You may be scratching your head about the highly controversial
chemical bisphenol A (BPA), found in many everyday products (like
plastic containers and the linings of some food and formula cans) -
and for very good reason. A lot of this year's news about BPA
has been just as conflicting as it is alarming.
Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out
with a draft report saying that the chemical is safe. But now, the
National Toxicology Program (NTP), a fellow government agency
that's part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services'
National Institutes of Health, is officially declaring (after
suggesting earlier this year) that BPA may
be safe. So, what's a worried parent to believe?
On the one hand, the current position of the FDA is that the
miniscule amounts that leach into BPA-containing food containers
aren't hazardous. According to a draft report by the FDA,
"an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels
of exposure from food contact uses, for infants and adults."
But the FDA has
looked into how the chemical in other types of products may or may
not have an effect.
On the other hand, the NTP released a finalized report after
government scientists reviewed a draft of findings released in
April of this year - that was the first federal U.S. report
questioning the safety of the widely used chemical. In its official
report the NTP says that "the possibility that human
development may be altered by [BPA] at current expo?sure levels
cannot be dismissed."
Specifically, the NTP report says there's:
concern" that BPA at "current human exposures"
could cause effects in fetuses, babies, and children like
behavioral and brain problems
- "minimal concern" that BPA may cause early breast
growth and puberty in girls
- "negligible concern" that BPA exposure in
moms-to-be can cause fetal or newborn deaths, birth defects, low
birth weight, or growth problems in babies
The NTP's report is controversial because: 1) some of the
report's recommendations differ from those of the FDA, and 2)
its 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 risk.
One thing's for sure: Both the FDA and the NTP agree that
more research is needed. The FDA will address the issue again when
its draft report is reviewed by federal scientists, just as the NTP
More on BPA
According to the NTP report, 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
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 cause short-term
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 other widely detected environmental chemicals. That's
because babies and young children consume and breathe more, pound
for pound, than grown-ups. Plus, children (especially infants 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 chemicals.
What This Means to You
The FDA has said "there is no reason to recommend that
consumers stop using products that contain BPA while the agency
carries out its assessment process. But concerned consumers should
know that several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist,
including glass baby bottles."
Still, the unknown about potential problems is enough to make
parents sufficiently worried. And some companies and government
entities are thinking it's better to be safe than sorry:
- Canada became the first country to officially ban the
chemical from baby bottles.
- Some states, like California, are considering legislation
that would ban or limit BPA.
- Some major companies (like Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, and
Playtex) have said they will no longer make or sell
It's too soon to say, definitively, whether products
containing BPA are harmful to children at the levels to which most
kids are exposed. Until we have clear answers about what the
chemical does and doesn't do
federal officials can come to an agreement about recommendations
regarding the chemical, here are some ways to reduce exposure to
BPA in your home if you're concerned:
- For plastic containers, bottles, and sippy cups:
- Look at the bottom for the recycling code (the number
inside the triangle). Those with the number 7 (or say PC) are
made of polycarbonate and may contain BPA.
- If you use refillable water coolers at home or at work,
look at the bottom of the bottle for recycling code number 7.
Find out if the water company sells bottles that don't
contain polycarbonate plastics.
- 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 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: September 2008
Sources: "NTP-CERHR Monograph on the Potential Human
Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Bisphenol A,"
National Toxicology Program (part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and
Human Services), September 2008. "Draft Assessment of
Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications," Food and
Drug Administration, Aug. 15, 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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