An interview on the environmental website Yale360 (http://e360.yale.edu) raises renewed concerns about the health dangers of bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical found in polycarbonate plastic—from bottles to children's dinnerware—in the epoxy resins lining most canned food, in dental sealants and on cash register receipts. Frederick vom Saal, the researcher who has uncovered many of the worrisome health impacts of BPA in humans and animals, including its links to obesity, prostate cancer, and heart disease, talks to Yale360 about his frustrations over the continued inaction on the part of the federal government to ban BPA for the safety of consumers.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor—a synthetic chemical that tricks the body into thinking it's a hormone, in this case estrogen. So its impacts are particularly pronounced regarding reproductive systems, especially for males. BPA has been tied to low sperm count and prostate cancer in males, and infertility and early puberty in females. But vom Saal relates that the chemical does damage to developing brains, too, potentially leading to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. "It causes the brain of a young animal to look like a senile, aged adult, old person, and is part of impaired memory," vom Saal says.
The problem is that the chemical links that make up BPA in plastics and other products don't remain linked. They degrade over time and end up inhaled or ingested during the normal course of life. That's particularly worrisome for pregnant women and young children. Not enough is known about BPA's impact on a developing fetus, vom Saal says, but the growing evidence is frightening. Essentially, he says, early exposure could be reprogramming a growing child's reproductive system, giving rise to diseases—like breast cancer—that wouldn't be evident until adulthood. That said, industry-funded studies cannot replicate the negative findings, and so BPA has been allowed to continue as one of the most common chemicals in commerce. The researcher insists he's not an alarmist. He says: "This is a chemical about which we know more than any other chemical with the exception of dioxin. Right now, it is the most studied chemical in the world. NIH [National Institutes of Health] has $30 million of ongoing studies of this chemical. Do you think that federal officials in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan, would all have this as the highest priority chemical to study, if there were only a few alarmists saying it was a problem?"