Thursday, May 1, 2008

Inside the 120 Year Old Toxic History of BPA

--body + mind + spirit--

Last weeks news of Canada's outright ban on BPA from baby bottles finally set the wheels in motion this week, for major retailers to take a stand against the toxic chemical. This week both Toys R Us (that also owns Babies R Us) and Wal Mart have committed to phase out all baby bottles and other baby feeding products containing BPA by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council still maintains that products with BPA are safe and that "consumer product bans are not supported by science."

"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," stated Steven G. Hentges, Ph.D., of the American Chemistry Council's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group. "Consumer products made from polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, including products for infants and children, are accepted as safe for use, and used, around the world."

But while the BPA Group is claiming safety, the 120 year old history of the chemicals - speaks otherwise. In fact, after the invention of BPA by chemists in 1891, toxicity links were found as early as the 1930's. Even in the 1930's scientists discovered that BPA was actually an artificial estrogen. Its use as a pharmaceutical hormone was precluded by the invention of another synthetic chemical, DES, with even more potent estrogenic properties. DES was later taken off the market when it was linked to reproductive cancers in girls born to mothers taking DES during pregnancy. In retrospect, this was clearly an early warning signal for the similar toxic properties confirmed for BPA many years later

By the 1940's BPA was used in plastics and since then has managed to stay "beneath the regulatory radar" and evade accountability through heavy politicking. One particularly critical moment in time, in 1976, the BPA slipped through the regulatory fingers when Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act. This act was the first law to regulate industrial chemicals. BPA was one of the 62,000 chemicals "grandfathered in" - and presumed safe by the EPA with no evaluation of the evidence.

What proceeded for the three decades was a clear evasion of accountability and responsibility on the dangers of the substance to the public. Here are some time line highlights (which you can get in full on the Environmental Working Group Site)

  • 1982: Government assessment of BPA toxicity holds no regulatory weight.
  • 1988: EPA's safety standard for BPA is up to 25 times higher than harmful levels.
  • March 13, 1996: First FDA assessment of Americans' exposures to BPA. (A memorandum from FDA technical staff estimate that through contaminated canned food, adults are exposed to 11 micrograms of BPA daily, while infants are exposed to 7 micrograms per day)
  • March 1997: Studies show BPA to be toxic at levels that are in people (Over the next 11 years the body of literature on low-dose BPA toxicity will grow to include more than 100 publications linking BPA to breast and prostate damage, early puberty, behavioral problems, and other effects at levels up to 25 times lower than EPA's "safe" dose.)
  • November 1997: Government tests reveal BPA contamination in infant formula.
  • May 1999: BPA found to leach from baby bottles.
  • May 1999: FDA publicly asserts the safety of BPA for bottle-fed infants, ignoring emerging evidence of low-dose BPA toxicity
  • October 1999: Scientist from the University of Missouri report in the Journal Nature that exposure to BPA hastens puberty in female mice.
  • 2002: Study finds brain and behavioral effects from BPA exposure
  • 2003: BPA to be evaluated for risks to people, spearhead by the National Institute of Health (NIH). NIH hires an industry contractor to lead the assessment, Sciences International (SI).
  • 2003-2006: Industry consultant conducts initial BPA assessment, hand picks gov't advisory panel. (15 Hand picked scientists serve on the expert government advisory panel and are charged with reviewing SI's assessments and making recommendations on BPA toxicity, but they deliberately exclude from the panel all scientists who have significant expertise in BPA, because of concerns that expertise may inject bias into the evaluation process)
  • December 2006: Report by industry consultant and advisory panel tows industry line - "BPA is safe."(Report largely written by SI)
  • First half of 2007: Industry influence on BPA science is revealed, Agency fires contractor
  • Entire Second half of 2007: Government panel ignores low-dose BPA toxicity in favor of industry studies, BPA experts warn of health risks.
  • Late 2007, Early 2008 - FDA and infant formula manufacturers' positions on safety of BPA for babies come under fire, Congress investigates (April 4, 2008: Congress again demands that FDA reveal the basis of its assertions that BPA is safe)
  • Spring 2008 - Government finds BPA poses risks to humans, Wal-Mart and other retailers pull BPA products from shelves (by April April 16, 2008: Congress calls on FDA to reassess its safety standards for BPA based on new concerns over health risks)

Will other retailers follow suit? Will a 120 year history of feeding this toxic chemical to the population come to an end? The final chapter on this sad saga has yet to be written. For now, be smart, stay safe and be informed on the plastic based products you are buying. Take the initiative and research what you purchase...the information universe is literally at your fingertips.

(Sources: Environmental Working Group, Consumer Reports, Washington Post)

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