Plastics Chemical of 'Some Concern' for Fetal, Child Health

Government panel notes that bisphenol A is ubiquitous in bottles, CDs, packaging

WEDNESDAY, August 8, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many plastics and resins, may present some risk to a developing fetus and children, a U.S. government panel concluded Wednesday.

Experts convened by the U.S. Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), part of the National Toxicology Program, unanimously concluded that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) presents some risk to human development and reproduction.

BPA is chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastic and several types of resins. It is found in products used everyday such as compact discs, DVDs, baby bottles and other food and drink packaging. It is also commonly found in cars, sports safety equipment and water pipes.

"The panel's finding means that we cannot dismiss the fact that exposure to this substance may be causing effects on reproductive health," CERHR Director Michael D. Shelby said.

However, "It's going to take more research to verify what those effects are," he said.

Animal experiments have suggested that BPA may mimic the female sex hormone estradiol. The fear has been that exposure to BPA can cause birth defects and developmental problems.

In addition, exposure to BPA has been blamed for a variety of other problems, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and attention deficit disorder.

Exposure to BPA can occur through direct contact or by exposure to food or drink that has been in contact with material containing BPA.

"The conclusions of the expert panel are expressed in levels of concern," Shelby explained. The lowest level is "negligible concern," followed by "minimal concern," then "some concern," "concern" and then "serious concern," he said.

The panel found "some concern" that exposure to BPA causes neural and behavioral effects to the fetus. The panel members expressed "minimal concern" that exposure to BPA causes effects to the fetal prostate or that exposure causes an acceleration of puberty, Shelby said.

The panel also said there was "negligible concern" that the chemical causes birth defects and malformations.

However, the panel expressed "some concern" that BPA exposure causes neural and behavioral effects in children, Shelby said. It also said it had "minimal concern" that BPA would cause children to experience accelerations in puberty.

For adults, the panel found "negligible concern" that there would be adverse reproductive effects following exposure to BPA. In addition, it had "minimal concern" for people exposed to BPA at work, Shelby said.

The panel did recommend that studies be done that would remove the uncertainties in some of its conclusions, or raise or lower the level of concern it had expressed, based on the data available, Shelby said.

The committee's report is not without its critics.

"If I were a committee member, I wouldn't sign off on this broken report," said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the Health and Environment Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.

"Harmful effects in laboratory animals exposed to even the low levels of BPA that are commonly found in the blood and urine of Americans include an increase in prostate and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, reduced semen quality, recurrent miscarriage, obesity, and neurobehavioral problems similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," she said in a prepared statement.

The biggest problem with the report is the decision to limit the review to oral-dose studies, primarily the industry-sponsored studies, and not injection studies, the council said.

"This means they failed to include evidentiary science of the full range of risks to unborn fetuses, who receive BPA through the contaminated blood circulation, irrespective of the pregnant mothers route of exposure," the group stated.

Reports from the National Toxicology Program are used by state and federal regulators to establish exposure standards, and are a resource for regulatory agencies to allocate resources toward most effective strategies to protect human health, the council noted.

A chemical industry representative took another view.

"What we saw today was a triumph of solid science," said Steven Hentges, executive director of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers. "The panel of experts came up with what is really a very reassuring conclusion on the safety of BPA," he said.

Hentges believes more research is needed in areas where the panel found "some concern."

"Based on the science we do not think that additional regulation is needed," he said. "The products in use today are safe."

More information

For more information on BPA, visit the Environment California.

SOURCES: Michael D. Shelby, Ph.D., director, Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Steven Hentges, Ph.D., executive director, Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group, American Chemistry Council, Arlington, Va.; Aug. 8, 2007, statement, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C.
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