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Bisphenol-A: Why Makers of Toys, Medical Equipment & More Don't Want You to Worry About Bisphenol-A -- and Why You Should

A California Bill intended to ban certain toys, pacifiers, baby bottles and teethers for children under 3 was recently proposed (and defeated). The Bill sought to eliminate the products because they can contain a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) (along with some phthalates).

About 95 percent of baby bottles contain estrogen-mimicking BPA, which can leach into baby's food.

Growing Concerns Surrounding BPA

The Bill calls attention to growing concerns surrounding BPA and its effect on human health. The chemical is widely used -- about 6.3 billion pounds of BPA were used in 2003 -- in a variety of products, including:

  • Tooth sealants

  • Water bottles

  • Glasses

  • Plastic liners for cans

  • Baby toys, bottles, pacifiers

  • Microwave ovenware and utensils

The problem is that BPA can leach out of plastic during everyday use, causing health problems. Most notably, BPA mimics the female hormone estrogen and may affect fertility and promote cancer.

BPA Found in 95% of People Tested

"We have widespread exposure to bisphenol-A. It's in practically everything. It's been found in blood throughout the Northern hemisphere," said Theo Colborn, author of "Our Stolen Future," a book on endocrine disrupters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BPA is found in 95 percent of people tested -- a very serious finding when you consider all the ill health effects it has been linked to.

BPA is found in water bottles, cans, plastic toys and bottles -- and 95 percent of people, according to one study.

One study, published in the journal Endocrinology, for instance, found that pregnant mice exposed to levels of the compound similar to what a human would typically be exposed to had alterations to the development of their mammary glands. Specifically:

  • The mammary glands of their female offspring grew in a way that made them more susceptible to breast cancer development.

  • The mammary glands responded unusually to estrogen, which promotes breast cancer in humans.

  • Due to the bisphenol-A exposure, the mice were less able to get rid of damaged cells that could be cancerous than mice that were not exposed.

"This is of tremendous concern because this is clearly a study that is relevant to human exposure levels to this chemical," said Professor Frederick vom Saal, a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Other studies in mice have found BPA exposure causes other concerning changes as well:

  • Enlarged prostates

  • Genital deformities

  • Disrupted puberty

  • Increased cancer rates in certain organs and cell lines

  • Pancreatic changes that promote insulin resistance

  • Pubescent mammary gland developmental changes

  • Altered to thyroid regulation

  • Structural damage to the brain

  • Hyperactivity

  • Abnormal sexual behavior

  • Increased fat formation

  • Down's syndrome

  • Disrupted reproductive cycles

"Since these substances are known to disrupt in animals, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't in humans," said Colborn.

Industry Paints a Different Picture

When Professor vom Saal reviewed 115 studies about bisphenol-A, he found that more than 90 percent of the studies conducted by independent scientists found adverse consequences. However, 11 out of 11 studies conducted by the chemical industry did not.

And when asked about the potential health effects of BPA, Lorenz Romberg, a consultant and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist who has testified before the government on behalf of the chemical industry, had this to say:

"When you look at this body of evidence in total, we didn't find any evidence that there is a marked, repeatable-across-laboratories effect that has any clear scientific standing."

Choosing wood toys, rather than plastic, for your infants may minimize their BPA exposure (especially if they put those plastic toys in their mouths.

Which Products Contain BPA, and How do I Avoid Them?

Plastic containing BPA may be called:

  • Polycarbonate

  • Lexan

  • Polysulfone

Though it is generally clear, it can be tinted in various colors.

If you have young children you should be aware that BPA is widely used in baby bottles. In fact, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post, about 95 percent of baby bottles on the world market are made of BPA-containing plastic.

In Israel, the Health Ministry recently advised parents to throw away baby bottles that are over a year old, scratched or cracked, and not use pacifiers or teething rings that are worn out or torn.

The advisory came in response to a Japanese study that found baby bottles release the compound, particularly when heated (such as during bottle sterilization). In the study, 10 different brands of polycarbonate baby bottles were tested, along with other clear plastic tableware. When heated, all the products leached bisphenol-A.

Products to Avoid

If you want to avoid products with BPA, keep in mind the following:

  • Plastic that contains BPA carries the #7 recycling symbol.

  • Most clear plastic baby bottles and child cups are made of BPA-containing plastic.

  • Dental sealant may leach BPA; this is being debated. You may want to avoid dental sealants on your children's baby teeth.

You can minimize your BPA exposure by:

  • Replacing plastic food and drink containers and utensils with glass, ceramic or metal varieties.

  • Purchasing glass baby bottles.

  • Using baby bottles and sippy cups made of polyethylene plastic (#1, #2, #4 recycling symbols) or polypropylene (#5) (these are usually colored, not clear, and should still not be heated).

  • Not using canned foods or foods wrapped in plastic.

  • Not letting children put plastic toys in their mouths.

  • Being careful with BPA-containing plastics, if you choose to use them. This means not exposing them to heat (microwave, dishwasher) or harsh detergents (bleach, etc.) and not letting food or beverages sit in the containers for too long.

Recommended Reading

Why are More Boys than Girls Being Born?

Girls Hitting Puberty at Younger & Younger Ages: Experts Say Exposure to Plastics and Insecticides May be the Cause


Bisphenal-A and Phthalates Bill in California

Every Parent's Guide to Safer Toys and a Healthier Home

Endocrinology. 2005 Sep;146(9):4138-47.

Jerusalem Post: Don't Use Old Baby Bottles, Ministry Warns

National Wildlife Magazine: Your Health

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