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BPA: What FDA doesn't know could hurt you

Friday, September 5, 2008

One of the unwritten rules of public relations is, if they’re running you out of town, get out front and say you’re leading the parade.

That’s one way to read the American Chemistry Council’s assertion that it “welcomes” the Sept. 3 National Toxicology Program’s assessment of bisphenol A (BPA), an artificial sex hormone used to manufacture a vast array of plastics. The Washington-based industry group said dismissively that the NTP “identified no serious human health concerns” from exposure to the chemical – which U.S. chemical manufacturers turn out at the rate of 2.3 billion pounds of BPA annually.

No question about it, the NTP, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based interagency body that evaluates chemicals for risks to humans, has not found smoking-gun proof that BPA causes particular cancers or other illnesses in particular individuals. But after reviewing several hundred animal studies, the NTP spotted enough smoke to express, in a cautious but chilling statement, “some concern” that even low levels of BPA may affect “development of the prostate gland and brain and [cause] behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children.” As top NTP scientist John Bucher put it, “We see developmental changes occurring in some animal studies at BPA exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans.”

That conclusion – that people, including children whose bodies and brains are still developing, are being exposed to a chemical in amounts that have caused irreversible changes in unborn and young lab animals -- directly contradicts the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s position, reiterated in mid-August, that “FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects. “

The FDA statement was lawyerly, and it may have served those who want the BPA debate ended, now. But it didn’t have much traction among scientists who are at home in the world of unresolved questions and who don’t believe that what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Nearly every day, as more research reports on BPA are published, the cloud over the chemical darkens. On Sept. 3, researchers at Yale School of Medicine made public one of the most disturbing findings yet. Yale scientists had given African green monkeys trace amounts of BPA, equivalent to the maximum dosage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for human consumption.

“Our goal was to more closely mimic the slow and continuous conditions under which humans would normally be exposed to BPA,” said study author Csaba Leranth, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and in Neurobiology at Yale. “As a result, this study is more indicative than past research of how BPA may actually affect humans.”

After just 28 days of trace BPA dosage, the Yale team documented what researcher Tibor Hajszan called “a devastating effect on synapses in the monkey brain.” Humans, the researchers said, would experience this subtle brain damage as memory loss, learning problems and depression.

On Sept. 16, an FDA science advisory panel is set to hear arguments over whether the agency should restrict the use of BPA in can linings, baby, water and drink bottles and other food packaging.

With stakes now reaching to the central nervous system, the reproductive system and behavior, it's a safe bet that many scientists will advise FDA that the benefits of BPA-laden food packaging are not worth the risk.

 

Photo by babydinosaur

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