April 15, 2010
Parents everywhere were alarmed when, in 2008, Health Canada announced it had found the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA, in 84 percent of samples of baby food sold in glass jars. Their lids were lined with plastic. At the forefront of concerns over this chemical, Canada had already classified BPA as "toxic" to human health and the environment.
Clear plastic baby bottles also have been identified as sources of BPA contamination. The six largest American manufacturers of baby bottles announced last year that they have stopped using bisphenol A in their products. Connecticut was the first to ban the chemical in baby food and beverage containers. Suffolk County, New York, followed suit. Minnesota banned the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA as did the city of Chicago. Many states, counties and cities have or have attempted to follow suit.
Throughout, the Food and Drug Administration expressed some concern about BPA but continues to claim it is safe. Rochelle Tyl, author of two studies used by the FDA to support their position, says that her studies did not claim that BPA is safe because they weren't designed to investigate all of the chemical's effects.
Consumer groups, scientists, media and others assert that controversy over testing methodology and intense lobbying by the plastics industry has clouded the issue. Sarah A. Vogel, PhD, in her November 2009 American Journal of Public Health's article "The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A 'Safety,'" says that between 1997 and 2005, there were 115 studies on the effects of BPA at or below the recommended safety standard levels. The research was conducted by dozens of laboratories in the United States, Japan, and Europe. The reported effects of BPA included changes in fetal prostate and mammary gland development; disruption of chromosomal alignment in developing eggs in females altered immune function; metabolic abnormalities; and changes in the brain and behavior. Of these 115 studies, 90 percent of those that were government funded reported some effects from exposures, while none of the 11 studies funded by the plastics industry reported any effects.
What You Can Do
Here's some advice from Dr. Cara Natterson. The California pediatrician is a mother of two and author of the book Dangerous or Safe?: Which Foods, Medicines, and Chemicals Really Put Your Kids at Risk.
She says that caution should be the bottom line. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it messes with hormones and other chemical signals in the body. Since it has an estrogen-like effect, potential results are girls reaching puberty earlier, males with low sperm counts and an increase in breast and prostate cancers.
"When you have the option, opt for an alternative to plastic," Natterson recommends. "It is better for the environment and likely better for you. But, all things in moderation. I have not thrown out every single plastic storage container in my home. Instead, I simply keep hot food and drinks away from plastic."
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