By Catherine Zandonella, M.P.H.
This September the FDA stated that bisphenol A (BPA)—used in plastic baby bottles, toys, dental sealants and food packaging—was safe. Now a draft report published October 31 by an FDA science board subcommittee has declared that the FDA’s assessment created "a false sense of security" since it overlooked "a wide range of potentially serious findings." In particular, the report noted that the FDA ignored studies showing effects at low exposure levels and should include more recent research that raised concerns about neurobehavioral and other effects caused by BPA. An FDA advisory board voted unanimously to endorse the report.
The news studies referred to in the subcommittee report raise some serious concerns. Most recently, a study linked BPA, which is found in the blood of 92 percent of all Americans over the age of five, to possible risks of diabetes and heart disease in humans. And in the past year, researchers and government agencies have shored up what some scientists have been suggesting for years: that BPA mimics the body’s hormones and causes harm to the brain, fetal development, reproduction and metabolism. The most recent finding, however, was the first that showed an association between the urinary levels of BPA and the incidence of diabetes and heart disease in a study of over 1,400 volunteers (previous studies were done in lab rats and human tissue). Although it does not prove that BPA caused the conditions, the study points out that further research should be done, reported the scientists in the September 16th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It’s not the first. In August, other researchers reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that BPA inhibits release of a key hormone from human fat cells that protects against diabetes and other obesity-associated diseases. Earlier this year, government agency National Toxicology Program issued a report expressing “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”
It’s difficult to understand why the FDA doesn’t ask companies to stop using BPA in food-contact substances until scientists can get some hard and fast data. To the credit of private industry, however, many companies are voluntarily reformulating their products in response to the growing concern over its toxicity. To our north, Health Canada proposed a ban on BPA in baby bottles in April this year.
What you can do to reduce your exposure to BPA:
Avoid plastic dishware, bottles and utensils marked with #7 polycarbonate.
Do not microwave food in polycarbonate plastic food containers.
Reduce use of canned foods.
Opt for BPA-free baby bottles and use glass or stainless steel food and drink containers.
Ask your dentist for a BPA-free dental sealant.
For more tips, see "Purging Your Pantry of Bisphenol A."