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Plastics Chemicals Tied to Reproductive Woes

Early studies found higher miscarriage rates in women, lowered fertility in men

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In the second study, doctors took urine samples from 501 couples who decided to attempt pregnancy between 2005 and 2009.

Researchers tested the urine for BPA and phthalates. Couples kept daily journals on their intercourse, lifestyle, menstruation and pregnancy test results. They were monitored until they either conceived or a year passed without conception.

Statistical analysis revealed that male -- but not female -- phthalate concentrations are associated with a roughly 20 percent reduction in reproductive success. It took longer for couples to conceive, if they conceived at all, when men carried high levels of phthalates.

Couples who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant should avoid contact with potential sources of phthalates or BPA, Lathi and Giudice said.

That may be harder than it sounds. For example, BPA and phthalates can spread by touch as well as by ingestion, and cash register receipts and canned food linings often contain BPA resins, Lathi said.

People should avoid using plastic containers to microwave foods, as the chemicals from the plastic can leach into the edibles. "Don't leave your plastic water bottle in your car in the sun and have it heat up a lot," Giudice added. "The levels of BPA increase about a thousand-fold in a bottle that's been sitting in the sun."

Industry spokeswoman St. John said the studies should not cause any alarm.

"It is important to note that both of the studies rely on analysis of single-spot samples of blood or urine to measure BPA exposure," she said. "Studies of this type have essentially no capability to establish a cause-effect relationship since BPA has only a very short half-life in the body and, as a result, levels in blood or urine will have very high variability even within a day."

She added that public health officials continue to take a long, hard look at the safety of these chemicals and so far have not sounded any warning bells.

"The weight of scientific evidence on BPA has been extensively evaluated by government and scientific bodies around the world, which have declared the chemical safe as used in food contact," St. John said. "As recently as June of 2013, [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] updated its perspective on BPA, stating that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods and the use of BPA in food packaging and containers is safe."

Because they were presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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