Health Canada Reports BPA Free Baby Bottles Leach Bisphenol A?

Last week, it was reported that Health Canada had found some allegedly bisphenol A (BPA) free baby bottles nonetheless leached BPA. Well, upon further digging, it appears that very low levels of BPA were found in fluid held in some BPA free baby bottles, but that the source may simply be BPA in “dust” from manufacturing or perhaps even the lab or some other problem. The report has numerous critics, and not just from industry. Truly, it appears that the study has significant flaws. In any event, I was going to prepare a long, detailed post but, thank god, Jennifer and Jeremy at Z Recommends already did it. So, I’m just going to link to their most awesome, detailed, incredible post digging into the story. Go read it.

And if you are tired of worrying about what is in your baby’s plastic bottles or sippy cups, you can try glass or stainless steel. Check out OrganicKidz stainless steel baby bottles, for example.

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NTP Issues Final Report – Bisphenol A or BPA Exposures May Harm Babies and Kids

Finally, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program (“NTP”) has issued its final report on bisphenol A (BPA).  And the NTP expressed some concern about the potential health effects associated with BPA exposuers at the current levels to which we are exposed.

For background, tThe NTP uses a 5 point scale of concern – negligible, minimal, some, concern and serious.  The NTP’s final report on BPA found:

  • The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to BPA.

  • The NTP has minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to BPA.

  • The NTP has negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to BPA will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.

  • The NTP has negligible concern that exposure to BPA will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings.

In connection with the report, NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., stated “There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects.  But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed.” 

How should consumers react and what should they do?  Well, the NTP doesn’t provide much advice.  CERHR Director Michael Shelby, Ph.D., stated “if parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA.”

Will this end the debate?  No.  In fact, I recently go into a debate on the subject after Mommy Myth Buster posted that BPA being harmful was a myth.  I happen to disagree that it is a myth.  I don’t think uncertainty makes something a myth.  That being said, I do think, however, that it is clear that the science on the issue is uncertain.  The low dose animal studies are just that, animal studies.  Making those studies relevant to humans involves analysis and assumptions.  And the animal studies are not necessarily relevant to humans – rodents, for example, process BPA differently so whether the adverse health effects seen in rodents apply to humans is not yet answered. 

But reports continue to document adverse health effects associated with BPA exposure.  Just this week, scientists at the Yale School of Medicine have found that “exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function.”  The study found that low dose BPA exposure may lead to disruption in memory and learning, and depression.  Or, as TreeHugger put it – “BPA may make you stupid and depressed.”  What is important about this study is that it involved monkeys – and monkeys process BPA more like humans, as opposed to rodents.  This is the first time BPA has been linked to health problems in primates. 

The study’s authors suggeste that the EPA should lower its current acceptable level for human exposure to BPA.

The FDA continues to maintain that BPA is safe.  The FDA recently issued its draft report declaring BPA to be safe.  Specifically, the FDA’s draft report states the “FDA has concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses.”  The draft report was issued in advanced of a meeting scheduled for September 16 – methinks the meeting will be very interesting . . .

And the industry?  The American Chemistry Council responded to the NTP’s report with the statement that “There is no direct evidence that exposure to bisphenol A adversely affects human reproduction or development.” 

So, what can a parent do if the experts can’t decide?  The health effects from very small dosages that only recently could be detected are just now being understood.  Recent research has shown harmful effects in animals at low levels (levels consistent with human exposure).  Emerging, substantial evidence indicates that BPA can harm laboratory animals at concentrations below the daily levels to which most of us are already exposed.  In fact, the Chapel Hill panel’s consensus statement evaluated the strength of data from more than 700 BPA studies and labeled as “confident” its assessment that BPA at low doses has had a negative effect on experimental animals.  The panel concluded that BPA exposure in the womb can permanently alter genes of animals, impair organ function in was that persist into adulthood, and trigger brain, behavioral and reproductive effects, including diminished sperm production. 

I think that with the NTP finding “some concern” – or a 3 on the NTP’s 5 point scale – caution is in order.  I think it is prudent to reduce exposure to BPA for pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant, babies and young children.  With so many alternatives on the market, why not minimize the risk?  As my mom use to safe, better safe than sorry.

 As Scott M. Belcher, PhD, Associate Professor and University of Cincinnati and lead researcher in BPA says, “You have to estimate the relative benefit and understand the possible risks, or the fact that the risk is unclear because the science is lacking.  There are many “maybes” in the equation.  But what is known is that BPA has estrogen-like activity.”  His conclusion?  “Based on my knowledge of the scientific data, there is a reason for caution.  I have made a decision for myself not to use polycarbonate plastic water bottles.” 


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BPA: What is Bisphenol A doing in baby bottles and why is it a problem?

You may have read news reports about the potential dangers of certain plastic baby bottles.  The concern stems from Bisphenol A, which is present in polycarbonate plastic.  Many baby bottles are made from polycarbonate plastic, as are countless other consumer items.  Polycarbonate plastic is widely used plastic.  It is clear, lightweight, heat resistant, and shatter resistant.  It is used in a wide variety of applications, many of them involving direct contact with foods and beverages, including baby bottles, reusable sports water bottles, food storage containers, and tableware.  

Plastics are like very long trains made up of identical railroad cars.  The technical explanation is that most plastics are polymers, or are long molecules (the very long train) made up of many repetitions of a basic molecule called the monomer (the railroad car).  Bisphenol A is the basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic.  Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical compound used in a wide range of consumer products.  It has found its way into the bodies of most of us.  A study in the US found that 95% of people tested had been exposed to BPA.

Bottle FeedingUnder certain conditions, BPA leaches out of the polycarbonate and into the food or drink.  What are those conditions?  Well, it is uncertain, but it appears that leaching occurs with everyday use, and is much higher when the bottles are scratched or worn.  It also appears that leaching is much worse when the bottles are heated.

Exposure to BPA may cause health effects.  The safety of BPA is being hotly debated right now.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the plastic industry maintain the BPA is safe at the levels to which most consumers are exposed.

However, some research scientists have been increasingly warning consumers about potential dangers.  BPA has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and to simulate the action of the human hormone estrogen.  Early life exposure may cause stimulate certain cancers and may cause genetic damage.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction convened an expert panel to evaluate BPA.  The Panel’s final report is scheduled to be published in Fall 2007, but the draft meeting summary identifies the following conclusions:

For pregnant women & fetuses:

  • Some concern the exposure to BPA in utero causes neural and behavioral effects

  • Minimal concern that exposure to BPA in utero causes effects on the prostrate and accelerations in puberty

  • Negligible concern that exposure to BPA in utero produces birth defects and malformations

For infants & children:

  • Some concern that exposure to BPA causes neural and behavioral effects

  • Minimal concern that exposure to BPA potentially causes accelerations in puberty

For adults:

  • Negligible concern for adverse reproductive effects following exposures in general population

  • Minimal concern for highly exposed subgroups (e.g., occupational exposures)

Concern is rated as follows:  negligible, minimal, some, concern and severe.

Part of the problem is that there have been no human studies of BPA exposure.  More than 150 studies have found health effects in animals exposed to low doses.  However, scientists have reached different conclusions about whether BPA is safe in part because of metabolic differences between mice and humans and uncertainty in the amounts to which people are actually exposed.  Japan and the European Union’s Food Safety Authority recently reaffirmed BPA’s safety, criticizing the methodology of rodent/BPA studies as unreliable.  That’s really the root of the difference – these scientists haven’t agreed on how to translate the animal studies into human effects.

The Panel’s conclusions have been criticized by other leading experts.  In a consensus statement published in Reproductive Toxicology, a group of 38 scientists, including 4 from federal health agencies, concluded that people are exposed to levels of BPA exceeding those levels that harm lab animals, and that infants and fetuses are the most vulnerable.  This group of scientists reached these conclusions after reviewing about 700 studies.  Jerrold Heindel, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who organized a meeting last fall to begin drafting the statement, said even though there have been no human studies of BPA, there is now so much animal data that the 38 experts believe that human damage is likely.  “We know what doses the animals were given, and when we look at humans, we see blood levels within that range or actually higher, which is a cause of concern and should stimulate more human research,” he said.

In the statement, the 38 scientists say they are confident that BPA, which mimics the female hormone estrogen, alters cells to switch genes on and off, programming a fetus or child for reproductive disorders later in life, and that the levels that harm lab animals “are well within the range of … BPA levels observed in human fetal blood.”

They concluded that “early life exposure … may result in persistent adverse effects in humans.”