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Jury still out on BPA, World Health Organization says

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

November 11, 2010|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • Nalgene brand water bottles made with the controversial carbonate plastic bisphenol A (BPA), one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industry, hang on display at an outdoor supply store in 2008.
Nalgene brand water bottles made with the controversial carbonate plastic… (David McNew / Getty Images )

An expert panel convened last week by the World Health Organization recommended that public health officials hold off on regulations limiting or banning the use of bisphenol A.

BPA, as it's commonly known, is used widely in plastic food receptacles and in the linings of cans. BPA that has seeped into food is the primary source of BPA exposure, the WHO panel reported. Scientists at the meeting determined that smaller amounts of the chemical lurk in house dust, soil, toys, dental treatments and thermal cash register receipts.  They said that models of the way BPA circulates through the body showed that BPA is quickly eliminated through urine and does not accumulate in the body.

Recent studies have associated BPA with reproductive troubles and other health problems in animals and humans. But according to a WHO press release, when the experts reviewed such studies to try to assess the chemical's potential to affect human health, they found it "difficult to interpret the relevance of these studies in light of current knowledge of the compound" and concluded that, for now, "initiation of public health measures would be premature."

No doubt anti-BPA groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council were chagrined by the announcement.  The American Chemistry Council, on the other hand, seemed delighted. "What is important for consumers to know is that government agencies worldwide have examined the science on BPA, including a recent European Food Safety Authority review of 800 studies, and have concluded that low doses of BPA are not a risk to human health,” said the organization's Steven G. Hentges in a statement.

That seems to overstate the panel's conclusions.  According to the press release, WHO toxicologist Angelika Tritscher told attendees at the close of the meeting that the panel came to "important conclusions that will help to direct further research," and that "several important studies are already in progress that will help to clarify the extent of human health impact of this chemical."



 

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