Bisphenol A does not pose a hazard to humans
July 27, 2011 8:05 AM   Subscribe

A new study1 suggests that BPA is not the health hazard that it has previously been thought to be.

Dr Justin Teeguarden, lead author:
“We can now say for the adult human population exposed to even very high dietary levels, blood concentrations of the bioactive form of BPA throughout the day are below our ability to detect them, and orders of magnitude lower than those causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.”
Professor Richard Sharpe, Principal Investigator at the Centre for Reproductive Health in Britain, and a member of a WHO/FAO's "expert committee for the evaluation of the health risks and research priorities on bisphenol A":
“[Teeguarden’s findings demonstrate that ] the majority of effects observed in animal studies are probably not relevant to humans because they involved much higher BPA exposures ... one would have to conclude that effects would not occur in humans unless we are 10 to 10,000 times more sensitive to BPA effects than are rats. There is no evidence for such a difference, and based on the likely mechanisms of action of BPA ... this seems inherently unlikely.”
Some have complained that the media is not paying enough attention to the study.

1 Teeguarden, Justin et al. 2011. "24-Hour Human Urine and Serum Profiles of Bisphenol A During High Dietary Exposure". Toxicological Sciences. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr160
posted by alby (62 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
This study brought to you by the American Plastics Council.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2011


'and a member of a WHO/FAO's "expert committee' should be "and a member of the WHO/FAO's "expert committee'
posted by alby at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2011


The previous one brought to you by the American Steel Council.
posted by klanawa at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


"FUNDING

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. EPA, through STAR grant R83386701."

posted by pwnguin at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


This study brought to you by the American Plastics Council.

Author Affiliations:
† Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, 99352
‡ Division of Laboratory Sciences, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30341
§ Division of Biochemical Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. FDA, Jefferson, AR 72079
posted by alby at 8:09 AM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Doesn't this sort of thing happen pretty often? I remember in high school discussing a study about rats eating hot dogs getting cancer. This, of course, turned in to "hot dogs cause cancer". Turned out one of the kids in class had a dad who was a scientist (food scientist or biologist or something that would have some relevance to the study) and he revealed to us that to see a similar effect in humans, you'd have to eat something like 250 hot dogs a day, every day, to increase your risk of cancer.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:12 AM on July 27, 2011


I'm glad its not the "Plastic Council," but the EPA and FDA, which are of course known to be incorruptible bodies that have not had their agendas adulterated by regulatory capture.
posted by mobunited at 8:14 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I decided long ago that the stress of constantly worrying about whether what you are eating can kill you is probably worse for your health than anything you're eating.
posted by empath at 8:14 AM on July 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


Doesn't this sort of thing happen pretty often?

Yes, constantly.
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


*Taking a long, slow, sweet pull on my old Nalgene water bottle and sitting back, contentedly*
posted by Danf at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Everything is bad for you. Until it isn't. Then it is again.
posted by tommasz at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm glad I always drink my water from glass or ceramic cups from the kitchen tap.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I decided long ago that the stress of constantly worrying about whether what you are eating can kill you is probably worse for your health than anything you're eating.

Fortunately, governments agencies provide oversight so that you don't have to think about it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:18 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, but what about if you eat rats whose water bottle contained BPA?
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:18 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Janet Stemwedel, Associate Professor of Philosophy at San Jose State University, and author of the blog Adventures in Ethics and Science identified the following in a Skeptically Speaking interview:

“Every now and then you get the feeling that animal models are chosen intentionally but not correctly. One of the examples I’ve become aware of recently is in testing of the safety of the chemical Bisphenol A which is often called BPA. It is a compound used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. There’s been worries about the safety of BPA because it’s similar to the hormone estrogen in its structure. So if you look at mass media reports on the research on BPA safety; the mass media usually says that there are mixed results, some studies indicate significant impacts on health and others not so much. But it turns out, if you unmix those studies, 90% of government studies on the safety of BPA have found evidence that BPA has significant health impacts.

Of the industry studies, on the safety of BPA, none of them in this group found evidence that BPA had significant health impacts. It turns out that this may have been because these industry studies used a strain of rat that was known to be insensitive to estrogen. So that’s an example of choosing an animal model that shows, perhaps, the result that industries who profit by selling a certain kind of chemical might want to find in their research.”

Source
posted by eperker at 8:19 AM on July 27, 2011 [29 favorites]


This is my surprised face.

I'm especially charmed by everyone who is implying that this study is obviously tainted by industry, but the last study was, of course, pure in all ways and cannot be challenged.

I'm glad I always drink my water from glass or ceramic cups from the kitchen tap.

You really do not want to know what leeches out of ceramics. Not to say that this bothers me, mostly -- but I'd lay off the red fiestaware if the R word bothers you....
posted by eriko at 8:20 AM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Not to mention all the things that might leech into that water between the source and your tap.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:24 AM on July 27, 2011


Can I still eat leeches?
posted by kmz at 8:25 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Which is why I drink nothing but home-made triple-distilled vodka.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Now, why don't you just take it easy Group Captain. And please make me a drink of grain alcohol and rain water, and help yourself to whatever you'd like.
posted by atbash at 8:29 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


All my red fiestaware is over 14 billion years old and therefore no longer radioactive.
posted by DU at 8:29 AM on July 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Just science doing its thing. There was some reason to have in mind some small probability that BPA from cans posed a danger to humans; now one should have in mind a substantially smaller probability. Probably both probabilities are small enough to ignore.

I think Butterworth overstates how worried people were about BPA. I asked at my local Whole Foods about BPA-free cans and they looked at me like I was nuts. Rule of thumb: when the people who work at the Whole Foods in Madison, Wisconsin think a health concern is fringy, it is really fringy.
posted by escabeche at 8:44 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


fwiw, my first comment was tongue-in-cheek

Certainly plastic has no other bad environmental effects, so let's keep using it willy-nilly when there's other options!
posted by entropicamericana at 8:49 AM on July 27, 2011


I think Butterworth overstates how worried people were about BPA.

Go to the baby section of any store and look at the plastic goods. They're all very conspicuously labeled "BPA-Free". It's been taken very seriously in the baby-goods world.
posted by statolith at 8:50 AM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


It will be essentially impossible to put the BPA toothpaste "back in the tube" but hopefully this will help to slow the rate of expansion of the negative hype.

A balanced evidence-based approach is important because I believe that banning BPA-derived chemistry in all consumer goods could have negative consequences for the safety of our food supply.

I see push-back against BPA as having three waves —

Wave 1 was an abundance of caution about bisphenol A polycarbonate in reusable products used by infants or children. Industry was able to accomodate this with other polymers.

Wave 2 was a general concern about all polycarbonate vessels used to store food or liquids, notably water bottles made for trendy folks. The concern over water bottles seemed to me to be less substantial, as these vessels are not likely to be exposed to harsh conditions of elevated temperature or alkalinity that accelerate breakdown of polycarbonate. But polymer options such as Eastman's Tritan copolymer arrived in the nick of time to meet the requirements of this application. Good news for Eastman, that.

Wave 3 as I see it has yet to hit the beach and would be more seriously disruptive. In a Wave 3 scenario, the epoxy linings of canned goods would come under serious fire. This has been talked about here and there but has yet to reach critical mass in popular consciousness, I think.

Changing the make-up of baby bottles, kids' dishes, and sports bottles is one kind of thing. Can linings would take this to a whole 'nother level. I don't think industry has a robust alternative if the current can linings were to be banned. And the world packages a lot of food this way.

I hope testing continues and I support individual choice to avoid polycarbonate where practical, but the advantages of canned goods in our modern food supply should be self-evident. As the FDA recently wrote, "FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk from BPA exposure."
posted by Glomar response at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alrighty, so I'm genuinely perplexed here. I had to study BPA in tox class, to the best of what I can remember its an endocrine disruptor and the worst effect in adult humans wasn't death but rather limited fertility. In the unborn and developing (adolescent) children though its particularly nasty, which this study doesn't seem to have addressed.

Also particularly fun: BPA, like many synthetic organic pollutants, is fat soluble. Mother dear gives the child she's breast feeding a super dose of whatever she's accumulated in the past x months or x years. And we wonder why kids are hitting puberty faster and faster...

TL DR: Good science but with what looks like a purposefully misleading cohort of test subjects/participants.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


Wake me when there are some metastudies.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:56 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh. Imagine that. Something that would cost businesses a lot of money to replace once the public outcry approached a tipping point is suddenly determined to be safe.

Whew!
posted by jefficator at 9:02 AM on July 27, 2011


jefficator:
Huh. Imagine that. Something that would cost businesses a lot of money to replace once the public outcry approached a tipping point is suddenly determined to be safe.

Whew!
Are you basing your concern on faith or evidence?
posted by gilrain at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you basing your concern on faith or evidence?
posted by gilrain at 11:05 AM on July 27 [+] [!]


Mostly on the desire to say something snarky.
posted by jefficator at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


This whole consumer safety angle on plastics is a smoke screen and a distraction. No one is going to argue that plastic production is safe for our environment or for the people who live and work near where it is produced. Nor can anyone provide a safe and effective strategy for coping with the billions of pounds of plastics waste that will not biodegrade for millennia. Plastic is destroying our planet whether or not we can prove it causes cancer in little Jr. First World Baby.
posted by serazin at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


All right, you're cool. This time.
posted by gilrain at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2011


eriko: but I'd lay off the red fiestaware if the R word bothers you....

Dammnit, man. I won't drink anything unless it's a party, and it's not a party without Red Fiestaware.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2011


I'd just like to say that Slackermagee's comment up there is a really good one -- you can't just look at author affiliations and who funded these studies, or even just whether the study had the proper sample size and controls; you also have to also look at whether they're even testing the right conditions, etc. that might be meaningful in the real world.
posted by statolith at 9:33 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


but I'd lay off the red fiestaware if the R word bothers you....

Oh my god. "Rodeo" does bother me. Something fierce.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:41 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Previous studies of BPA raised some concerns but they were not sufficient to ban it for adult use. This study is not sufficient to overrule the previous concerns.

The media tends to amplify health-related studies, no matter how small their implications, to be groundbreaking and totally change our understanding of one topic or another. I find this approach to science problematic.
posted by grouse at 9:56 AM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This whole consumer safety angle on plastics is a smoke screen and a distraction. No one is going to argue that plastic production is safe for our environment or for the people who live and work near where it is produced. Nor can anyone provide a safe and effective strategy for coping with the billions of pounds of plastics waste that will not biodegrade for millennia. Plastic is destroying our planet whether or not we can prove it causes cancer in little Jr. First World Baby.

It also saves lives and dramatically increases the standard of living of almost everyone on the planet. Plastic is a goddamned technological miracle.
posted by empath at 10:09 AM on July 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


This study says almost nothing about the safety of BPA.
posted by kuatto at 10:33 AM on July 27, 2011


you also have to also look at whether they're even testing the right conditions, etc. that might be meaningful in the real world

"The study...was the first to track the chemical BPA in human blood and urine in volunteers who ate a diet rich in bisphenol-A (BPA) – from lots of canned food – over a 24-hour period."

How real world do you need?
posted by normy at 10:33 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previous studies of BPA raised some concerns but they were not sufficient to ban it for adult use. This study is not sufficient to overrule the previous concerns.

None of the studies, as yet, have been sufficient to make me do anything but pretend to care about BPA in a desultory manner, and only when peer group cohesiveness seems to demand it.
posted by rusty at 10:35 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, congratulations on your apathy and your willingness to compromise yourself to fit in, I guess!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The propensity of journalists to come to snap decisions based on one study in order to write a story that sells news is always disturbing. How many studies did it take for BPA to be known as scary (or demonized, take your pick), in the first place?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:49 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Studies like this remind me of when my brother got his first post-doc, working on pesticides for a big chemical company. For the last 8 years he'd lived in Madison, WI eating organic produce from a CSA, and organic was quickly expanding to feasible for larger portion of consumers. He questioned the need for so much / so many pesticides in the face of alternative technologies - but pesticides paid.

It's similar with BPA, nanotechnology, PBDEs (fire retardants, found in clouds around all young Americans), and all other "emerging contaminants" - if we confined the use of these unproven chemicals to the few applications where they seem most needed, we'd have a lot fewer worries like BPA. I'm not saying we need to always follow the Precautionary Principle, but maybe keep it in mind? And weigh whether or not a greener option is available?

Meh, that'd be too reasonable.
posted by ldthomps at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, here's an article about a different study that found that higher levels of BPA in urine correlated with higher levels of various indicators of bad health (in humans).

IMHO, if you were avoiding BPA, don't stop avoiding it just because this one study here said maybe it's not an issue. There are other studies saying it is possibly an issue and it definitely is detectable in blood and urine, and they're not all based on (flawed?) rodent models.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:29 AM on July 27, 2011


mobunited: "I'm glad its not the "Plastic Council," but the EPA and FDA, which are of course known to be incorruptible bodies that have not had their agendas adulterated by regulatory capture."

I worked in big pharma for a little while. That statement sounds about right; sarcasm-free.

Do you have any allegations of corruption to make against the EPA/FDA, or are you just spouting off? There are places in the government where the bureaucracy functions effectively and as intended. The EPA often has its hands tied by the legislature, but I've seen little evidence to suggest that it does not perform its mission in good faith.
posted by schmod at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


entropicamericana: You can't care about everything. There are lots of things I do care about. And have you gotten in a conversation with an anti-BPA crusader? The only sure way of not having to have that tedious conversation for as long as you both shall live is just to nod and agree that yes, it sure is bad stuff. If you're a young parent in a young-parenty type small-urban area right now, there is no way you can avoid that person and that conversation.

So, yeah, I'm apathetic about this and willing to go along and get along. If you're an anti-BPA crusader, you might consider how many people are nodding and agreeing just to make you leave them alone.
posted by rusty at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2011


You can't care about everything. There are lots of things I do care about. And have you gotten in a conversation with an anti-BPA crusader? etc etc

I get it that people can't be passionate about everything, but what's hard about avoiding major sources of BPA? Of all the green/sustainable/healthy/environmentalist things you can do that might be helpful, that's one of the easiest.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:11 PM on July 27, 2011


levels of BPA in urine --- So here's the thing I have trouble understanding : why is everyone upset about bpa in urine? Doesn't that explicitly mean that it doesn't stay in your body?
posted by crunchland at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2011


Of all the green/sustainable/healthy/environmentalist things you can do that might be helpful, that's one of the easiest.

You know, one thing that *really* irritates me is when these things are conflated.
North Americans, especially, seem to be prone to thinking that things that are good for their individual health have some kind of weird moral superiority that renders them automatically more "sustainable" and environmentally beneficial. There's an interesting ideological illusion there where "health" has somehow got equated with environmental soundness - I assume this is a weird cultural artefact of the fact that the "health food" movement and the ecology movement shared a similar culture and community during the sixties and seventies. The fallacy really needs to to be pointed out more often than it is though.
posted by silence at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm not conflating them; I meant them as various possible goals.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:40 PM on July 27, 2011


but what's hard about avoiding major sources of BPA

I judged that throwing away my perfectly serviceable plastic Nalgene bottles and buying new steel ones or whatever was, on balance, worse for everyone than continuing to use them and accepting the tiny potential risk that my reproductive prowess might be reduced, given that I've already had two kids and probably won't have any more anyway. I don't know what other sources of BPA I'm supposed to be avoiding -- I already don't really consume anything that comes in plastic. I'm glad that baby products have pretty much universally made the switch -- precautionary principle and all, but to apply that to myself just strikes me as largely a campaign to get me to buy new water bottles. Meh.
posted by rusty at 12:55 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


what's hard about avoiding major sources of BPA?

There's nothing really difficult about doing so, but I don't feel the need to. Just because something is easy that does not make it worthwhile. But more power to you if you want to.
posted by grouse at 1:50 PM on July 27, 2011


Go to the baby section of any store and look at the plastic goods. They're all very conspicuously labeled "BPA-Free".

This is true; it's pretty much impossible to find a plastic baby product that isn't marked "BPA-Free." Of course, that's the case regardless of the type of plastic used in the product; even those for which BPA was never used in the first place are marked "BPA-Free."

Hell, I've seen wooden toys marked "BPA-Free." It's true enough, but that doesn't make it meaningful.
posted by nickmark at 5:39 PM on July 27, 2011


No bpa, but all the lead paint and melamine your little toddler can gum.
posted by crunchland at 6:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also saves lives and dramatically increases the standard of living of almost everyone on the planet. Plastic is a goddamned technological miracle.

Sure. I work in health care so I know plastic does some great things. Does that mean we need the vast majority of plastic which is not used for life saving purposes but rather for cheap disposable crap?
posted by serazin at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you need the vast majority of steel and metal products that aren't used for life-saving products? Do you need any of the wood or organic fiber products that aren't used to save lives? Is that computer you used to make your post needed to save lives?

Strictly speaking, you don't need ANY of the products that make our lives easier. You could sleep on the floor of a barren adobe or in a tent made palm fronds. You could go naked, except for untreated furs in winter. You could walk barefoot anywhere you need to go. But for some reason you don't. Why is that, when you're so concerned about destroying the planet?
posted by happyroach at 10:11 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Straw men are a goddamned technological miracle.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Damn straight! If it weren't for the invention of straw men, we'd all be sitting around here going, like, "Well that sounds like a reasonable point," and "I have to concur with that, my friend." The suicide rate would skyrocket from sheer boredom.
posted by rusty at 8:35 AM on July 28, 2011


All of MeFi would be like Michele Bachmann's congressional district.
posted by rusty at 8:36 AM on July 28, 2011


normy: How real world do you need?

I was referring to the referenced comment talking about the fat-solubility of BPA and how it's especially of concern for infants and children, perhaps more so than in adults, and how the study didn't really address that.
posted by statolith at 9:47 AM on July 28, 2011


Doesn't this sort of thing happen pretty often? I remember in high school discussing a study about rats eating hot dogs getting cancer. This, of course, turned in to "hot dogs cause cancer". Turned out one of the kids in class had a dad who was a scientist (food scientist or biologist or something that would have some relevance to the study) and he revealed to us that to see a similar effect in humans, you'd have to eat something like 250 hot dogs a day, every day, to increase your risk of cancer.

Funny, I was just thinking about hot dogs ...

"The research linking colorectal cancer and processed meat is convincing, says a 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research.
Just one 50-gram serving of processed meat -- about the amount in one hot dog -- a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent, the study found."

Doctors group says hot dogs as dangerous as cigarettes

Good news on BPA. That shit is everywhere.

I decided long ago that the stress of constantly worrying about whether what you are eating can kill you is probably worse for your health than anything you're eating.

...

Fortunately, governments agencies provide oversight so that you don't have to think about it.


Wrong and wrong.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:01 PM on July 28, 2011


This is true; it's pretty much impossible to find a plastic baby product that isn't marked "BPA-Free."

Go to Target. Really. Maybe for plastic cups now, but toys? No way. No no no.

My understanding that most toys are like can linings. The plastic is sourced from so many different places that no one can say for sure whether or not a product has BPA. Eden is the only canned-food company I know claims to be BPA-free. Fisher Price is not, or they don't claim it (probably because they can't guarantee it and could likely be busted/sued if they did).

Even BPA-free plastic not always safe: Even BPA-free plastic can leach hormone-like chemicals, research shows, and there's no way to tell which products pose the risk.

"The new study, along with other work, suggests that the public's attention on BPA has been misguided. It now looks like there are thousands of possible chemicals in all sorts of plastics that act just like BPA. Called endocrine disruptors, these chemicals falsely tell the body's cells that the hormone estrogen is around, potentially causing all sorts of troubling developmental and reproductive consequences."

So, good news about BPA, but it probably doesn't save us from horrible death by can lining.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2011


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