Chemical in plastic raises issues

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Friday that additional study of health effects from an estrogen-like chemical found in hard plastic water bottles and other food and beverage packaging would be valuable. This was the response to a critical review of the FDAâÄôs earlier finding that current levels of exposure to the chemical, called Bisphenol A , or BPA, were acceptable. Consumers will have to wait to find out how the FDA will proceed, but in lieu of official recommendation, environmental health sciences professor William Toscano said he recommends taking a precautionary approach and minimizing exposure to the chemical. Exposure in children and pregnant women is thought to be most problematic. Because BPA mimics estrogen, it could disrupt the hormone signaling system, he said. BPA is widespread; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found it in the urine of nearly 93 percent of people tested , and animal studies have shown it can have health effects, but itâÄôs unclear whether the small amounts humans ingest are cause for concern. Toscano said a recent study that suggested BPA may have a role in type 2 diabetes in humans was important because it was the first to show a possible risk to humans from BPA exposure. But it was a small study, he said, and a first step âÄî an indication that more studies should be done. This is one of two BPA studies the Minnesota Department of Health is currently evaluating, Chris Greene, who works in MDHâÄôs Health Risk Assessment unit, said . As of now, the MDH is saying the risk associated with BPA is low, but not zero. âÄúWeâÄôre not saying BPA ought to be avoided, but weâÄôre recognizing that many people are coming to that conclusion on their own,âÄù he said. If people are concerned, he added, there are simple things they can do to reduce contact with BPA. Consumer demand seems to be making an impact. Wal-Mart is phasing out BPA baby bottles, and Midwest Mountaineering near the West Bank campus is phasing out BPA water bottles. Instead, theyâÄôre offering aluminum and steel canteens along with Nalgene and CamelBak BPA-free alternatives. Joel Mulholland , a Midwest Mountaineering cashier, said people have been coming in and asking for BPA-free replacements for the past year or so. Toscano said he is in favor of a BPA ban in Minnesota. âÄúI think in this case the market is actually doing the job,âÄù he said. Last year, legislation that would have phased out BPA and other chemicals from childrenâÄôs products was introduced but ultimately unsuccessful. But this year, Healthy Legacy, a nonprofit advocacy group, will go back to work for a ban on BPA in childrenâÄôs products, co-director Kathleen Schuler said. Last year, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group worked with Healthy Legacy on this legislation, MPIRG board of directors vice chairwoman Bridget Ulrich ,. On campus, theyâÄôve been promoting awareness of BPA and plan to give out BPA-free bottles. There should be legislation against BPA, she said, but also a broader move towards precautionary testing. Manufacturers donâÄôt have to prove a productâÄôs safety to put it on the market âÄî instead, it has to be proven unsafe for it to be taken off the market, she said, and consumers might not understand thatâÄôs the way it works. Dr. Gilbert Ross is the medical/executive director of the American Council on Science and Health , a nonprofit that aims to bring âÄúreason and balanceâÄù to public health debates. He said taking the precautionary approach with chemicals like BPA would result in excessive restriction. âÄúWeâÄôve been using products with Bisphenol A âĦ for decades,âÄù he said, and no one has proven that any human has ever been harmed by it. He added that the safety of potential plastic replacement materials is uncertain. âÄúMy simple advice to consumers is âÄòDonâÄôt worry about it;âÄô donâÄôt throw your plastic bottles away,âÄù he said. Things like eating a well balanced diet and wearing seatbelts are more important, he said. But Ulrich said she sees the precautionary approach to product design as an opportunity for engineers. âÄúI donâÄôt feel like it would make it restrictive,âÄù she said.