U.S. taking closer look at bisphenol A in plastics

January 19, 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States will launch broad new research into the potential health effects of plastics chemical bisphenol A used in baby bottles and other products, health officials said.

Bisphenol A has been used for decades to harden plastics and turns up in many food and beverage containers including some baby bottles and the linings of food containers. Studies by British scientists have linked BPA to heart disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.
People consume BPA when it leaches from plastic into baby formula, water or food.
Recent studies have shown subtle effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals and the new studies will be part of a broader investigation of environmental health risks to children, Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Corr told reporters.
“BPA has not been found or been proven to harm either children or adults but because children ... in the early stages of development are exposed to BPA the data that we're getting deserves a much closer look,” Corr said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also updated its stance on BPA, saying it now supports a 2008 assessment by U.S. government toxicologists that the chemical is cause for “some concern.”
“Some concern, means in part, that we need to know more,” Deputy FDA Commissioner Josh Sharfstein told reporters.
Sharfstein said the new studies seek to clarify uncertainties about the potential risks of BPA.
The FDA said it was taking “reasonable steps” to reduce BPA in the food supply, including supporting companies that have decided to stop making BPA-containing baby bottles.
The federal government's animal and human studies will run from 18 months to two years and will be funded by $30 million in economic stimulus money, the health officials said.
Corr said while the government is gathering more information, parents should take steps to limit how much BPA young children eat and drink, including tossing scratched baby bottles and cups.
The officials said the United States would partner with Canada in supporting international talks on BPA safety.
Critics of BPA contend scores of mouse and rat studies have shown BPA to be harmful at even low levels but some experts and scientists disagree.
Steven Hentges, a spokesman for American Chemistry Council, an industry group, said: “Extensive scientific studies have shown that BPA is quickly metabolized and excreted and does not accumulate in the body. BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals in commerce today.”
The council understands that health officials are trying to address public confusion about BPA, Hentges said, but it is concerned that some of the government's recommendations are not well-founded and could worry consumers.
An environmental health advocacy group that has called for a federal ban said the FDA's decision marks the beginning of the end of exposing children to a potentially toxic chemical.
“It represents a victory for parents and children, and validation of the hundreds of independent studies linking BPA to numerous and serious health problems,” Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Research Jane Houlihan said in a statement.
Canada plans to ban plastic baby bottles made with BPA. Some British scientists and health groups are calling for similar action.