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FDA official says plastic chemical safe for children

Baby bottles and water bottles commonly contain a toxic chemical called bisphenol A, which makes the plastic material solid and unbreakable. A tiny amount of the chemical can be released from polycarbonate plastic over time, particularly under certain conditions such as high temperatures.

The National Toxicology Program, an agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier in a draft report that there is some concern that bisphenol A may alter behavior and the brain and it may also reduce survival and birth weight in fetuses in animal studies, Reuters reported.

Dr. Norris Alderson, the Food and Drug Administration's associate commissioner for science, yesterday told the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection's Committee on Energy and Commerce that the level is not high enough to cause injury.

He said some studies reported higher releases than estimated by the agency, but in many cases the releases were measured under unrealistic conditions.

"A large body of available evidence indicates that currently-marketed food contact materials containing BPA are safe, and that exposure to BPA from food contact materials, including exposures for infants and children, are below the levels that may cause health effects," Dr. Alderson said.

In addition to baby bottles and water bottles, bisphenol-A-laced polycarbonate plastic, which looks nice and transparent and is almost shatter-proof, is also used in sports equipment, medical devices, CDs and household electronics, and epoxy resins as coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans, according to wikipedia.

Studies have found that bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor, may pose a significant effect in fetuses even at a very lower dose. Reuters cited Dr. Ted Schettler, director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, as telling lawmakers that animal studies showed prenatal exposure to low-level bisphenol A can change development of the prostate gland and breast, resulting in a high risk of cancer in late life.

One study published in Biol. Reprod. 72 (6): 1344-51 showed that exposure to 0.025 ug of bisphenol A per kilogram of body weight per day could permanently change the genital tract.

Phthalates, another class of plastic chemicals, which unlike bisphenol A are used to make vinyl plastic soft and flexible, also cause safety concerns. Phthalates-based material is used commonly in medical devices such as IV tubes, cars, and toys.

Phthalates are also widely used in cosmetics, fragrances, antifoaming and suspension agents, skin emollients, and plasticizers in nail products, Alderson acknowledged in his testimony.

Dr. Alderson told lawmakers that the FDA will continue keeping an eye on the concerns for both bisphenol A and phthalates because any conclusion could never be final.

By David Liu, Ph.D., and edited by Heather Kelley.
Jun 11, 2008 - 9:19:43 AM