Lawmakers struggled in 2008 to get a handle on the risk posed by bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogen-mimicking chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, which are commonly used to make bottles. In October, in response to a mounting body of scientific evidence, the Canadian government announced forthcoming regulations to ban the chemical from baby bottles. Several states are considering similar legislation, but as recently as September the U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintained that current exposure levels are safe.
BPA makes its way from plastic bottles to the human body with ease, showing up in the urine of 93 percent of Americans. Formula-fed babies, who are exposed through baby bottles and the lining of formula cans, are of particular concern. Animal studies suggest that even low doses of BPA—well below the FDA’s safe exposure guidelines—may interfere with reproduction and development. And in September, the first major study of BPA in humans revealed that people with higher levels are more likely to suffer from diabetes and heart disease.
Critics of the FDA’s assessment point out that it was based on just two limited studies, both of them funded by the plastics industry and denounced by many independent scientists. Indeed, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), another government agency, had a different take on the issue. After an extensive literature review [pdf], the NTP expressed “some concern” about BPA’s effects on fetuses, infants, and children and called for further research. In the meantime, while Congress investigates the FDA’s stance, stores like Walmart and Toys “R” Us are starting to phase out BPA-containing baby bottles and sippy cups.