds with the findings of the Food & Drug Administration, which declared in August that BPA does not pose a health hazard when used in food containers. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating how the FDA draft report came to that conclusion. Flags were raised since the report was based largely on data obtained from two studies — wait for it — funded by chemical companies. U.S. companies produce about 7 billion pounds of BPA each year.

“What do you do when one arm of the government says everything is O.K. and another tells you to watch out?” asked a New York Times editorial on Monday. “The answer is a truism in every family rulebook — when in doubt, especially when it comes to children, err on the side of caution. That means it is a good idea to keep the young away from bisphenol-A, or BPA.”

Some businesses are doing just that. Wal-Mart and Toys R Us have already announced that they will stop selling childrens’ products made with BPA as of January. And companies such as Nalgene, which makes refillable hard plastic bottles, are switching over to non-BPA plastics.

Some states have proposed BPA bans, as have some federal lawmakers. In Canada, the main government health department has already declared BPA a “toxic chemical,” and the Canadian government has moved to ban polycarbonate infant bottles.

The Washington Post also reports that researches at the Yale School of Medicine found that the chemical interfered with brain function in monkeys, linking it to memory and mood disorders. The monkeys were exposed to levels the EPA deemed safe for humans.

“Our goal was to more closely mimic the slow and continuous conditions under which humans would normally be exposed to BPA,” said study author Csaba Leranth, a Yale professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and of neurobiology.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Our findings suggest that exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function,” the authors wrote.

This marks the first time BPA has been shown to have an effect on primates.

Here are some practical steps you can take while the FDA seeks advice from chemical manufacturers:

* Watch for the numeral 7 on the bottom of plastic containers. That often means they contain BPA.

* Don’t microwave plastic food containers made with BPA. Better to use glass or porcelain.

* Watch out for canned foods for children.

* Search for baby bottles and other baby products that are BPA-free.


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