Some activist "watchdogs" are again attempting to manipulate parents' natural concerns about their babies, without medical or scientific evidence. A few days ago, the uproar was over baby powder and lotions alleged to be delivering toxic phthalates; today, it's baby bottles and plastic water bottles leaching supposedly-toxic bisphenol-A (BPA). Both of these attacks are false.
BPA has never been shown to have any sort of health effect on humans in the extremely low doses we are exposed to from plastic bottles, can liners, or eyeglass lenses. This is true for all ages, even babies. Rats? Maybe, in high-dose experiments. Humans — no, not a single soul.
The activist conglomerate calling itself the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice offers the misleading factoid that BPA was "developed as a synthetic sex hormone." Not exactly true, since it was found not to be sufficiently biologically active, but regardless, so what? Viagra was developed as a cure for pulmonary hypertension. The amount of BPA that might work as a "sex hormone" is millions (or more) times higher than the amount we are ingesting from our plastic bottles. It appears the activist group is trying to re-awaken the discredited concept of "endocrine disruption," a scary but meaningless term. And of course, they always append the designation "known toxic chemical" when they speak of their targets. Known to whom, you ask? To them, for sure — but not to real scientists.
Another of their favorite tricks is to note that "this toxic chemical is inside us; the chemical companies are using us as their guinea pigs in an experiment." In fact, since our analytical chemists can now measure trace amounts of substances in our bodies and tissues down to parts per trillion (and less), BPA can indeed be found in almost everyone. But that does not mean it's harmful. Our own paper, published in a peer-reviewed medical journal in 2005 (and forming the basis of a more layperson-friendly booklet), demonstrates the lack of human health threat from BPA.
The claims that increased amounts of BPA are released by heating or washing bottles may be technically true, but the amount released is still way, way below any limit set for such exposures by the FDA or in Europe.
If we believed all these scare stories about chemicals, what recourse would we have? In fact, the same rat studies that show that synthetic chemicals are "carcinogenic" and "toxic" show exactly the same toxicities from a host of natural substances we eat in our food every day. So, to avoid such "carcinogens," the only salvation is to go back to living in caves and cooking over an open fire, I guess. But even that is risky, if you believe all the scare stories. Nothing is safe enough, it seems.
Where are all the illnesses the repeated warnings tell us about? If these substances caused cancer and other diseases, how come we are healthier and longer-lived than ever? Why are cancer rates plummeting across all age groups? Why have all the governmental regulatory and advisory panels — here, in the EU, and even in San Francisco — ruled, based on the extensive scientific evidence, that BPA, in the amounts we are exposed to in our food, water, and environment, is safe?
Further, what substance or substances have the anti-chemical zealots evaluated and deemed adequate substitutes for BPA products — which have been safely used for over fifty years everywhere in the USA? How would any such new products fare under their scrutiny, I wonder? Perhaps they want us to go back to those heavy and dangerously breakable glass bottles I remember from my childhood!
Once again, the sky is not falling. This message never gets the same airplay, though, as "the sky is falling" does — but it's true, nevertheless. Let's hope that just this once, responsible journalists don't bite at the bait and spread the scare stories, causing parents to dispose of their reliable baby bottles. Runners, don't allow these fringe groups to make you go thirsty, and don't throw out the baby bottles with the bathwater.
See also: ACSH's report on Biomonitoring, about why detecting chemicals is not the same as detecting harm.