Panel Weighs Bisphenol A Report

Advisory Panel Mostly Agrees With Government's Draft Brief, but Recommends Key Changes

From the WebMD Archives

June 11, 2008 -- A panel of scientists today approved most of a government draft report on the safety of bisphenol A -- with a few key changes.

Bisphenol A is a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics (including some baby bottles and water bottles) and in epoxy resins, which line metal products including canned foods.

In April, the National Toxicological Program (NTP) released its draft report, which noted "some" concern about bisphenol A's possible effects on the prostate gland, mammary glands, and early age for puberty in females. An earlier NTP expert panel report had voiced less concern about those possible risks.

Today, independent scientists on an NTP advisory board weighed in. They affirmed the NTP draft report's conclusions with two exceptions: They recommend changing "some concern" to "minimal concern" for bisphenol A's effects on the mammary glands and early puberty.

Here is the full list of the board's conclusions:

  • "Some concern" for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.
  • "Some concern" for effects in the prostate gland.
  • "Minimal concern" for effects on the mammary glands.
  • "Minimal concern" for effects on earlier age for female puberty.
  • "Negligible concern" that exposure of pregnant women to bisphenol A will result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight and growth in their offspring.
  • "Negligible concern" for reproductive effects in adults who don't work with BPA.
  • "Minimal concern" for reproductive effects in adults who work with BPA.

The NTP will consider those recommendations -- but isn't required to follow them -- as it writes its final report, which is expected later this summer.

Board's Chairwoman Comments

Gail McCarver, MD, chaired the NTP advisory board. She's also the co-director of the pediatrics department at the Medical College of Wisconsin and on staff at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

"We had a very balanced process that was very transparent, very open," says McCarver. "I think we did quite a good job."

McCarver says she doesn't think the board downgraded the level of concern on bisphenol A's possible effects on mammary glands and earlier puberty in females.

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"I don't know that it was a downgrading. I think it's just a difference in the choice of language," says McCarver, noting that the board chose language more in line with the earlier expert panel report because the evidence available was less strong on mammary and female puberty effects than on prostate effects.

"It's important that you don't think of 'minimal' as meaning 'none,'" she says. "There are a lot of factors that go into that consideration."

Asked what she would tell people with concerns about bisphenol A, McCarver says she thinks there are "reasons for concern, but there's also a lot of uncertainty in terms of the level of concern."

"Different people respond to concern differently," says McCarver. "There are always things you can do to minimize risk. If you're a mother of a young infant, you can use glass containers. You can choose to use less canned food in your house -- commonsense approaches.

"We do have some concerns with this compound, but we also recognize that if we eliminate the compound and bring in other compounds, we may have other problems," says McCarver, adding that "there are some important plastic compounds that protect children.

"I'm not a regulator and this is not a regulatory statement," says McCarver. "The people who will be making the regulatory decisions have a lot to consider."

Public Comments on BPA Report

The advisory panel also reviewed public comments on the NTP's draft report.

Those comments, posted on the NTP's web site, range from private citizens outraged that bisphenol A hasn't been banned, to scientists debating the choice of research covered in the report, to industry groups arguing that the research in the report is flawed and doesn't translate to human risk, to environmental groups and scientists expressing even more concern than the report.

The public comments also include a letter from the American Academy of Pediatrics that expresses "deep concern" that scientific evidence is "largely insufficient to draw accurate conclusions on the safety of exposure to BPA, particularly with respect to vulnerable populations including pregnant women, infants, and children."

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Bisphenol A Controversy

Bisphenol A, also called BPA, has become a concern for some consumers, and some retailers are backing away from bisphenol A in baby bottles.

In April, retailers including Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us, pledged to phase out baby bottles containing BPA. Nalgene ditched bisphenol A in its reusable water bottles.

Also in April, Canada's government proposed banning BPA in baby bottles although babies fed through polycarbonate bottles exposed to high temperatures aren't exposed to risky amounts of bisphenol A.

And now, the FDA is revisiting bisphenol A's safety. That review is separate from the NTP's work.

All along, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups have maintained that bisphenol A is safe and that concerns about bisphenol A are unfounded. For instance, the American Chemistry Council notes that some BPA research has involved injecting bisphenol A into rodents, whereas people get exposed to bisphenol A orally.

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