USA Today is reporting on the confusion that consumers, in general, and parents, in particular, are having about the safety of chemicals in plastic. Even federal government agencies don’t agree about the hazards posed by bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-like chemical used in plastic that has been detected in the bodies of 93% of Americans tested. The FDA says it’s safe, but new studies question its safety.
Two weeks ago, the National Toxicology Program said it had “some concern” that BPA alters development of the brain and prostate gland in children and babies, both before and after birth.
Yet the Food and Drug Administration — which will hold a public meeting about BPA next Tuesday — says children’s current exposure levels to BPA are safe.
Although the FDA considered only exposures from food surfaces such as plastic bottles and the linings of metal formula cans, BPA is used in many products, from water pipes to the coatings on bottle caps.
Many people wonder why the two agencies — which are both part of the Department of Health and Human Services — have drawn such different conclusions.
The differences stem partly from the controversial way that the FDA judges scientific papers.
In its draft report, the FDA says it based its safety decision on three experiments that followed “good laboratory practices,” which are meant to ensure sound results. Those three studies — all funded by industry groups that make BPA — found that the chemical is safe at current exposure levels.
Critics say the FDA’s standard is biased and outdated, leading the agency to discount a dozen key studies that the toxicology program used to conclude that BPA may pose a threat.
Although the FDA’s laboratory guidelines aim to prevent fraud by requiring detailed notes, they don’t necessarily ensure good science, says Sonya Lunder of the Environmental Working Group, a private organization that says BPA is dangerous. Independent academic researchers are performing far more sophisticated tests than the ones upon which the FDA based its decision, she says.
John Bucher, the toxicology program’s associate director, says his panel relied on a wider range of studies “that pointed in the same direction,” raising concern that infants and children are exposed to potentially harmful levels of BPA.
Foreign governments are divided on the safety of BPA. While the European Food Safety Authority and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology say BPA is safe, Canada has proposed banning it.
So, what should parents do when it comes to plastic baby bottles?
Given that there is a controversy, and I’ve always erred on the side of safety, I’d say either consider purchasing BPA-free plastic bottles – or glass or stainless steel bottles.
It’s a small cost for the assurance that you’re doing no potential harm to your little one.
So, what about for us adults?
Until now, environmental and consumer activists who have questioned the safety of BPA have had to rely almost exclusively upon animal studies.
But now there’s a new study by British researchers just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that among 1,455 U.S. adults, those with the highest levels of BPA were more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities than those with the lowest levels.
One of the researchers told Reuters, “On the other hand, though, bisphenol A has been very intensively studied in a very large number of laboratory animal studies. And the weight of evidence from those studies … continues to support the safe use of products containing bisphenol A.”
U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials said they would review the new findings, which were not taken into consideration when the agency issued a draft conclusion in August that BPA is safe at current exposure levels.
Until we hear from them, I’m not going to take the trouble, personally, to be BPA-free. And, when I hear more, I’ll let you know.