Like a tired song that never should have made it into the Top 10, bisphenol A, an estrogenic additive in polycarbonate plastic, once again is headlining health news. This time, the hubbub centers around a statement from the National Toxicology Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, stating that there remains “… concern [that BPA may cause] problems in fetuses, babies and children, including breast or prostate cancer, early onset of female puberty, attention deficit disorder and other problems of the reproductive and neurological systems.” The Associate Director of the Institute, toxicologist John R. Bucher, summarized: “We have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed.”
One day after the report from the National Toxicology Institute hit the press, scientists at Yale University School of Medicine announced that they had just concluded a study affirming that BPA affects brain structure and brain function in monkeys — interfering with learning ability, memory, and mood. The research team noted that these findings are particularly cogent because monkeys approximate human response closely, whereas earlier research mostly relied on rodent studies. Also, the Yale study was structured “…to closely mimic the slow and continuous conditions under which humans would normally be exposed to BPA,” according to lead researcher Csaba Leranth. In other words, the Yale study has powerful implications for any of us who have contact with BPA products — and that’s almost all of us, given research showing that 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.
This is hardly the first evidence we have of BPA’s dangers. In fact, a blog I wrote back a few months ago revealed that over 150 peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to issues including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and developmental and reproductive problems. But as I made clear in that blog, the weight of evidence hasn’t stirred the FDA to budge from its position that the stuff is safe enough to leave on the shelves. In fact, for a number of months now, the FDA has held firm to their position that BPA doesn’t pose a threat to people — a position applauded by the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers. The Council issued its own statement after receiving the latest findings insisting that, “There is no direct evidence that exposure to bisphenol A adversely affects human reproduction or development.”
No direct evidence? With over 150 studies providing evidence, and now this latest, powerful study from Yale and an official government group headed by America’s leading toxicologists sounding the alarm (as have many other reputable organizations) — industry representatives and the FDA still insist there’s no evidence? On what basis? Well, it turns out that the FDA is leaning on two industry-funded studies (what a surprise) that essentially dismiss the concerns over BPA; and based on those studies, the organization has chosen to turn a blind eye to the mountains of data casting doubt on the safety of the chemical. To support its position (and consequently, to support the interests of industry lobbyists), the FDA issued a draft report in August commenting on the National Toxicology Institute’s statement, asserting that, “There are inconsistencies and inadequacies which limit the interpretations of the findings.”
In spite of the blind eye turned by the agency that’s supposed to protect us from harm, concerned citizens and advocacy groups have not been silenced.
“It’s ironic FDA would choose to ignore dozens of studies funded by (the National Institutes of Health) — this country’s best scientists — and instead rely on flawed studies from industry,” said Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences.
Stepping up the criticism a notch, Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey issued a statement saying, “The FDA’s assurances of BPA’s safety are out of step with mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. For the sake of the health of every man, woman and child in America, we should ban BPA in food and beverage containers, especially because there are alternatives already available.”
While the FDA snoozes, many are taking matters into their own hands, including even retailers such as WalMart and Toys R Us, who have made plans on their own to pull BPA products from the shelves. Canada has pledged to ban BPA from baby bottles, eleven states in the US have legislation pending to restrict the chemical, and there are bills pending at the federal level as well.
Given all the clamor, the FDA has finally succumbed to the overwhelming weight of evidence and has agreed to consider possibly, maybe re-evaluating its stance on BPA later this month. But BPA-containing products still dominate the shelves in the interim, representing the clout of an industry that produces six billion pounds of bisphenol a year. If you want to avoid contamination while waiting for the FDA to finally act responsibly, here are some recommendations.