Chemical Plastic

November 29, 2010

Chemical in Plastic Baby Bottles Raises Alarm

Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics, is getting official scrutiny — and things are looking less than rosy for the controversial chemical.

The European Commission voted Thursday to ban the estrogen-like chemical BPA, or bisphenol A, from plastic baby bottles by the middle of next year – 2011.

The U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program yesterday agreed with a scientific panel that recently expressed concern about physiological changes that occur in people when they ingest BPA that has leached from plastic into their food.

In spite of what it called some “uncertainty” in the science, the commission said in a statement that it was concerned about BPA, which helps make plastic hard and shatterproof, and its effects on children’s development, the body’s immune response and cancer risk. Studies have linked BPA exposure to heart disease, diabetes and low sperm counts in men.

“This is a good news for European consumers,” said John Dalli, commissioner in charge of health and consumer policy for the European Commission.

The Canadian government is even considering declaring the chemical toxic, reports today’s New York Times.

European Union countries must stop manufacturing polycarbonate plastic baby bottles with BPA by March 2011; they must stop selling or importing them by June 2011, according to the statement.

The vote comes a week after American opponents of BPA failed to include a ban on the chemical in a $1.4 billion food-safety bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had championed a ban on BPA in baby bottles, blamed the chemical industry for defeating her proposal.

Although consumer backlash has prompted major American baby bottle manufacturers to stop using BPA, the chemical is used in cheaper products sold in discount stores, according to Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics industry, maintains that BPA is safe. “Government agencies worldwide have examined the science of BPA, including a recent European Food Safety Authority review of 800 studies, and concluded that low doses of BPA are not a risk to human health,” the council’s Steve Hentges said in a statement. “Based on the science, an international panel of experts organized by the World Health Organization recently concluded that public health measures on BPA are premature.”

In a statement, the Environment Working Group, an advocacy organization, commended Europe’s decision, noting that more than 90% of Americans have BPA in their urine. The group’s tests have found BPA in babies’ umbilical cords. “It is absolutely unacceptable that American babies are born pre-polluted with this toxic chemical,” group President Kenneth Cook said.

Canada, France and Denmark already have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed “some concern” that BPA may alter the brain, behavior and prostate gland in children, both before and after birth.

This could set the stage for banning it from plastic baby bottles, water bottles, and food containers. At the very least, some people will be even more eager to buy foods and beverages in BPA-free containers.

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would consider adding BPA to its list of chemicals of concern, looking at levels of BPA in surface, ground and drinking water.

Legislatures in at least 20 states have considered banning BPA in children’s products. As of October, seven states had voted to ban BPA in baby bottles: Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maryland and New York.

Chicago and four counties in New York — Albany, Rockland, Schenectady and Suffolk — also have banned BPA in baby bottles.

Beyond switching baby bottles, another way to lower exposure to BPA is to avoid heating foods and liquids in plastic containers that contain the compound. The amount of BPA that leaches out, the NTP says, may depend more on the temperature of the liquid, food, or container itself than on the age of the plastic bottle or dish.

A Massachusetts health advisory warned pregnant and nursing women last year to choose fresh or frozen products, rather than food in cans, which often contain BPA in their plastic linings.

The whole Europe is going BPA-free.

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