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Danger in Plastic Baby Bottles?

Common Plastics Chemical Linked to Genetic Damage
By
WebMD Health News

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 alarm.

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 plastic bottles.

"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 dental sealants.

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 generations.

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."

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