Recent headlines about bisphenol A (BPA) are spurring concerned
conversations among moms and dads, making many stop and think about
products a lot of us use every day. But before you start throwing
out heaps of household items, let's step back a little and take
a look at what all the hubbub's about.
According to the recent report by the National Toxicology
Program (NTP) that's stirring up the debate, we may breathe in
dust and air containing BPA or absorb the chemical through our skin
when we swim or bathe. But almost all (99%) of our exposure to BPA
is through our diet - from the chemical potentially leaching into
what we eat and drink.
That's because BPA is used in:
- polycarbonate plastics (usually clear, hard items like baby
and water bottles, disposable tableware, CD packaging, certain
medical devices, and some safety equipment; these plastics can
also be molded with other materials to make things like household
items and parts for cars and mobile phones)
- epoxy resins (used in the tops of bottles, in water pipes,
and inside many food cans and infant formula cans)
- certain dental sealants (which only causes short-term
According to the first federal U.S. report questioning the
safety of the widely used chemical, "the possibility that
[BPA] may alter human development cannot be dismissed" - and,
based mainly on findings in BPA-exposed laboratory animals (not
studies involving humans), "there is
concern" that BPA at "current human exposures" could
cause effects in fetuses, babies, and children like:
- behavioral and brain problems
- early puberty in girls
- changes in the prostate and mammary glands
However, the report by the NTP says there's "negligible
concern" that BPA exposure in moms-to-be can cause fetal or
newborn deaths, birth defects, low birth weight, or growth problems
BPA exposure is widespread in kids and adults alike - a
2003-2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) found BPA in almost 95% of more than 2,500 people (ages 6 and
up). The chemical is also often present in breast milk and pregnant
Infants and kids have the highest daily intake of BPA
"many widely detected environmental chemicals," says the
report. That's because they "eat, drink, and breathe more
than adults on a pound per pound basis." Plus, children
(especially babies and toddlers) spend more time on the floor
(crawling and playing) and often mouth on plastics and
inadvertently ingest dirt that may contain many common
But it's important to note that the federal report is just a
draft - it's scheduled to be further reviewed by more experts
in June and does
represent a federal policy or statement.
Although the jury's still out about BPA, some major
developments have come on the heels of this latest report:
- Canada became the first country to officially ban the
chemical from baby bottles.
- New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer plans to file a bill to ban
BPA in baby bottles and water bottles.
- Some major companies (like water bottle maker Nalgene,
Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, and Playtex) have said they will
no longer make or sell BPA-containing products.
What This Means to You
The report is highly controversial, for one, because it
contradicts the current position of the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA). Plus, the report's recommendations are
based on data from studies done in animals, not in people. Animals
metabolize BPA differently than humans and there's a lot of
question about taking animal data and equating it with human
So it's too soon to say whether products containing BPA are
harmful to children at the levels to which most kids are
Until we have clear answers about what the chemical does and
doesn't do, here are some ways to reduce exposure to BPA in
- For plastic containers, bottles, and sippy cups:
- Look at the bottom for the recycling code (the number
inside the triangle). Those with the numbers 7 are made of
polycarbonate (or say PC) and may contain BPA.
- Don't microwave them - increased heat can cause the
chemical to "migrate into" food and drinks.
- Find out if they're dishwasher safe (and, if so,
whether they should washed on the top rack or bottom).
- Call the manufacturer of your baby's infant formula to
find out if they use epoxy resin inside their cans.
- Buy frozen or fresh fruits and vegetables if you're
concerned about the lining inside canned foods.
- Try to use glass and/or stainless steel instead of plastic
food containers, bottles, and plastic kids' cups. You can opt
for tempered glass, which won't break as easily.
- Buy products that say they're "BPA-free."
If you have questions or concerns about any products you're
using (or have used) at home, talk to your doctor for advice and
recommendations on how to get more info.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2008
Source: "NTP Draft Brief on Bisphenol-A," National
Toxicology Program (part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human
Services' National Institutes of Health), April 14, 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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