by Danielle Knight
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
coalition of health, consumer and environmental
groups want U.S. regulators to remove potentially harmful chemicals used to
make plastic food containers, including baby bottles and bowls in use around
The groups sounded a warning bell May 12 following recent scientific findings that showed higher levels of the synthetic chemical bisphenol-A, known as BPA, leaching from plastic bowls and baby bottles.
Researchers said the chemical had disrupted normal hormonal functioning and caused adverse health affects in laboratory test animals, even at very low doses. BPA also was used as an "inert" ingredient in the manufacture of pesticides.
"Baby bottles shouldn't release any chemical -- let alone one that has been shown to function in the body like a hormone," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust.
young baby's body developed rapidly in response to tiny, perfectly-timed
hormonal signals, said the coalition, which included the Public Interest
Research Group, Children's Defense Fund and Physicians for Social
"We have no way of knowing the subtle ways that an artificial hormone-like substance, like BPA, can interfere with that development," Clapp said.
The coalition petitioned Federal regulators to identify all ingredients used to formulate plastic food containers that may "migrate" into foods to which children routinely were exposed.
The groups wanted a strategy implemented that would permit the use of ingredients that leach out of the plastic only after manufacturers provided substantial evidence that the chemicals were safe.
The plastics industry and federal regulators, however, maintained their studies already proved the safety of the products.
"Calling for more research is appropriate," Susan Moore, spokeswoman for the American Plastics Council, told reporters. "But this is just another scare of the week. There is absolutely no evidence on the health impacts of these products on humans."
Asked why manufacturers did not use a new chemical alternative to BPA, Moore said that consumers preferred the clear durable plastic that could be made using bisphenol-A.
The coalition acknowledged the gap in data on the impact of the chemical on human health impacts but said that, since it had been proved BPA adversely affected animals and that it leached out of plastic, it should be phased out until further studies on human health are completed.
The groups sent their petition to several plastic manufacturers including Johnson and Johnson, Fisher Price and Gerber Products.
"We are dealing with a tremendous lack of information," said Frederick vom Saal, a leading researcher of BPA at the University of Missouri.
While human health impacts had not been studied, he had seen a wide variety of damage in the offspring of pregnant female mice when they were fed the chemical.
In recent studies, low doses of bisphenol A were found to cause reproductive malformations in male rat offspring, including deformed genitals and enlarged prostates, vom Saal said.
"We have the threat of a chemical that in an adult is not necessarily harmful, but in a developing fetus or a newborn poses a very unique and serious danger," he said.
In the current Journal of Health Science, a study by Koji Arizono and other researchers from the Prefectural University of Kumamoto and University of Nagasaki, Japan found that BPA in plastic tableware leached into hot liquid and that worn, scratched products leached greater amounts of the chemical.
As a result of these studies, the city of Yokohama banned the use of such plastic dishware in primary schools. It also ordered schools to discard tableware that had been in use for four years or longer.
Similar observations were made by the Consumers Union this month as well as in a 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study. Results showed the leaching of BPA from plastic at temperatures as low as 60 degrees Celsius.
George Pauli, director of the division of product policy at the FDA said the agency has looked into bisphenol-A leaching and it stands by its decades old approval that the baby bottles and other products are safe. It pointed to three industry conducted studies that concluded the chemical was safe even at low doses.
The industry studies, however, were flawed or generated resulted that appear to corroborate rather than disprove vom Saal's findings, said Thomas Natan, research director at the National Environmental Trust.
A recent study conducted by the Society for the Plastics Industry had a faulty control group, he said.
A study conducted by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology was recently reanalyzed by a scientist at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and found that contrary to the conclusion there actually is an increase in prostate weight from exposure to BPA.
"While there is certainly a need for further low-dose testing of BPA...it is not clear that industry claims of replicating vom Saal's method and disproving his results have any validity," said Natan.
The coalition declared that, in the light of all the new data, the regulatory agency needs to re-examine the issue.
"From a physicians point of view, we simply don't want to take risks," said Robert K. Musil, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "There are safe alternatives to this outdated 1950s plastic technology."
"This is not intended to scare parents," added Peter Houser, a scientific researcher on hormone disrupting chemicals and brain development at the University of Maryland Medical School. "We are just asking for caution."
May 17, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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