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Ask the Ecologist July 2008

READ IT HERE • WEB ONLY ARTICLE Q:  I’ve read about the chemical Bisphenol A being in some types of plastic. Is Bisphenol A hazardous to our health? What plastics should we avoid? Is this chemical still being put in plastics?  A: As with most chemical studies, Bisphenol A safety analyses are done using animals, so the results are not conclusive as to the human effect.  But the results do raise some serious concerns.  Potentially harmful effects include permanent changes to genitals, changes in breast tissue that predispose cells to hormones or cancer, and increased prostate weight and sensitivity to cancer. With these somewhat scary effects, the United States Environmental Protection Agency still officially considers up to fifty µg/kg/day (parts per billion or PPB) to be safe.  This is more than ten times the dosage that causes many of the health effects described above (in animals).  The FDA has set up a task force to address concerns, but it maintains that Bisphenol A is safe and is not recommending that people avoid using products made from it. Whether you believe the government or not, is Bisphenol A really getting into us?  The answer is yes.  Bisphenol A is known to leach from the plastic lining of canned foods and, to a lesser degree, polycarbonate plastics that are cleaned with harsh detergents or used to contain acidic or high-temperature liquids.  The Center for Disease Control found Bisphenol A in the urine of 95% of adults sampled in 1988-1994 and in 93% of children and adults tested in 2003-04. At this point, Bisphenol A is still being used in types 3 and 7 plastic containers.  These are plastics with either the number 3 or 7 inside the triangular symbol on the bottom of the container.  Almost all exposure is through our diet, and infants fed with liquid formula are among the most exposed. The most concern has been raised over these types of plastic in baby bottles because of the sensitivity of infants to chemicals, and the frequent use of bottles that causes the plastic bottle lining to break down and leach Bisphenol A.  Will we always have to look at the bottom of all containers to know whether they are safe to use?  For now we do.  But if Canada and ten US states successfully lead the way, we won’t in the future.  In April, Canada announced that it intends to ban the import, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing Bisphenol-A because the margin of safety was considered too low for formula-fed infants. Ten US states, unfortunately not including Wisconsin, now have legislation pending that would affect the use of Bisphenol A. Nationally, US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation that would ban the chemical from products for infants.  In addition, Congress is investigating the Weinberg Group, a chemical industry consulting firm, for its role in downplaying the health effects of Bisphenol A and other chemicals.  So what to do?  I would suggest caution.  Go through all of your plastic containers, water bottles, and baby bottles and throw away any that have a 3 or 7 symbol or reuse them for non-food purposes only.  Send your ecological inquiries to our resident ecologist at