Bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical commonly found in hard plastics — has for the first time been linked to female reproductive disorders in a strongly-worded statement released by 38 scientists and published online in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. The compound, which is used in a variety of consumer items such as polycarbonate plastic baby bottles, microwave oven dishes and sports bottles, often seeps from containers and enters the bodies of humans.
After reviewing close to 700 studies, the scientists determined that people are regularly exposed to BPA levels that exceed those harmful to lab animals — singling out infants and fetuses as the most vulnerable. The statement was accompanied by a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that found that uterine damage caused by BPA exposure in newborn animals might predict a host of reproductive disorders in women — including endometriosis, cystic ovaries, fibroids and cancers. While earlier studies had linked early-stage cancers and lower sperm counts in animals to low BPA doses, no study had ever linked exposure to female reproductive diseases.Not surprisingly, the plastics industry balked at the findings, labeling the scientists as biased and alarmist; they also rejected the BPA link to reproductive diseases as unfounded and based on uncertain science. Representatives cited the conclusions reached by two government scientific committees in Europe and Japan — that decided there was insufficient evidence to restrict BPA's use because of metabolic differences between mice and humans — as proof of BPA's safe use.
Frederick vom Saal, a reproductive toxicologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia, countered by claiming: "There is essentially no difference in the way that rat or mouse cells respond to BPA and the way that humans respond to it," adding that while the amount in humans "may seem like an incredibly small amount, it causes effects in human cells at the part-per-trillion level." Though no studies have yet been conducted linking BPA exposure to direct human effects, the scientists hope to generate interest in human research with their statement.
"We know what doses the animals were given, and when we look at humans, we see blood levels within that range or actually higher, which is a cause of concern and should stimulate more human research," said Jerrold Heindel of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. A panel set up by the NIH's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction — responsible for a preliminary BPA report released earlier this year that was drafted by a consulting firm with financial ties to the chemical industry — will convene next week to decide whether to declare the chemical a human reproductive toxin.
Here's at least hoping that sound science eventually wins the day in clarifying this worrisome health issue, regardless of the outcome. If BPA is labeled a human reproductive toxin, however, you can bet that we'll soon witness a significant decline in the use of plastics unless measures are taken to replace the chemical with something more benign.
See also: ::Bag Ban Phase 2: All Retail Stores, ::Smartcycle Offers a Better Alternative to Plastic Packaging, ::Hollywood Pigeons to be Put on Birth Control
Image courtesy of tanakawho via flickr