The Maine Board of Environmental Protection held a hearing on Aug. 19 concerning a proposed ban on the chemical bisphenol A (also known as BPA) in children’s products and is taking public comments on the issue until Aug. 30. The hearing was followed by a column from Jeff Stier, an attorney with the American Council on Science and Health, “Opponents use scare tactics against BPA” (BDN, Aug. 21), claiming the BPA was safe. Mr. Stier failed to reveal several facts about BPA, which is a hormone-disrupting chemical that interferes with estrogen.
A growing body of peer-reviewed research in animal studies by independent scientists reveals that in low doses BPA causes prostate and breast cancer, metabolic disorders including insulin-resistant (type 2) diabetes and obesity, neurobehavioral problems including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, genital deformities and declining sperm quality in males, and early onset of puberty in females. These health problems are increasing in the American population. Recent studies show that people with the highest BPA exposure had elevated rates of heart disease and diabetes and that workers exposed to higher levels of BPA in a chemical factory suffered from severe sexual dysfunction.
Should we worry about low doses of a chemical that interferes with estrogen? The science shows that some babies consume more BPA than the levels proven to cause harm in laboratory animals with no margin of safety.
Health concerns about BPA have already led manufacturers to switch to BPA-free plastic baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles. Other uses of polycarbonate plastic, which is made from BPA, may still pose health risks.
The greatest source of BPA exposure today, however, comes from canned food and drinks and from food jars with metal lids. Virtually every can of infant formula and every jar of baby food contain small amounts of BPA that leak from the epoxy resin lining on the metal. Canned food and beverages also expose toddlers to BPA, and because BPA crosses the placenta in pregnant women, fetuses are exposed as well.
That’s why the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has expressed “some concern” that BPA harms the growing brain, disrupts behavior and injures the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and toddlers at current levels of BPA exposure in humans, based on the strongest science.
In addition to ignoring the science, Mr. Stier also failed to reveal something else behind his dismissal of BPA health concerns. His employer, the American Council on Science and Health, has been funded for years by conservative foundations, trade associations and major corporations that defend toxic chemicals, food additives, junk food and other health threats against government regulation. According to Source Watch, their corporate funders in the past have included infant formula makers Abbott Laboratories and Nestle, Gerber Products Co., a current and former BPA producer, Dow Chemical and General Electric Co., and the National Soft Drink Association, among many others.
Fortunately, solutions are available or within reach to protect the health of our children from bisphenol A. Widely available alternatives should replace BPA-containing plastic in toys, tableware and child care articles. BPA should be phased out in infant formula, baby food and toddler food because safer, BPA-free containers of these food products are already on the market. And the search for safer alternatives to BPA in all canned food linings is well under way with promising green solutions under development.
Public health advocates are using sound science when they weigh the risks and benefits of BPA. This fall, when the Maine Board of Environmental Protection considers restrictions on bisphenol A in children’s products, the agency would do well by following the science, not the money.
Beverly Paigen is a biologist and professor at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and serves on the advisory board of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Bangor.