BPA food can

Toxic Chemical Safety Bill May Protect Children from BPA

Dr. Sam Epstein 

Dr. Samuel S. Epstein. Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., is urging public support for the recently introduced Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, which establishes a program to review and protect children from risks of toxic exposures, including Bisphenol-A (BPA), a common chemical in consumer goods.

Epstein, who also is chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, points out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed BPA as "a chemical of concern" and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)has previously expressed "concerns about the chemical's hormonal effect on human health." However, the American Chemistry Council claims "that BPA is not a risk to the environment at current low levels."

BPA is widely used in polycarbonate bottles, such as baby products, adult personal care and cosmetic products, food can linings, microwave oven dishes, dental sealants, and medical devices. BPA was identified recently on cash register and credit-card receipts, which are coated with microscopic powdered BPA.

A 2007 review of about 700 studies on BPA, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, found that fetuses and infants are highly vulnerable to the toxic hormonal effects of this ingredient, technically known as an "endocrine disruptor."

In addition to toxic effects, exposure of pregnant rodents to BPA (at levels 2,000 times lower than EPA's "safe dose") resulted in sexual abnormalities in their offspring. These abnormalities include an increased number of "terminal end buds" in breast tissue, which are associated with a subsequent high risk of breast cancer. However, an American Plastics Council spokesman claimed that the human relevance of these findings is only "hypothetical."

Epstein also noted that BPA has been found in human blood, placental and fetal tissue, and incriminated as a predisposing factor for prostate cancer.

The 2009 Endocrine Disruption Act authorized the National Institute of Environmental Health Science to coordinate research on hormone disruption "that can undermine the development of children before they are born and cause lifelong impairment of their health and function."

This bill was supported by public health, consumer, and children's advocacy groups and further strengthened by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's legislation to ban BPA from food and beverage containers. This legislation has been endorsed by the President's Cancer Panel On "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now," 2008-2009 Annual Report. This report further warns that "to a disturbing extent, babies are born pre-polluted."

There are safe alternatives to BPA. As emphasized in Epstein's book, Toxic Beauty, the recent development of "green chemistry" has encouraged the phase-out of product packaging that relies on petrochemical plastic containers, particularly those containing BPA. These containers are now being replaced with biodegradable substitutes, including recycled paper. Such "green" packaging reduces energy use, greenhouse gases, and non-degradable or poorly degradable wastes currently disposed of in landfills.

In January, FDA announced an "Update on BPA," with particular reference to its use in food packaging, plastic baby bottles, feeding cups, and metal containers, to avoid childhood exposure. However, FDA has still not taken any regulatory action to this effect. Meanwhile, the industry's Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel does not even make any reference to BPA in its annual "safety assessments."

"The passage of [the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010] is urgently needed in order to ban BPA from food packaging and other consumer products, especially to prevent any further childhood exposure," Epstein concluded.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; The 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medalist for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and author of more than 270 scientific articles and 20 books on the causes and prevention of cancer.

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