BPA Debate Continues After New Findings

September 17, 2008 04:36 PM
by Cara McDonough
As a new study linking BPA to heart disease and diabetes is released, the FDA maintains that it’s safe. Will the news on the controversial chemical ever get less confusing?

New Worries Arise

A study released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that adults exposed to high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) were more likely to report having heart disease and diabetes. The specific findings are new, but concerns about the chemical’s safety are not; past studies have revelaed that BPA, which is used to make baby bottles and other plastic products and to seal cans of food, may cause developmental problems in infants and children.

ScienceDaily reports that the study authors also found that BPA, one of the world’s most commonly produced chemicals, is found in detectable levels in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population.

The preliminary data, however, is only one facet in the ongoing BPA debate. Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reiterated during a scientific hearing that the chemical is safe. “Right now, our tentative conclusion is that it’s safe, so we’re not recommending any change in habits,” said Laura Tarantino, head of the FDA’s office of food additive safety, according to the Associated Press.

Tarantino did add that there are things consumers can do to limit exposure to BPA, including avoiding plastic containers imprinted with the recycling number ‘7,’ because they may contain BPA, or avoiding warming those containers, which may release the chemical.

Regarding the new BPA findings, which study authors said “deserve scientific follow-up,” according to the Associated Press, the FDA said, as it has in the past, that it is not dismissing the research and agree that more research is needed. However, the agency continues to point out that the studies to date have been performed on rats and mice, leaving the effect of BPA exposure in humans unclear.

Background: Months of debate

The BPA discussion has been going on for months. Most recently, a report issued by the National Toxicology Program on September 3 said “some concern” about BPA remains regarding its effects on infants and children.

That reiterated report came just after another reassurance from the FDA. In mid-August, the agency said the chemical is safe at current exposure levels.

August wasn’t the first time the two groups have issued conflicting advice. The National Toxicology Program first issued a warning about BPA in April, saying it may be harmful to young children and fetuses, and linking it to several common health problems, including prostate and breast cancer, and early puberty.

Consumers and retailers took note. Large stores in Canada immediately began removing baby bottles made with BPA from the shelves.

As panic set in, the FDA issued a statement in May saying it was reviewing BPA, but that a “large body of evidence” suggested that products made with it are safe.

The debate even reached the U.S. Senate. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and other Democratic senators introduced a bill in April that would ban BPA in children’s products. However, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Norris Alderson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for science, said studies conducted by the FDA determined products containing BPA are safe to use.

Analysis: So what’s a consumer to do?

With all the conflicting advice from government agencies, consumers may not know whether to use products conducting BPA or even how to avoid the products.
The good news is that media outlets have been thoroughly analyzing the BPA question due to all the recent attention. The Chicago Tribune provides a full rundown on the chemical, including information on its history, how it gets into the body and how it can be avoided.

In April, University of Minnesota newspaper Minnesota Daily suggested being careful with plastics that contain BPA, but not overzealous. “We don’t suggest that everyone who owns a Nalgene bottle stampede to toss them in the recycling bin, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If yours is damaged, it may be time to retire it, and it would be wise to avoid putting it in the microwave or dishwasher where the heat could release toxins.”

For those worried about potential, if not confirmed, health problems associated with BPA in products, avoiding the chemical as much as possible may be the best option. After the National Toxicology Program’s original findings were released, The Washington Post published a piece on how to limit BPA exposure, including washing hard plastic bottles by hand, not in the dishwasher, eating more fresh or frozen foods to avoid the BPA found in canned food linings, and using polycarbonate plastic bottles for cold or room-temperature fluids only.

Reference: National Toxicology Program and FDA findings


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines