Bisphenol-A (BPA) is widely used as a plasticizer in polycarbonate baby bottles, besides adult personal care and cosmetic products, food can linings, microwave oven dishes, dental sealants and also medical devices. Other recently recognized major sources are cash register and credit-card receipts, which are coated with microscopic powdered BPA, and which many of us handle daily.
The 2010 President's Cancer Panel report explicitly cited BPA as a "chemical of concern," and warned that "more than 130 studies have linked BPA to breast cancer, obesity, and other disorders." The Panel rejected the March 2009 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety assessment of BPA as "incomplete and unreliable because it failed to consider all the relevant scientific works." The Panel also warned that FDA's "safety assessment on BPA" had been rejected by a March 2009 consortium of independent experts from academia, government and industry. The Panel report further emphasized that "science at the FDA is deficient, and the Agency is not prepared to meet regulatory responsibilities."
The scientific evidence on the toxic effects of BPA is extensive. A 2007 review of about 700 studies on BPA, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, found that the fetus and infants are highly vulnerable to the toxic hormonal effects of this ingredient, technically known as "endocrine disruptive." An accompanying study by National Institutes of Health researchers reported uterine damage in newborn rodents exposed to levels of BPA comparable with those of normal human exposure. This finding may also implicate BPA as a cause of reproductive tract disorders in women, after their earlier exposure as fetuses or infants.
Previous studies in the journal Endocrinology, besides elsewhere, reported that BPA masculinizes the brain of female mice and feminizes the brain of male mice. Toxic effects of this hormone disruptor in pregnant women are evidenced in their infant baby boys by the reduction in the normal distance between their anus and genitals. This decrease in anogenital distance is also associated with a decrease in sperm production. Based on such evidence, Health Canada declared BPA to be a "toxic chemical" in early 2008.
In addition to these toxic effects, exposure of pregnant rodents to BPA, at levels 2,000 times lower than the Environmental Protection Agency's "safe dose," resulted in sexual abnormalities in their offspring. These include an increased number of "terminal end buds" in breast tissue, which are associated with a subsequent high risk of breast cancer. However, an American Plastics Council spokesman claimed that the human relevance of these finding is only "hypothetical."
BPA has also been found in human blood, placental and fetal tissue, and incriminated as a predisposing factor for prostate cancer. The authors of this study also linked endocrine-dependent human cancers, such as breast cancer, to the minimal levels of BPA to which pregnant women are exposed. An August 2, 2007 consensus statement by several dozen scientists warned that BPA, even at very low exposure levels, is probably responsible for many human reproductive disorders.
A September 2008 publication, Endocrine-Related Cancer, by one of us (Dr. Gail Prins) reviewed the substantial scientific evidence on the toxic hormonal effects of BPA, besides other endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDC's) in pregnant women. She concluded that infants and children are highly sensitive to their toxic effects, particularly subsequent risks of prostate cancer.
In October 2008, Science Daily reported on an article on BPA called "A Plastic World," in a then pending special section on Environmental Research. Two other articles reported that fetal exposure to BPA disrupted the normal development of the brain and behavior in rats and mice. Other articles have also reported that BPA is massively contaminating the oceans and harming aquatic wildlife.
The June 2009 Endocrine Disruption Act authorized the National Institute of Environmental Health Science "to coordinate" research on hormone disruption to prevent exposure to chemicals "that can undermine the development of children before they are born and cause lifelong impairment of their health and function." This Bill was supported by public health, consumer and children's advocacy groups, and further strengthened by California's Senator Dianne Feinstein's legislation to ban BPA from food and beverage containers. Of major relevance, this legislation has also been endorsed by the April 2010 President's Cancer Panel On "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now," 2008-2009 Annual Report. This further warns that "to a disturbing extent, babies are born pre-polluted."
It should be emphasized there are safe alternatives to BPA. As emphasized in the author's 2009 Toxic Beauty book, the recent development of "green chemistry" has encouraged the phase-out of product packaging that relies on petrochemical plastic containers, particularly those containing BPA. These containers are now being replaced with biodegradable substitutes, including recycled paper. Such "green" packaging reduces energy use, greenhouse gases, and non-degradable or poorly degradable wastes currently disposed of in landfills.
In January this year, the FDA announced an "Update on BPA," with particular reference to its use in food packaging, plastic baby bottles, feeding cups, and metal containers, to avoid childhood exposure. Nevertheless, FDA has still failed to take any regulatory action to this effect. Meanwhile, the industry's Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel does not even make any reference to BPA in its annual "safety assessments."
In March this year, Congressmen Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman released a draft of the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010. The key provisions of this Act include establishment of a program to review and protect children from risks of toxic exposures, including BPA. The passage of this legislation is urgently needed in order to ban BPA from baby bottles, food packaging and other consumer products, especially to prevent any further childhood exposure.
One month later, Senator Lautenberg introduced the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2010," aimed at revamping the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. This is intended to ensure that "those who make the chemicals--ought to be responsible for testing them before they are released to the public." This surely should be the case for BPA.
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; The 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medalist for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and author of over 270 scientific articles and 20 books on the causes and prevention of cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979), and Toxic Beauty (2009, BenBella Books). To read Dr. Epstein's columns in the Huffington Post, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samuel-s-epstein.
Gail S. Prins, PhD is professor of Physiology and Urology at the University of Illinois at Chicago; member, National Toxicology Program Peer Review Panel on Low-Dose Endocrine Disruptors, rapporteur for the BPA Review Panel (2001); Chair of the NIEHS/EPA Expert Panel on Bisphenol A and Cancer (2007); member of the Endocrine Disruptor Task Force for The Endocrine Society (2009), co-author of their position statement on endocrine disrupting chemicals which was adopted by the American Medical Association in 2010; author of over 150 scientific articles on male reproduction and prostate gland biology and cancer; Principal Investigator on 3 current NIH grants to examine early-life BPA exposure and prostate cancer risk.
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
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Gail S. Prins, Ph.D.
Professor of Physiology and Urology
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine