Bisphenol A: If you’re alarmed, learn why

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Bisphenol A. The name seems vaguely worrisome -- synthetic (not that this is necessarily a bad thing) and non-apple-pie-ish (I’d argue this is). But the headlines are downright alarming, depending on your reading material. Now the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, has released its final report on the possible human effects of bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical added to plastics to make it stronger.

In short: The folks there are concerned. Not alarmed, but concerned.

Specifically, the report states that the program has:

* some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.


* minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for puberty in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.

* negligible concern that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.

* negligible concern that exposure to bisphenol A will cause reproductive effects in non-occupationally exposed adults and minimal concern for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings.

The final report isn’t a surprise, conclusive though it seems, as it essentially backs up the draft report released in the spring. The L.A. Times reported then: Chemical in plastic may harm children.

But now Yale University researchers have announced that the chemical may damage the connections between brain cells, possibly leading to memory problems or depression. That research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted in primates and though not exactly final, certainly is provocative. It adds to the growing hysteria, uproar, fear, worry, mild concern, general curiosity, irritation at the hubbub (choose your reaction) about the chemical.

Meanwhile, California legislators are pondering the worthiness of a bill that would ban the chemical from products marketed to children under age 3. Those include baby bottles, sippy cups, formula cans and the like. Said David Lazarus, consumer reporter for the Los Angeles Times, recently: ‘The fact that U.S. authorities have found at least some risk that BPA could be harmful to children should be sufficient reason to act.’

If you’ve managed to tune out the coverage and are feeling remiss -- or are simply confused about some aspect, we’re here to help. Check out these Times offerings:

A Closer Look: Are plastic’s safety claims shatterproof? From the story: ‘The chemical acts a lot like estrogen if it’s introduced into the body -- and evidence now shows this happens to just about everybody every day.’

Are plastics safe? This provides a look at the evidence on other chemicals too -- phthalates and more.

But the report is the main thing. Not to worry, there’s an abstract (a sort of shortened, distilled version) at the beginning. At least read that.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Bisphenol A has been found in many plastic baby bottles.