Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is BPA harming our children? What’s all the fuss about?

By Jennifer Taggart, a mom, children’s environmental health advocate, attorney and former environmental engineer.

The controversy swirling over bisphenol A (BPA) has led the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) to issue not one, but two statements, on BPA and polycarbonate plastic. Both statements contend that polycarbonate plastic is safe to use. So, is it? Is polycarbonate plastic safe to use? Is the BPA debate, in fact, much ado about nothing – just another false scare? Or is BPA harming our children?

It must be awfully frustrating to most parents and caregivers. You are forced to decipher scientific jargon to determine what is safe and what is not. And it must be even more frustrating given that most parents make the decision about which baby bottles to use when they are sleep deprived, responding to the needs of a new baby. I have to admit that I find it frustrating, weeding through the scientific reports and statements, and I actually like the science side of it.

JPMA boldly asserts that polycarbonate plastic is safe. Before responding to the JPMA’s statements, let's catch up any of you new to the BPA issue. BPA is a component of polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate plastic is commonly used for baby bottles. However, BPA has been shown to leach out of the polycarbonate plastic and into whatever food or liquid is in the plastic container, including breast milk and formula. Leaching is greater when the food or liquid is heated, although leaching does occur at room temperature. Polycarbonate plastic, widely used for the last thirty years or more, was believed to be safe. Unfortunately, recent studies have found links between low level exposure to BPA and adverse health effects in laboratory animals, including early onset of puberty, increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of diabetes and hyperactivity. A recently released study has associated fetal exposure to BPA with a predisposition to obesity later in life.

JPMA’s first statement, released on April 17, 2008, states that the JPMA “stands by the scientific research indicating that plastic baby bottles are safe.” JPMA goes on to say that the finding of the National Toxicology Program’s draft report “provide reassurance that consumers can continue to use products made from BPA.”

What the JPMA does not say is that the NTP draft report on BPA finds that “there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females.”

What does this mean? JPMA uses basically a five point scale – negligible concern, minimal concern, some concern, concern and serious concern. So, the NTP effectively places the concern at a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. I don't agree with the JPMA that the NTP’s draft report therefore provides reassurance that I can continue to use polycarbonate plastic. A rating of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 isn't safe enough for me.

The NTP draft report goes on to state that “the scientific evidence that supports a conclusion of some concern for exposures in fetuses, infants, and children comes from a number of laboratory animal studies reporting that ‘low’ level exposure to bisphenol A during development can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland, and the age at which females attain puberty. These studies only provide limited evidence for adverse effects on development and more research is needed to better understand their implications for human health. However, because these effects in animals occur at bisphenol A exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed.”

So the NTP’s draft report finds that the low level BPA exposure studies in laboratory animals cannot be dismissed. And I have to agree. The JPMA also does not explain that fetuses and infants do not have the necessary liver enzyme to metabolize BPA, while adults do. As a result, fetuses and infants may be much more susceptible to BPA. So why would you want to use a baby bottle for a potentially susceptible infant?

The JPMA also does not explain that the scientific research indicating that polycarbonate plastic is safe is primarily based upon studies funded by industry and many of which also predate the development of scientific technology capable of measuring low concentration levels at issue now. For whatever reason, it seems like the studies funded by the chemical industry don’t find health effects. An investigation by Journal Sentinel looked at 258 studies and found that four out of five found health effects. Of the studies that did not find any health effects, most were paid for or partially written by scientists funded by the chemical industry. The plastics and chemical industries have been accused of paying to manufacture doubt.

The JPMA ignores that the health effects from very small doses that only recently could be detected are just now being understood. Emerging, substantial evidence indicates that BPA can harm laboratory animals at concentrations below the daily levels to which most of us are already exposed. In fact, the Chapel Hill expert panel’s consensus statement evaluated the strength of data from more than 700 BPA studies and labeled as “confident” its assessment that BPA at low doses has had a negative effect on experimental animals. The panel concluded that BPA exposure in the womb can permanently alter genes of animals, impair organ function in ways that persist into adulthood, and trigger brain, behavioral and reproductive effects, including diminished sperm production.

JPMA’s second statement concerns Health Canada’s announcement banning polycarbonate plastic baby bottles. Again, JPMA reiterates the safety of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles.
So, even with all that, you may still be wondering whether polycarbonate plastic is safe to use. The answer remains uncertain. So, what should you do? To me, the decision was easy. Given the potential adverse health effects, and the wide variety of BPA-free baby bottles, sippy cups, etc., available, it was easy to decide to use something other than polycarbonate plastic. I decided it just wasn't worth the risk. I also am careful about canned foods and beverages. Epoxy–based resins containing BPA are used to line almost all canned foods and beverages. So, I try to use fresh, frozen, dried or jarred in glass instead.


Anonymous said...

I liked what you had to say in your article. Unfortunately I had been drinking filtered water from a #7 5 gallon jug for the first trimester and I am nervous about it. To top it off we had the bottles stored in our Texas garage. By the time the second trimester rolled around I thought that I would use PET plastic 5 gallon jugs. Well, we kept them in our garage too. I have been reading recently about PET plastics releasing antimony. Now I am concerned about that. I am sad because I should be so happy about my baby but I cannot help but thing that there might be something wrong. I feel scared. I am hoping that with my prenatal pills, my continous exercising and good health, that my baby boy will be fine. i wish that there was something that I could take to make up for any damage that I might have done..........I wish I knew how long all of those toxins stay in ones body. Thank you for blog.

Naturalz Living Green Central said...

BPA is an synthetic estrogen chemical. Estrogen is a female hormone. It can alter neuro sexual hormones and effeminize male children and make female children sexual aggressive towards each other. Do your own research. Visit your local high school and inquire of A HOW many youth are homosexual or bisexual. You will find that about 75% of high school youth proclaim they are such.
Fortunately, treatment to detox and rebalance can be given at an age. Contact Dr. Bob Marshall, Santa Monica , CA.