I'm a new mom. And I'm also a physician and a scientist who studies hormone disruptors, chemicals that mimic hormones and interfere with the function of other hormones in our bodies, like estrogen.
As a new mom I worry about whether my daughter is eating enough and getting a balanced diet, but my scientific and medical background has prompted an additional layer of concern - are her foods and drinks contaminated with chemicals that mimic estrogen?
The frustrating answer is yes - but it's up to me to figure out which ones contain those chemicals and which don't. Baby bottles, sippy cups, infant formula cans and other canned foods all potentially contain a chemical that was intentionally developed to mimic estrogen and has been approved as a food additive. As a result, the majority of us carry residues of this chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), in our bodies.
Recently two federal agencies charged with protecting the health of the public have come to differing conclusions on how problematic it is that our food supply contains a chemical that has been associated with a wide range of diseases.
In late August, the federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of our food supply, the FDA, released a draft report on what they consider to be a safe level of exposure to BPA. Their initial conclusion is that the amount of BPA in our food is "safe" and that mothers like myself shouldn't worry about exposing our families to BPA.
But this is yet another instance of the FDA credibility gap. The draft report was based on just two industry-funded studies (conducted by only one laboratory and funded by the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical, Bayer, and a plastics manufacturer.) The draft report ignored dozens of other studies which found laboratory animals exposed to the levels of BPA currently found in our food supply to suffer from a number of diseases - including prostate cancer, breast cancer, disruptions in the development of their brain causing memory and behavioral changes, obesity, early puberty and other reproductive abnormalities.
Not two weeks later, the National Toxicology Program (NTP, a separate government agency charged with reviewing and summarizing scientific studies for use by other federal agencies) released a final report on BPA after reviewing over 700 studies published on the health effects of BPA.
And, in that report, NTP expressed "some concern" that early life exposure to BPA interferes with the development of the brain and nervous system and causes prostate cancer. For reference, "some concern" is 3rd on NTP's scale of 5 levels of concern. They expressed lower levels of concern for breast cancer and early puberty.
The National Toxicology Program, doesn't have the authority to regulate the use of BPA or the amount of BPA Americans are exposed to -- that responsibility lies with FDA. And [today] FDA will hear testimony from myself, and a host of other environmental and pubic health groups expressing our concerns that FDA continues to allow this chemical in our food. Other presentations will be from scientific experts and staff from the National Toxicology Program.
Will FDA listen and remove this dangerous chemical from our food supply?
Concerned parents such as myself aren't waiting for the final answer which isn't expected until late October.
Based on consumer demand, Walmart, Toys R Us and Target have said that by January of 2009 they're not going to sell baby bottles or sippy cups containing BPA. Nalgene, the popular water bottle maker, has discontinued their popular line of polycarbonate bottles that contain this chemical. Alternatives already exist in canned food, Eden Foods, for example makes canned food without using BPA.
And while it is wonderful to know I can find BPA-free alternatives on the marketplace, I find it particularly disconcerting that the retailers are being more proactive about protecting public health than the federal agencies who are mandated to do this.
As a mother and as a scientist I think we should expect more of our government.
If this much uncertainty existed in approving a pharmaceutical, the drug would not be approved by FDA. FDA needs to take a step back from focusing on industry-funded studies to consider the dozens of others showing harm at current levels of exposure. Our northern neighbors are ahead of us on this front, Canada has banned BPA from baby bottles and continues to evaluate its use in food cans. How long are we going to have to wait for FDA to catch up?
I'll keep you posted as this debate continues.
Learn more on BPA at online at http://www.nrdc.org/health/bpa.pdf.
- Sarah Janssen
Originally posted in the NRDC's Switchboard blog.
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