Retailers pull BPA bottles, as separate US study suggests 'some' concerns over cancer links

Canada’s national public health agency looks set to become the first regulator in the world to label Bisphenol A (BPA) - used for decades in products like plastic baby bottles and food containers - ’toxic’ and ’hazardous’.

Health Canada has so far refused to confirm the decision, first reported by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper on 15 April. But the agency, which began reviewing BPA’s safety last year, must announce by the end of May whether the chemical is safe. If not, the country could eventually move to impose controls on the use of the chemical. Besides food and beverage containers, the chemical can also be found in many other common goods like CDs and consumer electronics. 

However, some major Canadian retailers have already reacted to the news. Canada’s largest national seller of sporting goods, The Forzani Group, decided to immediately pull all water bottles containing BPA from its shelves and replace them with BPA-free hydration alternatives. Similar announcements came from The Canadian Tire Corporation, Wal-Mart Canada and others.

Fresh concerns

Separately, the US National Institutes of Health also released a draft report on 15 April concluding that BPA may be linked to several serious reproductive and developmental problems, like breast cancer, prostate cancer and early puberty. The findings prompted an immediate call from lawmakers for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider its decision about BPA’s safety. 

’These assessments fly in the face of the FDA’s determination that BPA is safe. I hope the FDA is willing to reconsider their position on BPA for the safety of our infants and children,’ said John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee is currently investigating the FDA’s decision on the use of BPA in baby bottles and other children’s products.

The report from NIH’s National Toxicology Program indicates that the dangers of BPA are greater than was depicted by an earlier panel that released its findings in August 2007.

The earlier NTP panel only expressed ’minimal’ concern about BPA’s links to prostate cancer and early puberty, and it also made no mention of whether the chemical could cause breast cancer. Some of their findings were drafted by a consulting firm that was fired in March 2007 after it was found to have industry ties.

The new report elevates the level of all these concerns to ’some’ and both reviews conclude that  there is cause for  concern about the chemical’s neural and behavioural effects in foetuses, infants, and children at current levels of exposure.

Better report

Scott Belcher, a pharmacologist at the University of Cincinnati, says the new NTP report represents ’an attractive middle ground,’ stating that the August report ’ruled out so many studies on grounds that are not completely valid’.

’I am very pleased that they extended the conclusions of the earlier report, that was reasonable and appropriate,’ Belcher told Chemistry World. He says BPA’s most likely effects are on the developing foetus and young children, but there is also strong data to link the chemical with hormone responsive cancers like those of the breast and prostate.

The American Chemistry Council continues to defend the safety of BPA, saying NIH’s 15 April report affirms that the chemical has ’no serious or high level concerns for adverse effects on human reproduction and development’. ACC’s Steven Hentges says the findings ’provide reassurance that consumers can continue to use products made from bisphenol A’.

However, ACC sent a letter to the FDA on 17 April, asking it to update its review of the safety of BPA in food contact applications, taking into consideration the draft NTP brief and other new data. ’ACC encourages FDA to make a complete review of the scientific data from around the world in its review, including the recent work of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other regulatory bodies,’ Thomas Gibson, ACC’s senior vice president for advocacy, wrote to Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the agency’s commissioner.

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Day USA