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Miriam Schimmel
Miriam Schimmel
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Debate Over Alleged Dangers of BPA Ramps Up

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The latest environmental hot button is the bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical contained in polycarbonate plastics.  While BPA has existed since its creation in 1890 and the first evidence of toxicity became known in the 1930s, it jumped to the forefront of health and environmental news when popular outdoor sporting good store, REI, pulled the very popular Nalgene plastic drinking bottles from its stores several months ago.  Since then, debate has swirled around the presence of BPA in plastics and its alleged links to endocrine problems such as infertility, lower sperm counts, enlarged prostrate glands, pre-cancerous lesions in breast and prostate tissue, and other symptoms of hormone disruption.  Other companies have followed suit. In April, WalMart stopped selling baby bottles that contained BPA and Target is now doing market testing for selling glass baby bottles.

 

What’s more, BPA is found not only in plastics, but it is also in the linings of metal food and drink cans, and the more acidic the food or drink, the greater the danger since the acid promotes leaching of the chemical into the food product. For example, foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, soda, and even infant formula, are believed to cause greater leaching of BPA into the product.

 

How do you know if the bottle you’re drinking from polycarbonate plastic?  Simple: look at the bottom of the bottle and check the number in the little recycling triangle.  The bottles deemed safer and without the presence of BPA are noted with either a “5” (polypropylene) or “2” (polyethylene).

 

In animal studies, BPA has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor which mimics the female hormone, estrogen, and is allegedly associated with the above abnormalities, as well as with obesity, insulin resistance, and even behavioral changes in animals.  But these are animal studies, and many question their applicability to humans. As stated by Rich Kassel in his December 2007 article on the Gotham Gazette: “Although we can’t say with certainty that BPA causes the same problems in humans as it does in the laboratory animals, the weight of scientific evidence should prompt us to err on the side of caution and avoid BPA exposures where possible.” Mr. Kassel is a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). But the danger – or extent of the danger – is still not known.  As recently as last month, the National Toxicology Program of the NIH indicated potential risks BPA may have on human development, therefore raising greater concern over its use and potential harm to infants, children, and pregnant women.  USA Today reported on April 27, 2008, that the FDA, while not yet raising its safety standards have initiated a review of the safety of baby bottles, formula cans and other products made with BPA.  

 

Despite many who seem to discount the alleged health dangers, Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri, believes that studies showing BPA is safe are “profoundly flawed and in some cases exhibit outright fraud.” In fact, vom Saal published a paper showing that all 11 of the industry-funded studies found no harmful effects from BPA, but 90 percent of the 104 government-funded low-dose studies did find harmful effects.

Human studies might prove the only way to settle the controversy over BPA.  However, to date they have been too limited to draw conclusions one way or the other.  The National Toxicology Program published a report in February 2007, and is now planning a future evaluation of BPA.