Earlier this week, as scientists released results of new research linking diabetes and heart disease in humans to urine levels of a chemical found in plastic, the Food and Drug Administration continued to say that the chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is safe. Such conflicting information gives little guidance to consumers.
On Tuesday, the FDA held a public meeting at which experts criticized the federal agency's assessment as outdated and inappropriate. At the same time, the results of the first major epidemiologic study to examine the health effects of BPA—a chemical widely used in food and beverage can linings, as well as in hard clear plastic bottles and food-storage containers—were being released, suggesting harmful health effects from even common, low-dose exposures.
The new study, published in the Sept. 17, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on analysis conducted at the universities of Essex and Plymouth in the U.K. and at the University of Iowa. Scientists analyzed U.S. government data (collected from 2002-2004) on urine samples of 1,455 Americans 18 to 74. They found that higher urinary concentrations of BPA were associated with increased prevalence of not only diabetes and heart disease, but of related liver enzyme abnormalities as well. The JAMA researchers note that their results do not prove causation, and independent follow-up studies are needed, but they come in the wake of evidence from animal studies suggesting adverse health effects from even low-dose exposures.
Since Consumer Reports first warned about BPA in baby bottles in 1999, evidence of BPA’s toxic potential has continued to build. In Consumers Union’s statement for the FDA meeting, Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst, repeated calls for a more scientifically sound assessment and urged the FDA to eliminate BPA in food and beverage containers.
“The safety of BPA, at current exposure levels in the U.S. population, has not been demonstrated and the government is giving consumers contradictory messages about the level of concern,” said Dr. Rangan. “BPA is metabolized quickly and yet constant, elevated levels are circulating in most Americans. This indicates that consumers are constantly exposed to BPA.”
“A margin of safety exists that is adequate to protect consumers, including infants and children, at the current levels of exposure,” Laura Tarantino, a senior Food and Drug Administration scientist, told the expert panel on Tuesday, in remarks reported by the Associated Press.
But in tests conducted for Consumer Reports magazine, BPA has been found leaching from baby bottles and certain types of large containers of bottled water. Studies by other groups have reported elevated levels in canned foods and infant formula.
And the authors of the just-released JAMA study point out that exposure to BPA among the general U.S. population is likely to exceed limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for the "reference dose," or the daily exposure that is not likely to cause harmful effects.
What You Can Do
While studies are under way, if you’re concerned about BPA, here’s what you can do:
- Identify which containers might have the chemical. Polycarbonate is usually clear rather than cloudy, although it may be colored. If the container carries a recycling code, it will be marked with the number 7 or the letters “PC,” or both. No. 7 bottles made with BPA-free polyethersulfone (PES) won’t have the PC marking. Other BPA-free plastic alternatives include polyethylene, which may be marked with recycling codes 1 (PET) or 2 (HDPE), and polypropylene, 5 (PP).
- For baby bottles, glass or BPA-free plastics such as polyethylene are the safest choices, as Consumer Reports has advised in the past.
- For those who reuse water bottles frequently and want to avoid BPA, consider polyethylene, stainless steel, or aluminum with BPA-free liners.
- More information on this topic can be found at Greener Choices.
When is the FDA going to start representing the People of the United States and stop representing Big Business and their Lobbyists? I'm sick of reading articles about government agencies which are supposed to exist for the benefit of the People and which in reality represent Big Business. The FDA is not the only government agency which is miserably failing to protect the people of the USA. Many of them seem to have former Big Business people in charge of them instead of people from consumer groups who, presumably, would be much more inclined to represent "us" instead of "them".
to Wayne Welsh,
Government agencies will start doing their jobs correctly the minute we stop electing representatives who believe that government is the problem not the solution. The party that bears the most blame has worked diligently to make the voters believe in de-regulation as the solution while managing agencies incompetently.
So what are the legal ramifications of this. I have a 3 year old almost 4 who has been drinking from the Nalgene sippy her entire life. This makes me livid. Does the FDA pay for the medical ramifications of this? Are companies obligated to recal? Who will be held responsible for this?
This is not a new problem, folks. As far back as the 1970s reputable scientific reports linked plastics with cancer. Through massive PR campaigns and lobbying efforts, the plastics industry did its best to discredit those studies and the scientists who conducted them, or confuse the issue by funding their own contradictory studies. Industry found Fed allies even then and plastics became ubiquitous. Since plastics are made from petroleum, any wonder why Bush/Chenery and cohort continue the industry bias? Or why in an energy scarce time, plastics have not been scrutinized to curtail the manufacture of swizzle sticks and similarly frivilous products? Robert L. Ferrante
The Canadian government, which is usually slower than the US on health issues, has already banned BPA and all nalgene bottles have been pulled from stores.
You say "Polycarbonate is usually clear rather than cloudy, although it may be colored", but your article makes no mention of polycarbonate. Does polycarbonate contain bisphenol A or not, and under what circumstances?
Did you really think that this government that has brought this country almost to its knees is looking out for the citizens of this country, or are they looking out for Wall Street and the big business that circumvent the rules to get them elected? I'm sure the chemical companies have paid lots to both parties to keep the status quo.
We have a cement plant that burns plastics in it kilms.I guess we are really getting this stuff in our system
As stated by Robert L. Ferrante the potential dangers of plastics were reported on and have continued to be researched since the 1970s. Therefore, to those that are making this a political issue, think again. Both sides of the fence have been in power since the 70s and still we are not protected from BPA by federal law. The government is responsible for making the laws to protect us; it is our, including corporations, obligation and responsibility, to abide by those laws or face the consequences. Due to published (magazines and news media) I have not used plastic where consumption is involved for many years....my choice. I believe the FDA does need to increase regulation for BPA; however, I believe government should regulate where our safety is concerned and deregulate to protect competition. Re politics, read about a socialist or marxist society and think about it. Extremes to the left or right will destroy all that this great nation is about. I stand by our Constitution as written; am grateful for our military who have fought to protect our freedoms since the Revolutionary War and pray to God that we may continue to enjoy those rights and not have a government that dictates them.
Vote for Ralph Nader and watch the lobbyists shake in their boots!