California Senate Votes to Ban BPA In Food Containers

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FDA still contends small amounts of the chemical are not harmful

FDA still contends small amounts of the chemical are not harmful

By Mark Huffman

June 3, 2009

It’s looking ever more likely that the state of California will place limits on bisphenol A, or BPA, before the Food and Drug Administration ever issues a definitive ruling on the chemical. The California Senate Tuesday narrowly voted to ban the chemical from infant formula bottles, toddler sippy cups and other food containers.

A number of studies have suggested the chemical is a danger to normal childhood development, though the FDA’s official position is that small amounts are not harmful.

BPA is added to the plastic manufacturing process to provide rigidity. It’s what makes plastic water bottles, for example, stiff instead of pliable. However, a recent Harvard study found that small amounts of BPA will leach from the bottle into the water.

The California Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Fran Payley, who managed to push it through in spite of heavy industry lobbying. Outlook for passage in the Assembly is unclear, as the industry mounts an all-out effort to prevent a ban.

Among those arguing that BPA risks are overblown is STATS, a statistical analysis organization based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. In a study released last month, STATS found toxicologists "overwhelmingly reject the notion that exposure to even the smallest amounts of harmful chemicals is dangerous or that the detection of any level of a chemical in your body by biomonitoring indicates a significant health risk."

Chemical industry lobbyists maintain that the studies raising questions about BPA have been vastly overblown by environmental and health groups who have already made up their minds without seeing all the evidence. But consumer groups say more than 200 independent studies have thus far linked BPA to development problems in young children, and more recently, to other health problems.

For example, last September a study in JAMA linked higher levels of BPA to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities. BPA is one of the world's highest production–volume chemicals, with more than two million metric tons produced worldwide in 2003 and annual increase in demand of 6 percent to 10 percent annually.

Such was the concern abut the chemical that Wal-Mart announced back in April 2008 that it would stop selling baby bottles made with BPA in its U.S. stores.

"Widespread and continuous exposure to BPA, primarily through food but also through drinking water, dental sealants, dermal exposure, and inhalation of household dusts, is evident from the presence of detectable levels of BPA in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population," the authors said.

"Anecdotal" evidence

In individual accounts, consumers blame BPA and other chemicals for health problems they say decreased or went away when exposure to the suspect substances stopped.

One account comes from a former over-the-road trucker who told that he became ill after habitually drinking water from plastic containers which had gotten hot while sitting in his truck.

"In spite of the fact that my lungs and respiratory system were on fire and congested, my face flaming red and I lost part the lining of my intestines in a rest area -- and some of my family thought my wife was poisoning me -- the doctors couldn't come up with an answer," the former trucker said.

"When I came off the truck and quit drinking water from plastic jugs which had gotten hot in the truck I started to gradually improve but still had some respiratory problems which seemed to be aggravated by some of my blood pressure medication. However I didn't experience any real improvement until after we moved into another home -- with city water -- and quit drinking water from plastic containers," he said.

BPA in urine

In the Harvard School of Public Health study, researchers found that BPA leaches from bottles and ends up in the urine of people who drink from them.

The researchers found that study participants who drank for a week from polycarbonate bottles, the popular, hard-plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles, showed a two-thirds increase in their urine of the chemical, also known as BPA.

The study was the first to show that drinking from polycarbonate bottles increased the level of urinary BPA, and thus suggests that drinking containers made with BPA release the chemical into the liquid that people drink in sufficient amounts to increase the level of BPA excreted in human urine.

The study appears on the Web site of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

“We found that drinking cold liquids from polycarbonate bottles for just one week increased urinary BPA levels by more than two-thirds. If you heat those bottles, as is the case with baby bottles, we would expect the levels to be considerably higher. This would be of concern since infants may be particularly susceptible to BPA’s endocrine-disrupting potential,” said Karin B. Michels, associate professor of epidemiology at HSPH and Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study.

Recent published reports suggest the FDA relied heavily on the advice of chemical industry lobbyists in reaching that conclusion.

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