by Kelly Pate Dwyer
Pressure is mounting on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of food products that contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical most commonly used in the linings of some canned-food containers and infant-formula cans, and in polycarbonate water bottles and baby bottles.
"We think the science is so strong that the FDA needs to re-evaluate [the safety of BPA] and make a decision that's more protective of a vulnerable population," says Dr. Anila Jacob, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, referring to babies and young children.
Since early spring, government and private industry have responded to consumer demand for BPA-free products and mounting research that shows BPA, which mimics human estrogen, may have adverse human-health effects, including early puberty in girls and cancer in adults.
The National Toxicology Program, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently stated that BPA is of some health concern, enough "not to dismiss" potential dangers and warrant more research. The NTP's position is based on research conducted by its Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. A CERHR expert panel has said that based on laboratory animal studies, "There is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland and mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females."
U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation April 29 banning BPA in all children's products. The bill would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct "a comprehensive study of the health effects of BPA in children and adults." Sen. Feinstein, in a release, said, "We cannot let the health of our children hang in the balance while we wait for more studies, which could take several years."
Maryland, California and a half dozen other states have proposals in the works, most of which would ban BPA in children's products.
The Canadian government, after Health Canada conducted some of its own research focused on BPA exposure to infants and young children through baby bottles and infant formula, has proposed a BPA ban and is currently seeking public comment.
A growing number of retailers and manufacturers are going BPA-free. Wal-Mart Canada pulled baby bottles, water bottles, pacifiers and food cans known to contain BPA. "For many months, we've heard loudly and clearly from customers committed to buying BPA-free products, particularly in the baby aisles," said Andrew Pelletier, Wal-Mart Canada's vice president of corporate affairs, in a release. "Regardless of the expected scientific results, we have responded to this consumer demand with an increased variety of BPA-free products."
Perhaps most significantly, Wal-Mart's U.S. stores will stop selling BPA-containing products next year. The company represents such a large share of the market, more manufacturers and retailers are expected to go BPA-free.
Water bottle maker Nalgene, whose reusable polycarbonate bottles contain BPA, said in April it would phase out those products over the next several months. The company's Everyday line includes some bottles that don't contain BPA.
The chemicals and plastics industries have maintained that the low levels of BPA in consumer products are safe, deemed so by the FDA and EPA. However, many environmental groups, legislators and parents question why those agencies have based their decisions on a few industry-funded scientific studies that show BPA is safe, while numerous other scientific studies conclude BPA exposure leads to or may lead to harmful health effects.
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a Denver-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 6/p. 18