A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics found a link between levels of bisphenol-A in pregnant moms and behavioral problems such as anxiety and hyperactivity in their daughters at age 3. No such effects were seen in boys. BPA has estrogen-like activity and can lead to developmental and behavioral problems in animals—but whether or not it does the same in humans, and at what dosages, is a subject of considerable debate. This study won’t settle the debate but highlights the need to answer some basic questions about BPA that remain surprisingly unclear.
A report (pdf) by the Washington Toxics Coalition found that the potentially harmful plastic chemical Bisphenol A is present in low levels on most money and about half of thermal paper receipts tested in a small study. As many researchers are concerned about the possible health effects of the hormone-disrupting chemical, this new evidence of BPA’s ubiquity in our modern lives is setting off new alarms. But are the levels found on money and receipts significant?
While most customers worry about ingesting BPA due to its presence in plastic bottles, canned foods linings, and other plastic containers, it can also be absorbed through the skin, says the coalition. Thermal paper (frequently used in receipts) is often made with a coating of BPA powder, which could be an unexplored exposure route to the chemical–especially for cashiers.
The coalition tested 22 thermal paper receipts and 22 dollar bills collected from around the country. Eleven of the receipts were positive for BPA (comprising up to 2.2 percent of the total receipt weight) and 21 of the dollar bills were, though at much lower levels. The researchers suggest that BPA may be tranferred from receipts to money when people handle them together or stuff them together into a wallet.
“Our findings demonstrate that BPA cannot be avoided, even by the most conscious consumer,” said Erika Schreder, Staff Scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report. “This unregulated use of large amounts of BPA is having unintended consequences, including exposure to people when we touch receipts.” [press release]
Cleanliness is a virtue, but it’s possible to overdo it–that’s the message from a new study, which found that antibacterial soap may be doing teenagers more harm than good. The study found that the more teenagers are exposed to the antibiotic triclosan, the more likely they are to suffer from allergies and hayfever.
The researchers also looked at the effects of the widely used plastic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), and found signs that teenagers with more BPA exposure may have immune system problems. The study was the first of its kind to examine the link between these two chemicals and immune dysfunction, which had only previously been studied in animals. Both chemicals are endocrine-disruptors, which means they may mimic or interfere with the body’s natural hormones.
“Many research studies show an association between exposure to environmental chemicals and different disease outcomes. There is a lack of data, however, examining whether exposure to these chemicals may affect our immune systems,” Erin Rees Clayton, a researcher from the University of Michigan school of public health said in an email. [The Montreal Gazette]
The Canadian government today declared bisphenol A, a chemical in plastics also known as BPA, to be toxic.
A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment [Official notice]
The chemical has been linked to heart disease, impotence, and diabetes, while animal and cell culture experiments have shown that it can mimic the female hormone estrogen. It is found in some plastic containers, and some food cans are lined with it.
While Canada is forging ahead, most other governments are dithering about whether or not the chemical poses a health threat.
How much exposure is too much, though? There is no clear answer. Two weeks ago, the European Food Safety Authority declared that BPA did not pose sufficient risk to stop using it in food containers. While tiny amounts can leach out into food, they cannot raise human exposure to unacceptably risky levels, the authority concluded after an assessment of existing scientific studies. [Nature]