by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: BPA(Bisphenol-A)

Jul 17 2009

Regulation of bottled water: oops

There is so much wrong with bottled water that it’s hard to know where to begin (read Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania, for starters).  But let’s start with the fact that bottled water is the most brilliantly marketed product ever invented.  The companies get it practically free out of a tap and charge you a dollar or more – sometimes a lot more – for a quart or less).  The plastic bottles pollute the environment.  Worst of all, drinking bottled water makes people less apt to be vigilant about protecting public water supplies.

And it isn’t even regulated very well, or so says a report from the Government Accountability Office.  The title says it all: “Bottled water: FDA safety and consumer protections are often less stringent than comparable EPA protections for tap water.”  The report was released in time for congressional hearings on the topic.   Reporters had a lot of fun with the self-interested statements of industry people who testified.

None of this gets into the additional question of bisphenol A and other endocrine disrupters in plastic bottles that are sometimes used for water.  The Canadians are now saying that bisphenol A is safe at amounts commonly used, and so is a California expert committee.  The American Chemistry Council is pleased with these decisions.

Where does that leave us?  Defend tap water!  As for endocrine disrupters, stay tuned but why use bisphenol A when other alternatives are so readily available.

July 24 update: The International Bottled Water Association is suing a maker of steel water bottles for false advertising.  The bottle maker’s ads apparently suggested that plastic water bottles leak synthetic estrogens.   Bisphenol A must be causing serious problems for the bottled water industry, along with all those pesky enviromental concerns.

Jun 3 2009

Bisphenol A (BPA) saga gets more complicated

Keeping up with BPA is a headache.  BPA, you may recall from previous posts, is an endocrine disrupter increasingly associated with developmental disorders in experimental animals and with heart disease and diabetes in humans.  Is it OK to feed infants out of plastic bottles or not?

A new study out of Harvard says that BPA leaches out of plastic bottles even when what is in them is cold.  This, according to the investigators, means that even more BPA will get out when bottles are heated, as is typical of infant formulas.

But European and British Food Standards Agencies say they see no reason to review their previous decision that BPA is safe at current usage levels.

In contrast, the FDA has just announced that it intends to take another look at its previous judgment that BPA is safe.  This action is viewed as evidence that the new FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, means it when she says the agency’s decisions will henceforth be based on science, not politics.

As for the politics: the chemical industry says Chicago’s ban on plastic baby bottles and sippy cups is scientifically absurd.  And another industry group firmly denies that it was involved in a disinformation campaign using pregnant women to promote the safety of BPA.

Expect more of the same while waiting for the results of the FDA’s ongoing research review.  And in the meantime, why not switch to glass bottles for infant feeding (or breast feed for that matter)?

Apr 23 2009

Do endocrine disrupters cause asthma and obesity?

According to press reports, investigators from a Mt. Sinai School of Medicine project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Growing Up Healthy in East Harlem,” find higher levels of endocrine disrupters, mostly phthlates and bisphenol A, among obese girls (age six to eight) in East Harlem, as compared to girls who are not obese.   The actual research does not appear to be published yet – I can’t find it on the Epidemiology website – but the EPA’s site provides the latest report on the project.

Endocrine disrupters are widely used in food and beverage packaging materials, as well as things such as cosmetics, shampoos, lubricants, and paint. As I explained in earlier posts, federal agencies have been taking a hard look at such substances, particularly bisphenol A.  Their interim conclusion: such chemicals pose no harm at current levels of intake.

While waiting for more research or regulatory action, a group called As You Sow has asked food companies what they are doing about bisphenol A.  Its report, Seeking Safer Packaging, concludes that the companies it surveyed generally aren’t doing nearly enough.  A few companies – notably Hain Celestial, Heinz, and Nestle (no relation) do have plans to phase out these chemicals eventually.

Why isn’t there more research on endocrine disrupter chemicals?  Without it, we have only two choices: precaution or do nothing and see what happens.  In this instance, it looks like the evidence favors precaution.  Glass bottles, everybody!

Jan 28 2009

More on Bisphenol A

How serious a problem is Bisphenol A, the hormone-like substance that leaches from some plastic water bottles?  The answer: how would we know?  According to investigative reporter, David Case, most of the studies of bisphenol A toxicity are sponsored by corporations that spin the results.  Take a look at his most interesting January 14 report, The real story behind bisphenol A.

In theory, whoever is paying for a study should not matter.  In practice, the sponsor matters a lot.  It’s not that scientific investigators are corrupt; most aren’t.  But sponsorship – perhaps unconsciously – influences the design of studies as well as their interpretation.   According to Case, the bisphenol A studies are a good example of this phenomenon.  You can find other examples filed under Sponsorship.

Oct 31 2008

More fuss over bisphenol A

The FDA’s lack of concern (see previous post) about the safety of bisphenol A has now come under criticism from a subcommittee of its own science advisory board.  As described in USA Today, the board criticizes the FDA for relying too heavily on industry-funded studies and not holding the studies to rigorous scientific standards.    Here’s the board’s report.  An earlier story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal charged that the FDA used research – and a research summary –  provided by the plastics industry as the basis of its original conclusion that bisphenol A posed no problems.  It looks like this is turning out to be one of those unfortunate examples of industry interference with the risk assessment process.  The science of food toxicology is difficult enough without this sort of thing happening.  Alas.

Sep 18 2008

More problems with bisphenol A, maybe

A new study links bisphenol A, the chemical that leaches from #7 plastic bottles, with heart disease and diabetes.  People with higher levels of bisphenol A in their urine had a greater chance of having heart disease and diabetes.  Does this mean bisphenol A causes these conditions?  It could, but it also could mean that some other factor is responsible for both or this is just a coincidence.  While waiting for the inevitable further research, it seems reasonable to use something other than #7 plastic bottles (unless you know that the ones in the #7 category do not contain bisphenol A). The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association along with a cautionary editorial.

Sep 7 2008

More on bisphenol A: uh oh

Apparently, the National Toxicology Program has just reviewed the data on bisphenol A, the chemical that leaches from hard plastic water bottles.  Here is the NTP report.  The NTP says it is a little – not a lot – worried about it on the basis of limited and inconclusive studies.  The NTP used to be more worried about it, as expressed by its Board of Scientific Counselors on June 11.  This finding, of course, contradicts the FDA’s more optimistic assessmentAccording to the Washington Post, a recent study done at Yale finds the chemical to cause problems in the brains of monkeys.  The chemical industry says bisphenol A is harmless.  Consumer Reports (October 2008, p. 15) says its “tests of a limited number of baby bottles detected only trace amounts of BPA that are below levels likely to post a risk for infants.”  But then it recommends baby bottles made BPA-free plastic.  This confusing situation elicited a New York Times editorial urging caution: “When in doubt, especially when it comes to children, err on the side of caution.”  I agree.  While the scientists are fighting this one out, it seems best to practice avoidance.

The FDA is holding a hearing on bisphenol A on September 16.  Should be interesting.

Aug 28 2008

Bisphenol A is OK, says FDA

According to Food Chemical News, the FDA has just released a report exonerating bisphenol A from causing harm from the small amount that leaches from plastic bottles into what you and babies are drinking. I can’t find the report online but I will be most interested to see what it says. I hope the science is sound and the FDA’s assessment makes sense.

And here is the actual FDA report, so you can decide for yourself.

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