Scientists: Plastics pose risk
In an unusual effort targeting a single chemical, several dozen scientists Thursday issued a strongly worded consensus statement warning that an estrogen-like compound in plastic is likely to be causing an array of serious reproductive disorders in people.
The compound, bisphenol A or BPA, is one of the highest-volume chemicals in the world and has found its way into the bodies of most human beings.
Used to make hard plastic, BPA can seep from beverage containers and other materials. It is used in all polycarbonate plastic baby bottles, as well as other rigid plastic items, including large water cooler containers, sports bottles and microwave-oven dishes, along with canned food liners and some dental sealants for children.
The scientists – including four from federal health agencies – reviewed about 700 studies before concluding that people are exposed to levels of the chemical exceeding those that harm lab animals. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable, they said.
The statement, published online by the journal Reproductive Toxicology, was accompanied by a new study by researchers from the National Institutes of Health finding uterine damage in newborn animals exposed to BPA. That damage is a possible predictor of reproductive diseases in women, including fibroids, endometriosis, cystic ovaries and cancers. It is the first time BPA has been linked to female reproductive tract disorders, although earlier studies have found early-stage prostate and breast cancer and decreased sperm counts in animals exposed to low doses.
The scientists’ statement and new study – along with five accompanying scientific reviews that summarize the 700 studies – intensify a highly contentious debate over whether the plastic compound poses a public threat. So far no governmental agency here or abroad has restricted its use.
Representatives of the plastics industry on Thursday lambasted the scientists as alarmist and biased, and said they based their conclusions on inconsistent and uncertain science.
“Considering many of these people have made their views known in the past, is there any surprise? Is there really anything new?” said Steve Hentges of the American Chemistry Council’s polycarbonate/BPA group.
Hentges said the scientists who signed the statement were self-selected, leaving out many experts, and that many have conflicts of interest because they have either studied BPA and reported effects or “have already taken a very clear advocacy position.
“They are completely at odds with the findings of every governmental scientific body that has reviewed the same science,” he said.
Next week, a U.S. expert panel convenes to decide whether to declare BPA a human reproductive toxin, which could be a first step toward federal regulation.
Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri at Columbia reproductive toxicologist, said the scientists’ statement on BPA “is very different than any other approach to any chemical.”
“We now have, without a doubt, the most comprehensive set of documents covering every aspect of bisphenol A and the hope here is that government panels will actually look at this information, digest it, and incorporate it into their decision-making,” said vom Saal, who is the most vocal scientist studying BPA.
No studies have been conducted looking for effects in people, and one goal of the scientists who signed the statement is to generate human research.
Jerrold Heindel, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who organized a meeting last fall to begin drafting the statement, said even though there have been no human studies of BPA, there is now so much animal data that the 38 experts believe that potential human damage is likely. More than 150 studies have found health effects in animals exposed to low doses.