Controversial Plastics Chemical Causes Problems in Monkey Brains

By Eliza Strickland | September 4, 2008 9:41 am

Nalgene bottles A new study of a chemical commonly used in plastic containers found that it causes damage to monkey’s brains, raising new concerns over the chemical’s possible effects on humans. The chemical, called bisphenol A or BPA, has been the source of controversy for months as government agencies and scientists have gone back and forth on whether the substance is a health threat. BPA has been in commercial use since the 1950s, and is found in baby bottles, water bottles, in the lining used for canned goods, and many other items.

In the latest study, the research team exposed monkeys to levels of bisphenol A deemed safe for humans by the Environmental Protection Agency and found that the chemical interfered with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood. “Our findings suggest that exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function,” the authors wrote [Washington Post].

These findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], come just after a group of government experts released a report saying they have “some concern” the chemical is linked to health and developmental problems…. The report, released by the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, doesn’t say BPA should be banned but that more research is necessary to understand how the chemical affects human health [The Wall Street Journal]. However, just last month the Food and Drug Administration released its own draft report stating that the amount of BPA that leaches out of containers is too small to harm anyone, including infants.

The American Chemical Council has maintained that BPA is safe, and says that animal studies can’t determine whether the chemical has an impact on humans. Meanwhile, consumers are caught in the middle of the argument, whiplashed by blasts of conflicting information. Says National Toxicology Program spokesman Michael Shelby: “Unfortunately, it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information…. If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA” [WebMD].

For more on what BPA might be doing to the human body, see the DISCOVER article, “The Dirty Truth About Plastic.”

Image: flickr/drummerguy8706

Related Post: FDA Declares Chemical in Baby Bottles Safe, but Doubts Remain

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

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