Found in many products, BPA causes cancer, diabetes, ADHD in lab animals

August 24, 2007

By Jeff Nesmith/Atlanta Journal/August 3, 2007

Washington —- A pervasive hormone-mimicking chemical is found in the blood of virtually all people living in developed countries at levels that can cause cancer, genital abnormalities, diabetes and behavioral disorders in laboratory animals, a panel of experts said Thursday.

And recent experiments indicate the substance, bisphenol-A, or BPA, may have previously unrecognized outcomes on fetuses that are not apparent until long after exposure has occurred, the panel said.

Low doses of BPA during pregnancy can have profound effects on fetal prostate, breast, testicle, mammary glands and brain development in animals, the panel said in a “consensus statement” published online by the Journal of Reproductive Toxicology.

More than 6 billion pounds of bisphenol-A are used every year.

It appears in cans containing food and soft drinks and in a wide range of other products, including plastic food containers, shatter-proof baby bottles, compact discs, sunglasses and even dental fillings.

The report released Thursday was signed by scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Japan and Spain who attended a government-financed conference last year in Chapel Hill, N.C., to review recent BPA research.

“The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and adulthood is great cause for concern with regard to potential similar adverse effects in humans,” the panel concluded.

In Atlanta, a Coca-Cola Co. spokesman said BPA is used in soft drink cans as well as “thousands of packages worldwide.” As lining in cans, the substance protects them from corrosion.

“BPA has been studied extensively and determined to be safe by regulatory authorities worldwide,” the company said. “The safety of this ingredient is supported by comprehensive laboratory research, including studies conducted over multiple generations that are specifically designed to detect adverse health effects.”

The scientists said recent trends in human diseases appear to involve biochemical processes similar to those observed in lab animals exposed to low doses of BPA.

“Specific examples include the increase in prostate and breast cancer, uro-genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men, early onset of puberty in girls, metabolic disorders including insulin-resistant (Type 2) diabetes and obesity and neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” the panel said.

Emory University epidemiologist Michele Marcus, one of the 37 scientists signing the report, said in a telephone interview that additional studies are needed to tease out the effects BPA may be having in humans.

“We know virtually nothing about human health effects of BPA, and we know there are a lot of harmful effects in animals,” she said.

“We are exposed to BPA pretty continuously. We know that,” she said.

Mimics estrogen

Marcus said her own scientific concern is about the effects environmental chemicals may have on reproductive systems.

She has previously reported that girls exposed to brominated flame retardants, which are in furniture, carpets, drapes and many other materials, are more likely to experience early puberty.

She said BPA is one of dozens of estrogen-mimicking substances in the environment and only epidemiological studies can “disentangle” the results different ones may have. The study was released a week before a controversy-plagued conference of scientific advisers to the National Toxicology Program is to take up the same issue.

Examining the report

That panel —- on which scientists who have studied BPA extensively are excluded —- is to review a draft statement advising the government agency on potential reproductive and developmental hazards of the chemical.

The meeting was arranged by a private company the agency had contracted to collect scientific data for that panel’s review.

The company, Sciences International, was fired after an environmental group revealed that it also had contracts with chemical interests involved in the production and use of BPA. (emphasis added)

Dr. Mike Shelby, director of the toxicology program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, said the contractor-written report had been “audited” and was found to be a thorough review of scientific reports on BPA.

He said experts on a particular subject are excluded from toxicology program panels to allow a “more candid” discussion of scientific reports —- some of which the experts might have written. There were no such restrictions on the panel that released Thursday’s report.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents companies that produce and use BPA, said in a written statement that it was “dismayed” at the release of Thursday’s report.

“With the scientifically sound CERHR evaluation of bisphenol A so near to completion, we’re dismayed to see a competing and far less sound evaluation released and publicized this week, apparently in an attempt to upstage CERHR,” said Steven Hentges, a spokesman for the industry group.

“Unlike CERHR, the competing evaluation was conducted in a closed process with no opportunity for public input or participation,” he said.

University of Missouri at Columbia biologist Frederick vom Saal , who organized the meeting of the group that reported Thursday, noted that his panel’s deliberations were financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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