September 17, 2008

Plastics Chemical May Lead to Diseases


The first large-scale human study of a chemical used to make plastic baby bottles, aluminum can linings and myriad other common products, found double the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver problems in people with the highest concentrations in their urine, British researchers reported.

The findings confirm earlier results obtained in animals, increasing pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to limit use of the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.

The compound is the primary ingredient of polycarbonate plastics, which are found in a wide variety of modern goods, including DVDs, reusable food storage containers, drinking bottles and eyeglass lenses.

There have been growing concerns about its safety as studies in rodents have linked it to diabetes, brain damage, developmental abnormalities, pre-cancerous changes in the prostate and breast and a variety of other health problems.

About 7 billion pounds of the chemical are produced worldwide each year, and studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels in their urine.

The new findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, coinciding with an FDA hearing on BPA in Washington Tuesday.

"This is a human study that really calls into question FDA's assertion that BPA is safe," said Dr. Anila Jacob of the Environmental Working Group, an activist group.

An FDA representative, however, defended the agency's actions at the hearing. "A margin of safety exists that is adequate to protect consumers, including infants and children, at the current levels of exposure," said Laura Tarentino, a senior FDA scientist.

Many experts already think the writing is on the wall for the chemical, however.

A draft report issued earlier this year by the U.S. government's National Toxicology Program, which has no regulatory authority, concluded that there was "some concern" that the chemical poses a risk to fetuses, babies and children.

Health Canada, Canada's national public health agency, released a report earlier this year calling BPA "a potentially harmful chemical" - becoming the first regulatory body in the world to do so.

Baby bottle manufacturers are already looking for replacements for the chemical. And both Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys R Us Inc. have announced their plans to shift away from products containing BPA.

BPA was first synthesized in 1891 and came into wide use in the 1940s and 1950s because of the toughness, durability and light weight of polycarbonates.

Some BPA remains intact in the plastic and leaches out over time, particularly when it comes in contact with hot liquids or acidic foods.

The chemical industry and the FDA have long relied on two large animal studies which showed that high concentrations of the chemical fed to the rodents produced no serious adverse effects.

There have been no previous large studies of the chemical in humans because researchers considered it inappropriate to administer the chemical for tests.

Dr. David Melzer of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, Britain, and his colleagues took advantage of results from the 2003- 04 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which for the first time measured concentrations of BPA in urine from a representative sample of 1,455 adults.

They found that the quarter of the group with the highest BPA levels - which were still at levels the FDA considers safe - were more than twice as likely to suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular disease as those in the quarter with the lowest levels.

Originally published by LOS ANGELES TIMES.

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