Consumers in a Quandary as Experts Debate BPA Safety

September 04, 2008 04:36 PM
by Cara McDonough
Toxicologists say bisphenol A may cause risks for infants and children, just weeks after the FDA called the chemical safe. Will they ever reach a verdict?

Experts Warn of BPA Health Risks—Again

Despite a recent government statement that the chemical is safe, a report issued by the National Toxicology Program on September 3 says there is “some concern” that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make baby bottles and other plastic products, and used to seal cans of food, may cause developmental problems in infants and children.

The findings—originally released in April—are based on animal experiments, but the group of scientists says health effects on humans cannot be ruled out, reports the Associated Press.

Michael Shelby, who directed the report, said it is too early to recommend changes in what consumers purchase, but that those concerned could buy BPA-free products.

"More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development," he said in a statement.

The group did scale back one of its original findings, saying that there is only “minimal concern” that BPA could cause early puberty in girls. Original findings listed “some concern” about early puberty.

The Food and Drug Administration said it would look to the report as it continues to review the chemical. In mid-August, the agency said the chemical, which can leach out into food and liquid, is safe at current exposure levels. reported on August 15 that the FDA had “concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists” with BPA when the chemical comes into contact with food, despite the fact that earlier reports linked BPA with cancer and other health problems.

Background: Warnings and reassurances

August wasn’t the first time the FDA has tried to reassure consumers that current levels of BPA are safe, even as the National Toxicology Program, another government agency, said otherwise. The group first issued a warning about BPA in April, saying it may be harmful to young children and fetuses, and linking it to 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, however, a “large body of evidence” suggested that products made with it are safe.

The debate even reached the 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.
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


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