RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—New research analyzing dozens of studies looking at levels of the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, in humans has found that the two oft-cited studies that many governments rely on for safety data are flawed and inadequate for use in regulating the controversial chemical for human safety.
That's problematic because each year 8 billion tons of the chemical—which acts like estrogen in our bodies, and is linked to developmental and neurological problems in children and heart disease and breast and prostate cancers in adults—are manufactured around the world. About 100 million tons are released into the atmosphere, and it is now showing up in everything from surface and drinking water to beach sand and saltwater. Tests have even found the chemical present in some BPA-free baby bottles and plastics that aren't supposed to contain BPA, and in food samples taken from BPA-free cans.
THE DETAILS: Looking at the 80 published human biomonitoring studies that measured BPA levels in human urine, blood, tissues, and other fluids, researchers found high percentages of the chemical in virtually everyone tested. "The punch line of this article is that when looking at all of these small studies together, making one giant study out of them, the majority of individuals examined—regardless of age, sex, or where they live—are exposed to levels of BPA that affect animals and cells in lab tests," explains Laura N. Vandenberg, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. "And the levels in pregnant women and fetuses are what we would consider alarming."
In addition to the 80 studies showing damaging levels in humans, the researchers also found that the two toxicokinetic studies (in which people took BPA in pill form, and then researchers concluded it readily passed through the body, causing little harm) were flawed and cannot be reliable references for risk assessment. (These two studies are generally used to defend BPA's safety.)
Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was jumping into the fray to investigate BPA's effect on wildlife in the environment. An agency spokeswoman said the agency launched the investigation because of the high amount of BPA produced, the large amounts of environmental releases, its presence in human biomonitoring, and its reproductive and developmental toxicity. EPA is also coordinating with other federal agencies, including the Food & Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to look at potential human health concerns, a process that's likely to take about two years.
"If specific human health and environmental concerns are determined to be present, EPA will propose appropriate action based on that information," according to an EPA spokesperson. "We can't speculate in advance about what that action might be, although actions possible under TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) include controls on chemical manufacturing, processing, use, and disposal, as well as labeling requirements."
Read on to find out some of the surprising products BPA is used in.