Chemical in Plastic Food, Drink Containers Causes Concern

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, August 10, 2007 (ENS) - Most Americans have never heard of the chemical bisphenol A, but everyone who drinks from hard plastic bottles or eats canned food has minute amounts of this hormone-like chemical in their bodies.

Now, a federal advisory panel is warning that the chemical could be causing neurological and behavior effects in unborn babies and young children.

Bisphenol A is a high production volume chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.

Polycarbonate plastics are used in food and drink packaging; resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes.

Hard plastic baby bottles can leach bisphenol A. (Photo courtesy National Institutes of Health)
The chemical is used in rigid plastic baby bottles, water containers, sports drink bottles and microwave dishes. Some polymers used in dental sealants and tooth coatings also contain bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A is known to mimic the effects as the body's own estrogen, the primary female sex hormone.

The panel of 12 government, university and industry scientists was convened by the National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, CERHR, to evaluate bisphenol A.

In March the panel reviewed and assessed more than 500 scientific studies on the potential reproductive and developmental hazards of bisphenol A and met this week to complete their evaluation.

The panel confirmed that the chemical can leach from containers into the food and drinks they hold. Exposure can occur through direct contact with bisphenol A or by exposure to food or drink that has been in contact with a material containing bisphenol A.

While the panel did not call for a ban on bisphenol A, they expressed "some concern" that exposure to the chemical while in the womb "causes neural and behavioral effects."

But the panel expressed only "negligible concern" that exposure to bisphenol A in the womb produces birth defects and malformations.

The panel did express concern that exposure to bisphenol A causes neural and behavioral effects in children.

They expressed only "minimal concern" that exposure to bisphenol A causes accelerations in puberty.

Polycarbonate water bottles (Photo by Sandi Gordon)
For adults, the scientists said only for highly exposed groups, such as people who work with the chemical, is there "minimal concern."

CERHR director Michael Shelby said people who wish to limit their exposure can avoid storing food or beverages in hard transparent plastic and can also avoid canned goods.

Some scientists were critical of the panel's work and accused the body of using inadequate or unpublished studies while ignoring other relevant research.

University of Missouri Biology Professor Frederick vom Saal, who has published research on the adverse effects of bisphenol A, said an interim report on the panel's work after its meeting in March, "contained numerous factual errors" reflecting a "blatant pro-industry bias."

The panel's expression of concern comes one week after a consensus statement on bisphenol A by 38 independent scientists, published by the journal "Reproductive Toxicology," warning of "a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans."

The city of San Francisco banned the sale of baby bottles and other products for young children containing bisphenol A in June 2006, effective December 2006, and was at the time the only jurisdiction in the world to make the substance illegal. The ban was never enforced, and in May the city repealed it.

The advisory panel's report will next go out for public comment. Then the National Toxicology Program will issue a peer-reviewed statement on the safety of bisphenol A for the consideration of state and federal regulatory agencies.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.