Danger in Plastic Baby Bottles?
Common Plastics Chemical Linked to Genetic Damage
March 31, 2003 -- A chemical used in plastic baby bottles --
and many other food and beverage containers -- causes genetic damage in mice, a
new study suggests. But the plastics industry says there is no cause for
The damage is seen in egg cells of female mice. When these
cells try to divide, their chromosomes don't line up right. In humans this
results in spontaneous abortion, birth defects, or mental retardation, says
genetic abnormalities expert Patricia A. Hunt, PhD, of Case Western Reserve
University School of Medicine.
In studies published in the April issue of the journal
Current Biology, Hunt and colleagues showed that very low doses of a
common plastics ingredient may cause these effects. They also found that
dangerous amounts of the chemical -- known as BPA -- can seep out of used
"The effect we saw is pretty dramatic," Hunt tells
WebMD. "We were stunned by how low a dose it took. I am becoming pretty
convinced there are significant effects [of BPA] at pretty low exposures. I
can't say how scared you should be because our studies don't say anything about
humans. But that's why we study animals. We assume the processes are pretty
well the same in humans."
The chemical is known as bisphenol A or BPA. It's found in all
kinds of common products, mostly polycarbonate plastics. Nearly all plastic
baby bottles in the U.S. are made of this kind. So are many common food
containers, water storage bottles, aluminum can linings, and even some kinds of
Other animal studies have linked BPA to low sperm count,
hyperactivity, early puberty, obesity, small testes size, and enlarged
prostates. But Hunt's is the first study to suggest that BPA can affect future
Frederick S. vom Saal, PhD, professor of biology at the
University of Missouri inColumbia, has studied BPA for many years. He says that
some 40 studies show that polycarbonate plastics are dangerous. Hunt's findings
scare him most of all.
"What is so important about this finding is we are talking
about something that causes spontaneous abortions of babies," vom Saal
tells WebMD. "And then there is the horrifying fact that babies are born
with these chromosomal abnormities. ... This is a higher level of concern, a
major new finding of a really profound adverse effect of this chemical in mice
that were just drinking out of old baby bottles."
The findings also frighten Vom Saal's colleague, reproductive
endocrinologist Wade V. Welshons, PhD.
"We found bad effects of fetal exposure to BPA, but that is
something a pregnant woman can avoid. When my wife was pregnant, we did try to
avoid it," Welshons tells WebMD. "But Hunt's study shows exposure may
be unavoidable. It is shocking."