Saturday, September 06, 2008

Plastic is poison. Still.

...and should be outlawed

A report by government scientists on a controversial toxic chemical appears to contradict recent reports by the FDA.

The National Toxicology Program found "some concern" that bisphenol A [BPA], a chemical used in plastics, alters behavior and the development of the brain and prostate gland in children and babies.

George Bush's highly politicized FDA released a claim two weeks ago that people are not endangered by exposure to BPA.

BPA is used in thousands of consumer products.

'Some concern' still tied to chemical found in plastics
by Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

A government agency Wednesday said there's "some concern" that a controversial ingredient in plastic alters behavior and development of the brain and prostate gland in children and babies, both before and after birth.

The National Toxicology Program's final ruling on bisphenol A, or BPA, contradicts a Food and Drug Administration report issued two weeks ago. The FDA found that people aren't endangered by their current exposure to BPA, which is found in thousands of consumer products and the bodies of virtually everyone tested. The FDA will discuss the safety of BPA at a meeting Sept. 16.

The toxicology program rates its concerns on a five-point scale, from "negligible" to "serious," based on the strength of scientific evidence. It expressed "some concern" — a middle level — that BPA affects development at levels to which people are exposed everyday. The program has "minimal" concern — its second-lowest level — that BPA affects the breast or causes early puberty in girls and "negligible" concern that it causes birth defects, fetal or newborn death or reproductive problems in adults.

"The possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed," said John Bucher, toxicology program associate director, in a statement.

Concern over BPA has grown in the past year. Leading retailers such as Wal-Mart have announced plans to phase out products with BPA, and most baby bottle makers now offer BPA-free versions. In April, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to ban BPA in children's products.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers, describes the toxicology program's findings as "limited and inconclusive evidence" from lab animals. "Additional research will be needed to determine if these concerns are relevant to human health," spokesman Steven Hentges says.

Bucher says concerned parents may want to reduce their family's exposure to BPA, because animal studies suggest that infants and children may be the most vulnerable to the chemical. The toxicology program offers this advice to people to want to avoid BPA:

•Don't microwave plastic, especially those made with polycarbonate plastic, which may leach BPA. These products may be marked with a number 7 recycling code.

•Reduce your use of canned foods, because metal cans are usually lined with BPA.

•Opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, especially for hot food or liquids.

•Use BPA-free baby bottles.

Bisphenol is a plastic-hardening chemical used to seal canned food and make baby bottles. After more than a year of complaints from consumer and parent groups, the FDA has agreed to revisit the chemical's safety. The agency last month said the trace amounts that leach out of food containers are not a threat to children or adults.

But the toxicology group said that may not be true.

"More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development," said Michael Shelby, who directed the group's report. "But at this point we can't dismiss the possibility that the effects we're seeing in animals may occur in humans."

Shelby's group did back away from one issue raised in its draft report. While the group said in April there was "some concern" the chemical could speed up puberty in girls, the final report states there is now only "minimal concern" about those risks.

The National Toxicology Program ranks its conclusions about chemical risks on a five-tiered scale ranging from "negligible concern" to "serious concern."

Shelby said it is too early to recommend changes in what consumers buy and eat, but he added that parents who are concerned can avoid buying food containers made from bisphenol.

Several major retailers — including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc. — have said they would stop selling baby bottles made with the chemical next year. And smaller companies like Eveflo and BornFree have ramped up production of glass baby bottles as a bisphenol-free alternative.

Canada has said it intends to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles, and state and federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban bisphenol in U.S. children's products.

More than 6 billion pounds of bisphenol are produced in the U.S. each year by Dow Chemical, Bayer AG and other manufacturers.

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