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September 6, 2010
In Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final
The research has been going on for more than 10 years. Studies number in the hundreds. Millions
of dollars have been spent. But government health officials still cannot decide whether the
, or BPA, a component of some plastics, is safe. The substance lines most
food and drink cans, and is used to make hard, clear plastic bottles, containers and countless
other products. Nearly everyone is exposed to it.
Concerns about BPA stem from studies in lab animals and cell cultures showing it can mimic the
. It is considered an “endocrine disruptor,” a term applied to chemicals that can
act like hormones. But whether it does any harm in people is unclear.
Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted,
with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other
regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.
About half a dozen states have banned BPA in children’s products, and Senator
hopes to accomplish the same nationwide, with an amendment to
the food safety bill
for a vote in the Senate next week.
This year, a
presidential panel on cancer and the environment
said there was a “growing link”
between BPA and several diseases, including
, and recommended ways to avoid BPA, like
storing water in bottles free of it and not microwaving food in plastic containers. Some cancer
experts said the report overstated the case against chemicals, but the concerns it raised seemed to
reflect growing public worries.
Consumer fears have made the words “BPA-free” a marketing tool. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods,
Sears, CVS and other retailers have said they will stop selling baby bottles made with BPA, and
major formula and baby-bottle manufacturers have also scrapped it. Worried people have purged
their homes of plastics labeled 7. (Products are numbered for recycling; those with BPA carry a 7,
but not everything with a 7 contains BPA). Nalgene, which makes popular water bottles, quit
using BPA when customers began complaining about it. Sunoco, one of the companies that makes