One Word: Plastics

The issue of the safety of bisphenol A (BPAs), an environmental chemical that seems to act like hormones, has been in the news a lot lately, and in fact was discussed at NBCCF’s recent Advocacy Training Conference. NBCCF is closely following the ongoing story. BPAs get into food and beverages stored in plastic containers made of polycarbonate, including many baby bottles and some water bottles (labeled with the recycling symbol #7), as well as from cans lined with a polycarbonate resin.

Recently, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, a government organization, issued a draft report on the safety of BPA. The report said that this chemical has been found in the urine of 93% of people aged 6 and older. It didn’t identify any studies of health effects in humans, but there are some laboratory studies in rodents that showed reproductive effects and precancerous breast lesions as a result of exposure to BPA, at low levels of the chemical similar to what humans are exposed to. The report expressed concern that bisphenol A could “possibly” affect human development or reproduction. A review from 2005 analyzed many other studies in laboratory animals, wildlife, and cells have demonstrated that BPA is associated with a variety of hormone-like behaviors and health outcomes in animals, possibly at very low levels of exposure. On May 15, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that, although their review of the chemical continues, “there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects.”

NBCCF does not believe that FDA’s confidence in BPA’s safety is justified by the growing body of evidence in animals that BPA is an endocrine disruptor; furthermore, safety has not been demonstrated in human studies.  We would like to see more research to understand BPA’s effects at low exposure levels, and also to see more human studies done of the health effects of this common chemical. The National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are funding a multi-center study (with investigators in New York City, Cincinnati, and Northern California) to measure BPA and other known and suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals in 1200 9-year-old girls, and following them forward in time, to see whether exposure to the chemicals is associated with changes in pubertal development, particularly aspects of development that are relevant to breast cancer.

Other plastics used for food packaging may also be of health concern. These are numbered according to the recycling number typically found on the bottom: #3 (polyvinyl chloride, a probable human carcinogen), #6 (polystyrene, a possible human carcinogen); more information can be found at the National Geographic’s Green Guide website. Better choices, according to the Green Guide, are #1 (PET), #2 (high density polyethylene), #4 (low density polyethylene), and #5 (polypropylene). Glass and metal bottles are options as well.

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