FDA Declares Chemical in Baby Bottles Safe, But Doubts Remain

By Eliza Strickland | August 18, 2008 9:47 am

baby with bottleThe Food and Drug Administration released a draft report on Friday saying that a chemical used in baby bottles and other plastics is not a health threat. The FDA announcement is just the latest twist to a health story that has already alarmed and confused consumers; the chemical, called bisphenol A or BPA, was recently declared a toxin by the Canadian government, and several states are considering banning products that contain it. In April, Wal-Mart announced that its stores will stop selling baby bottles containing BPA.

BPA, a plastic-hardening chemical, is similar to the hormone estrogen. A report in April from the U.S. National Toxicology Program said animal studies suggested its use may pose a cancer risk and lead to early or delayed puberty [Bloomberg]. But the new FDA report says that only small amounts of the chemical leach out from bottles and the lining used for canned foods, and says that it doesn’t pose a threat to infants or adults.

Some environmental groups questioned the timing of the FDA’s report, noting California lawmakers are expected to soon vote on removing bisphenol from children’s products. If signed into law, it would be the first state ban of the chemical. “For this to come out on a Friday afternoon, just before California takes action, it definitely raises some eyebrows,” said Renee Sharp, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. At least 10 states besides California are also considering bills to restrict use of the chemical [AP].

But industry groups say that the health scare regarding BPA is just a result of hype and fear-mongering, and say that the FDA has injected a note of reason into the debate. Steven Hentges, a researcher with the American Chemistry Council, says that consumers and companies that ditched bisphenol A made those decisions “very quickly, without having complete and final information.” Hentges says the studies that touched off concern “really aren’t very robust” [WebMD].

For more on what we don’t know about the chemicals found in plastics, see the recent DISCOVER investigation, “The Dirty Truth About Plastic.”

Image: flickr/foundphotoslj

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • fletc3her

    I guess those reactionary Canadians just don’t know what they’re doing. And heaven help us should we listen to the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

    The FDA, USDA, and other government agencies recently seem to be more concerned about the economic fallout that could be caused by the public concern about the safety of our food supply and consumer goods than they are about the actual health risks.

    I would say the jury is still out on BPA until we are able to see the original report rather than the one edited by the White House and industry groups.

  • Judy S.

    I’m Canadian and embarassed that our government succumbed to the fear-mongering over BPA, propagated in part by the media. I’m not saying that I think it’s safe, just that the knee-jerk response to the issue had me shaking my head. All those photos (like the one on this page) of innocent babies sucking on the agents of death didn’t help. What about the issue of cans lined with BPA? Not as emotional, but probably more pervasive. Research, please!

    Why not direct our energies towards something we know causes cancer, like cigarettes. I’d like to see Walmart pull THOSE of the shelves!

  • Judy S.

    Further to “fletc3her”‘s response: Generally, Canadians aren’t reactionary. In fact, we usually follow the lead of the US. Except for the Iraq war, of course.

    It might be beneficial for all if we joined forces where health-related research is concerned.

  • Nancy Holt

    Until the FDA, EPA, USDA and other federal regulatory agencies stop being controlled by the industries they are to regulate, we will never know what is a risk to our health. Industry paid scientists and universities are willing to compromise ethics and professional scientific validity for funding which leads to tenure or payment of an academic department. Human health is the victim of this greed and policy making. Conflict of interest for “paid for hire” research is often not disclosed; so how can we believe the FDA, EPA or USDA since they are “partners” with the industries they are supposed to regulate and monitor for protection of public health?

    This is one of the most shameful aspects of the US government ever seen because as “partners” with the industries to be regulated is to be complicit with any pseudoscientific garbage produced by “friendly” scientists. Independent scientists and those without industry backing are attacked by the industry. This is another example of agency complicity to state that there is no evidence that BPA could/would cause multigenerational damage to human health. Industry wins again, human health zero wins so far.

  • Damian

    Hey, Eliza. This is a fun feature, and I’ve added it to my must-read morning news. Are you suffering from science fatigue yet, or the more serious, degenerative condition, science burn?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    I had a mild case of science rash, but then I went on vacation for a week and it cleared right up.

    Joking, of course. I love being a conduit. I think it’s neat that science news flows from the world, through my brain and tapping fingers, and then goes, streamlined, out to you.

  • Eric

    I am one to agree that small amounts of chemicals are relatively safe, as our bodies have evolved to process and eliminate toxins. What I find hard to believe is that it’s still safe to take a “safe” level of this BPA toxin, and also all of the “safe” levels of toxins in every other product that we buy/injest/breathe. I’m thinking that adding up all of these “trace amounts” of harmful chemicals equals a dangerous level.

    Not sure if it’s true, but I’ve heard that the insecticides and chemicals farmers put on fruit and vegetables were only approved by the FDA assuming that consumers WASH the fruit and vegatables with DISH SOAP. Now, I know a lot of people that simply rinse the fruit under water, and a lot that don’t even both with that.

  • Damian

    Nifty. Normally I run through “Science Blog” and SlashDot science every morning. The former is just a list of press releases (very little filtering) and the latter can be a bit exclusive and cluttered with comments (maybe too filtered).

    This site reads like a happy combination of the two, with a light and conversational sense of moderation and a good tempo.

    One critique: the blue font you use for quoted material is indistinguishable from the normal black on my monitor. It could be just me, of course. Light blue would come across as a link… Maybe try purple some day.

    Drop me an email some time on your other projects.

    And tell Chris hi for me.

  • beach bum

    I agree with the post saying that we have so *many* exposures to “trace amounts” of chemicals, that who can say for sure we won’t reach a harmful level. It is better to be safe than sorry. There is currently a bill in Congress proposing that manufacturers PROVE chemicals are safe before using them, instead of just apologizing and recalling them after they give us cancer. Seems like a more insightful approach…

  • Gil Figueroa

    I believe the people responding to this topic have valid points, but I think we are missing the main point.
    #1. BPA, a plastic-hardening chemical, is similar to the hormone estrogen.

    We do not know how hormones work and interact in our bodies at various stages of development and how they produce the affects we observe. Inserting hormone mimics into our bodies is extremely dangerous and it may take decades to understand the impacts.

    Allowing BPA in plastics that hold food and beverages is negligent. I compare this to the threat of global warming. There is no absolute proof that we are experiencing global warming and by the time it is absolutely certain, it will be too late. We may fool ourselves into believing BPA is not harmful, but we should see that it is probably not safe. So why use it? Is it impossible to make plastic without BPA today? No, otherwise Canada and California coudn’t ban BPA.

  • Diane Hitchens

    Adults don’t usually drink from baby bottles. What is a safe level of BPA for an infant? Does the plastic that baby bottles are made from have a smaller amount of BPA in it? I highly doubt it!

  • Dr Engineer

    When one is able to step back and look at the hue and cry raised over health concerns, often the researchers from both sides of the argument can be found to have ‘someone’ with a monetary interest in the outcome providing the funding for the research. Thus I find the approach the FDA is taking, weighing the research from all of the studies, to be a logical. It remains to be seen if the FDA, or other regulatory bodies, will be ‘encouraged’ by financial backers. Cases in point – asbestos vs. silica; lead vs. molybdenum/iron/titanium; tobacco???; hormone fed animals; overeating???

    Basically we are surrounded by things that can harm us in certain concentrations. Yet, life span is generally increasing. And yet we complain. I think a better use of our time can be found…

  • EDavey

    It is to be hoped that scientific investigation of the exposure to environmental hormone mimics will encompass both genders. Declining sperm counts have justly raised alarms, yet the declining age of menarche has received little scrutiny. This decline has had stark social consequences.
    Average age of menarche is now about 10 years (compared with 16-17 years a few generations ago). Sexual maturity and the accompanying emotions now arrive many years before children have adequate mental maturity to cope with impulsive behaviors. Emotions are body/brain chemistry. I realize that it’s so easy to just blame the girls.. and advocate abstinence education ..and restrict birth control…and worry only about the boys.

  • geeta

    While I agree that the regulations or lack of it is mostly dictated by influential organisations looking for business gains and the research findings are influenced by the necessity to publish, it is good that Walmart has taken steps to pull the product in question out of their shelves. Comment on helping cigerette addicts is silly given such a large scale awareness on this product for such a long time and the warning on every pack. It is sold, like the alcoholic and other beverages, only for revenue purposes, after making the harmful effects loud and clear.
    Certain harmful ingredients that can be replaced by certain other safe ones should be made aware of, though cution should be used to asceratin they do not cause some other harm ( like the sugar substitutes)

  • Cynthia

    Im doing a research paper and I was wondering if BPA can affect animals in any way?

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