Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Problem With Plastic
The chemical BPA is especially bad for babies
from articles byJeffrey MacMillan, Deborah Kotz and Adam Voiland for US News

During the first few years of life, when babies' cells continue to undergo "programming," exposure to certain toxic chemicals can disrupt the delicate process. Bisphenol A, a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics that mimics the effects of estrogen, has raised particular concern because it interferes with hormone levels and cell signaling systems. Several dozen scientists issued a review of 700 studies on BPA warning that the levels most people are exposed to put them at elevated risk of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate cancer. Infants, the report said, are most vulnerable to BPA.
"Plastic bottles and plates that are boiled or put in the microwave or dishwasher are especially problematic because heating them repeatedly causes high amounts of BPA to leach out," says Retha Newbold, a developmental and reproductive biologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Triangle Park, N.C. Once small cracks form in the surface, a product should be discarded. She recommends that parents, to be on the safe side, switch to glass bottles or those with disposable plastic liners that don't contain BPA. And they should use microwave-safe paper plates or glass dishes covered with a paper towel rather than plastic wrap. Some manufacturers, have begun to offer plastic bottles and training cups that are BPA free.
How to Avoid a Controversial Plastics Chemical
By Adam Voiland
Scientists aren't in full agreement about whether the chemical known as bisphenol A, which is used in the production of certain plastics and can leach into food and drink, poses health hazards. Today, an expert panel organized by the National Institutes of Health concluded that the hormone-mimicking chemical poses minimal health risks overall. But a statement made last week by 38 independent scientists warned of a wide range of adverse health effects.
For people who want to play it safe and minimize their exposure to the controversial chemical, experts have some tips: Avoid storing food or beverages in polycarbonate plastic, which is often used to make baby bottles and "sippy" cups, 5-gallon water cooler jugs, and hard, transparent water bottles, among other products. And avoid canned goods, since the linings of metal cans often contain bisphenol A. For people who continue to use polycarbonate food and drink containers, not heating them should also reduce exposure, says Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri, who is a vocal critic of bisphenol A. The acidity of a container's contents and the age and condition of the polycarbonate can also affect how much of the chemical leaches into food or drink, he adds.
Alternatives to polycarbonate include polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, as well as glass. Both alternative plastics are usually identifiable by recycling code, a number that should appear inside a triangular symbol on each plastic container. The number 2 marks polyethylene and the number 5, polypropylene, Polycarbonate doesn't have a unique recycling code, but it tends to be assigned the code 7, a category for miscellaneous plastics.
Metal cans, according to studies, are a significant source of human exposure to bisphenol A. And finding alternatives isn't simple. The most reliable way to avoid bisphenol A from cans is to avoid using them at all. "The breakdown of the plastic lining of cans, or any [bisphenol A]-based product, is greatly accelerated by acidic substances or alcohol,” For many canned products, there are fresh or frozen alternatives, as well as products that come packaged in glass.
Trade groups such as the American Chemistry Council and the Can Manufacturers Institute stand behind the safety of polycarbonate. Nevertheless, some manufacturers are seeking alternatives, and a few are actively capitalizing on consumers' concern over bisphenol A.
Whether such traces pose a risk to people remains unclear. The NIH-organized expert panel that concluded its meeting today in Washington registered some concern about bisphenol A's possible neurological and behavioral effects, particularly in children and developing fetuses. Its chair, Roger Chapin of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., acknowledged that concerned people may want to apply a "precautionary principle" and take steps to avoid the chemical. But he and the panel's other members, who reviewed hundreds of relevant studies, said the chemical's health risks appear to be "minimal" overall. And many regulatory agencies and numerous industry-sponsored studies say there's no significant cause for worry.
Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics, is getting official scrutiny—and things are looking less than rosy for the controversial chemical. The U.S. government's National Toxicology Program yesterday agreed with a scientific panel that recently expressed concern about physiological changes that occur in people when they ingest BPA that has leached from plastics into their food. The Canadian government is even considering declaring the chemical toxi. This could set the stage for banning it from plastic baby bottles, water bottles, and food containers. At the very least, some people will be even more eager to buy foods and beverages in BPA-free containers.

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