[Pharmwaste] Evaluating the Dangers of Bisphenol A in Plastic Baby Bottles

DeBiasi,Deborah Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu Jul 23 10:04:17 EDT 2009


Evaluating the Dangers of Bisphenol A in Plastic Baby Bottles

By Nina Shen Rastogi
Thursday, July 23, 2009 

How dangerous to babies is bisphenol A? Lately, I've been seeing a lot
of hubbub in the news over the chemical. They say it's in a lot of baby
products, like bottles and sippy cups, and in hard plastic water
bottles, too. But I can't tell if this is really a big deal or just an
overblown chemical panic. 

You can be forgiven for being confused: There's a huge mountain of data
out there about bisphenol A, and every day it seems as if a study comes
along linking the chemical to a new, scary condition. 

It's certainly true that we're all regularly exposed to BPA, a synthetic
chemical used primarily as an ingredient in the hard plastic called
polycarbonate and in the epoxy resins that line most food and soft-drink
cans. Small amounts of the chemical can leach from containers into our
food, which may explain why a study conducted by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention found that nearly 93 percent of Americans older
than 6 had detectable amounts of BPA in their urine. 

Does that make BPA a danger to our health? At very high doses --
thousands of times above what researchers estimate we're exposed to
daily -- BPA causes problems in lab animals such as delayed puberty and
lower body weight. Based on a high-dose study from the early 1980s, the
current federal exposure limit is set at 50 micrograms of BPA per day
per kilogram of body weight. To put that in perspective, one recent
study worked backward from the CDC's urine data to conclude that normal
adults are exposed to between 0.0235 and 0.2472 micrograms per kilogram
per day. 

The controversy over BPA comes from the hundreds of "low dose" studies
that have emerged in the past decade, which suggest that the chemical is
more of a problem than we thought. Yet there's quite a bit of dissension
in the scientific community over how to interpret all this research. In
the past few years, there have been a few attempts to wade through the
flood of new data. In 2007, 38 researchers who have studied the chemical
extensively signed a consensus statement asserting, among other things,
that they were "confident" that commonly reported levels of BPA in
humans were higher than those shown to have adverse effects in animals.
Last year, the National Toxicology Program, a research division of the
National Institutes of Health, expressed "some concern" -- the middle
ranking on a five-point scale -- about BPA's effects, at current
exposure levels, on the brains and prostate glands of fetuses, infants
and children. (The program expressed "minimal" to "negligible" concern,
however, on other developmental and reproductive issues.) 

Meanwhile, most national regulatory bodies, aware of the low-dose
studies, have determined that the research isn't conclusive enough to
declare BPA a hazardous substance that should be avoided. In 2008,
Canada decided to ban the sale of polycarbonate baby bottles but
emphasized that it was doing so as a precautionary measure and that "the
current research tells us the general public need not be concerned." The
European Food Safety Authority recently reiterated its position that BPA
is safe for regular use. 

Here in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration released a
preliminary risk assessment in August, concluding that "an adequate
margin of safety" exists between the levels of BPA Americans get through
their food (which it estimated to be 0.185 micrograms per kilogram of
body weight a day for adults and 2.42 micrograms for infants) and the
level at which harmful effects could be observed in two high-dose
studies of rodents (5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight). Yet last
month the FDA announced that it would reexamine its position, following
a request from concerned congressmen and a highly critical peer review
from the agency's science advisory board. 

Given all this conflicting information, the Lantern isn't quite ready to
panic but thinks it's appropriate to apply the precautionary principle
in this case. If the Lantern were pregnant or had her own little Green
Penlight, she would at least try to reduce the amount of canned food in
her and her baby's diet and choose nonpolycarbonate baby bottles.
(Finding one isn't difficult: In March, the country's six leading
manufacturers announced they're phasing out BPA bottles from the U.S.
market.) There are some trade-offs: For example, glass baby bottles (a
popular replacement for polycarbonate) can shatter, and reducing your
intake of canned foods can lead to more rotten vegetables and food

Many green-minded folks have also made the move of swapping their
Nalgene-style bottles for the stainless-steel variety. A recent Harvard
study found that undergrads who spent a week drinking most of their cold
beverages out of polycarbonate bottles had 69 percent higher BPA
concentrations in their urine than before the study. Those elevated
concentrations were still a bit below mean levels found in the general
population, though, so it's not as if using a plastic bottle will send
your BPA levels skyrocketing. Remember, stainless steel can have greater
manufacturing impacts than plastic. If you make the switch, try to find
an alternate use for your old bottle, because polycarbonate isn't
usually recyclable -- a receptacle for loose change, perhaps? 

Deborah L. DeBiasi 
Email:   Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov (NEW!)
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov 
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality 
Office of Water Permit Programs 
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program 
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents 
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!) 
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219 
PH:         804-698-4028 
FAX:      804-698-4032 

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