A group of concerned scientists are sounding the alarm about a chemical found in baby bottles and toddler sippy cups, among other the household products. An article in last week’s LA Times reports that several dozen scientists have recently signed a consensus statement that an estrogen-like compound called bisphenol A or BPA that leaches out of polycarbonate plastic, is causing an array of reproductive problems in humans.
In their statement, the 38 scientists say they are confident that BPA, which mimics the female hormone estrogen, alters cells to switch genes on and off, programming a fetus or child for reproductive disorders later in life, and that the levels that harm lab animals “are well within the range of … BPA levels observed in human fetal blood.”
They concluded that “early life exposure … may result in persistent adverse effects in humans.”
In addition, this week a panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction is meeting to discuss the possible harmful effects of BPA and to decide whether federal regulation is necessary. But the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, claims the plastic industry has corrupted the government’s review and that the findings of the 38 scientists accurately reflect the dangers of BPA.
The compound is “one of the highest volume chemicals in the world,” the LA Times article says, “and has found its way into the bodies of most human beings.” It is also found in large water cooler containers, sports bottles and microwave oven dishes, along with canned food liners and some dental sealants for children, the article says.
The scientists — including four from federal health agencies — reviewed about 700 studies before concluding that people are exposed to levels of the chemical exceeding those that harm lab animals. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable, they said.
The statement was accompanied by a new study from researchers from the National Institutes of Health that found uterine damage in newborn animals exposed to BPA. That damage is a possible predictor of reproductive diseases in women, including fibroids, endometriosis, cystic ovaries and cancers, the article says. It is the first time BPA has been linked to disorders of the female reproductive tract, although earlier studies have found early-stage prostate and breast cancer and decreased sperm counts in animals exposed to low doses.
The plastic industry denies any harm from BPA and cites the fact that both the Japanese and European governments have convened panels to review the data and the panels found the evidence inconclusive. So far no government agency here or abroad has restricted its use. The article says that Europe’s food safety agency decided in January that the data were inconclusive, largely because of metabolic differences between mice and humans, and because it is uncertain that the amounts people are exposed to pose a health threat.
No studies have been conducted looking for effects in people, and one goal of the scientists who signed the statement is to generate human research, the article says.
Jerrold Heindel, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who organized a meeting last fall to begin drafting the statement, said even though there have been no human studies of BPA, there is now so much animal data that the 38 experts believe that human damage is likely. More than 150 studies have found health effects in animals exposed to low doses.
“We know what doses the animals were given, and when we look at humans, we see blood levels within that range or actually higher,” he said.
An environmental advocacy group called Environment California has some useful information for parents on this distressing topic. They did a study of baby bottles and found BPA in Avent, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo, Gerber and Playtex brands. Products that don’t have BPA include Medela, Bornfree baby bottles and sippy cups, and any brand of glass bottles.
Here are some more tips from the California EPA on how to minimize your kids’ exposure to toxic chemicals from plastic. It’s worth a read.
I’m feeling really down right now about this topic, but I’m motivated to make some changes in my kitchen. My goal: no more plastic storage containers for food, no more cling wrap for covering leftovers, and no more toxic sippy cups or bottles. Not sure I’ll get all the way there, but I’d like to try.