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Prolific Plastic Products Pose Problems — FDA Fails Again

September 4, 2013

Early this past spring, we published an article titled “The Slip between the Cup and the Lip: The FDA’s Lax Regulation of Potentially Harmful Products,” which elaborated on yet another example of the relative inability of the FDA to regulate products and chemicals that may pose a threat to the health of consumers (and in this instance, children). This is certainly part of a trend on this blog as of late and it is one that needs our attention. The chemical in question, bisphenol A (also known as BPA), may be found in many items you encounter every day: reusable plastic water bottles, safety equipment, thermal paper (sales receipts), and the lining of aluminum food cans. Many researchers have noted, however, that when heated, bisphenol A has a tendency to leach from bottles and containers and into the food and beverage products themselves.

Past studies have linked BPA exposure to a great number of ailments (as reported in articles from CBS News and Time magazine): irregularities in the endocrine system, altering hormonal patterns, heart and kidney problems, behavioral disorders, reproductive system disorders, immune system failures, early puberty, asthma, and even cancer. But, a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that increased BPA levels may also correlate to childhood obesity and a higher risk of diabetes.

“We found a higher odds of obesity with increasing quartiles of BPA […] We also found a higher odds of having an abnormal waist circumference-to-height ratio,” the study’s authors write. They continue, “Higher levels of urinary BPA were associated with a higher odds of obesity and abnormal waist circumference-to-height ratio. Longitudinal analyses are needed to elucidate temporal relationships between BPA exposure and the development of obesity and chronic disease risk factors in children.”

Martha Garcia, also writing about several BPA studies, claims that these University of Michigan doctors had expected the presence of the chemical to raise risk factors for other chronic illnesses and were surprised when it did not. However, she adds, “Researchers say this may be because BPA’s adverse effects may compound over time contributing to other health effects that occur later in life, much past childhood.”

As we explained last time we addressed the issue of BPA, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to take any action in limiting its use in manufacturing other than a recent decision to ban it from baby bottles and children’s “sippy cups.” The FDA argues that we simply do not know how harmful the chemical is in small doses. Time journalist Bryan Walsh writes, “Human beings are exposed to such tiny amounts of BPA–perhaps 0.2 micrograms per kg of bodyweight per day for adults, well below the 24-year-old federal safety threshold of 50 micrograms per kg. If BPA is a threat to human health–and many scientists believe it is–the damage is being done in microscopic doses.”

The debate about BPA has been ongoing for years and shows no signs of slowing down, but these studies illustrate time and time again that it can cause harm even in relatively small doses. Hopefully this additional pressure will help to persuade regulators and overseers that dangerous chemicals like BPA do not belong in our food containers or in our children’s toys.

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