Monday, May 26, 2008

City Council Looking Into Bisphenol A in Baby Bottles

The Boston City Council will be holding hearings Thursday afternoon on the potential health impacts of the chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA, C15H16O2) that is used in the manufacture of many baby bottles. Councilor-At-Large John Connolly, chair of the council's Committee on Environment and Health, called for the hearing.

BPA is commonly used to manufacture hard plastics that are also transparent, such as the water bottles made by Nalgene, as well as the linings in canned and bottled foods and drinks. The chemical has been linked to concerns over various neural and behavioral problems particularly in young children. The National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health recently issued a draft report on BPA concluding that:
there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females. [emphasis in original]
Why would the Boston City Council take up the case of possibly banning the sale of baby bottles made with BPA since such issues are usually in the domain of the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission?

Because the federal government has been way behind the curve on this topic -- avoiding or delaying regulatory action on BPA, possibly in part due to influence exerted by the chemical manufacturing industry.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a two-part investigative report in November 2007 on the health impacts of BPA and how agencies in the federal government were failing to act to regulate its manufacture or use. Their report found that "the federal government's assurances that [BPA] is safe are based on outdated U.S. government studies and research heavily funded by the chemical industry." Bill Moyer's Journal this week carried a story about the Journal Sentinel's coverage which you can watch online (or also on demand with Comcast).

Steven Hentges of the American Chemical Council -- the chemical industry's trade association that also runs a Political Action Committee that spent $2.39 million in federal lobbying in 2007 and $85,000 in Massachusetts state lobbying in 2007 -- will be speaking at the hearing. (Hentges is not a registered lobbyist either with the state or federal governments.)

After Canada banned the import and sale of plastic baby bottles containing BPA, Hentges criticized such bans as not being based on science. Oddly, the American Chemistry Council even issued a press release after Canada's ban quoting Hentges claiming that “the weight of scientific evidence, as assessed by Health Canada and other agencies around the world, provides reassurance that consumers can continue to safely use products made from bisphenol A." Turning a government's move to ban a product into a statement that the product is safe sounds like more spin than a Tasmanian Devil.

Also speaking at the hearing will be Mia Davis, National Grassroots Coordinator with the Clean Water Fund and co-author of the book "Baby's Toxic Bottle," and Dr. Michael Shannon, Chair of the Division of Emergency Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Boston.

How do you know if a particular hard plastic product contains BPA? There is no way to know, since disclosure of its presence is not required to be reported. That's part of the problem. Nonetheless, apparently only plastics falling under categories 3 and 7 (the recycling numbers on the bottom of the bottle) potentially contain BPA.

San Francisco banned baby bottles containing BPA in December 2006, but never enforce their ban and later rescinded it. Canada banned them in April 2008, and Senator Charles Schumer has introduced legislation to ban them in the U. S. Ten states have legislation currently pending for their own bans on the bottles. Nalgene and Fisher Scientific have announced that they will stop producing the bottles, and Wal-mart and Toys-R-Us/Babies-R-Us are phasing out carrying bottles made with BPA.

Scientific Consensus Reached

The NIH convened a panel of experts in November 2006 to assess the literature relating to "concerns about the potential for a relationship between BPA and negative trends in human health that have occurred in recent decades." The panel issued a series six papers in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, including the consensus statement of the participants (vom Saal et al. 2007, Reproductive Toxicology, 24, 131-138, "Chapel Hill bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement"):
...Human exposure to BPA is within the range that is predicted to be biologically active in over 95% of people sampled. The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans. Recent trends in human diseases relate to adverse effects observed in experimental animals exposed to low doses of BPA. Specific examples include: the increase in prostate and breast cancer, uro-genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men, early onset of puberty in girls, metabolic disorders including insulin resistant (type 2) diabetes and obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There is extensive evidence that outcomes may not become apparent until long after BPA exposure during development has occurred... These developmental effects are irreversible and can occur due to low dose exposure during brief sensitive periods in development, even though no BPA may be detected when the damage or disease is expressed. [emphasis added]
Note that the consensus statement of the 38 scientists convened for this panel addressed the health impacts of low doses of BPA, particularly emphasizing the evidence for long-term, irreversible effects initiated due to exposure during early childhood development. This is the apparent reason why recent concerns have focused on baby bottles, rather than linings for food and soda cans.

City Council Hearing

Date: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time: 3:00 pm

Location: Iannella Chamber, 5th Floor of Boston City Hall

Other people will be allowed to testify at the hearing.

Image of Nalgene bottle by ryanmack provided through a Creative Commons license.

No comments: