Beyond Baby Bottles: Are Common Plastics Safe?

'Some concern'

The plastics and chemical industries say that BPA and phthalates have a proven record of safety. Many large-scale reviews and studies have not shown a health hazard.

The FDA says it "does not have compelling evidence" of health risks. But elsewhere in the federal government, the National Toxicology Program reported in 2008 that exposure to BPA posed certain risks to human development and reproduction.

"We express 'some concern' that current estimated exposures of BPA to fetuses, infants and children could cause neural and behavioral effects, effects on the prostate and mammary gland and an earlier age at which females attain puberty," testified John Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, at a congressional hearing in June 2008. "We express 'negligible concern' or 'minimal concern' that current exposures to BPA could cause adverse health effects in other segments of the population."

Also testifying at that hearing, FDA official Norris Alderson said "the current level of exposure to adults and children is safe."

Another federal agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health, has published dozens of studies indicating associations between phthalates or BPA and health concerns including:

  • Breast, testicular and prostate cancer
  • Obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Early puberty in girls
  • Decreased ovarian function in women
  • Damage to DNA in sperm
  • Potential disruption of boys' genital development
  • Decreased levels of sex hormones in boys and men

Despite this list, there's still no proof that these chemicals cause disease. Many of the studies that identified these associations were performed on laboratory animals, which may or may not translate to humans. Additional research is under way. In the meantime, some consumers, agencies and businesses are taking precautionary actions.

Should you join them? With a lack of consensus from the experts, you need to decide for yourself whether it makes sense to avoid these products when possible. Get some tips on reducing your exposure to plastics.

Reviewed by Robert Cooper, M.D., FACE

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