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Scientific community still unsure about BPA risks

By Keith Nuthall
Posted 3 December 2010
The extent of confusion and uncertainty within the global scientific community over the risks of contamination by the plastics additive Bisphenol A (BPA) has been laid bare by a report from an international meeting.

Specialists in the chemical gathered from round the world in Ottawa, Canada, in November, but failed to reach a comprehensive consensus on the risks, other than a lot more studies are required. This concern was made clear by a detailed report of the closed-doors meeting that has been released by its organisers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

It concluded: “Establishing a ‘safe’ exposure level for BPA continues to be hampered by a lack of data from experimental animal studies that are suitable for risk assessment. Many research studies have design and analysis issues that limit their utility for this purpose.

“Continued research into the toxicokinetics of BPA and its estrogenic and other mechanisms of action will be needed before it is possible to determine the appropriate [safe maximum dosage] for human risk assessment with confidence.”

And while the meeting was able to conclude there was a low risk of BPA causing harm in a string of important health issues – concluding for instance that studies on “developmental and reproductive toxicity…have shown effects only at high doses, if at all” – other concerns remained.

These included rat studies showing some associations with lower levels of BPA exposure regarding “sex-specific neurodevelopment, anxiety, preneoplastic changes in mammary glands and prostate in rats, [and] impaired sperm parameters).” The report warned that these exposures were close to those of humans, “so there would be potential for concern if their toxicological significance were to be confirmed.”

The WHO and FAO also released conclusions from a meeting of “stakeholders” representing BPA users, manufacturers and environmentalists. These included that “cross-contamination during packaging, manufacturing, storage or shipment can result in detectable levels of BPA, even when no BPA is intentionally used; and during analysis, even in tightly controlled laboratory settings.”

And also that there “is no readily available, suitable alternative that meets the essential safety and performance requirements for the broad spectrum of all foods now packaged in metal containers”. Also, even if there was, any alternative coatings would need to be “thoroughly evaluated for performance for the full shelf life of the product and for safety, as the potential toxicity of alternatives is a major concern”.

The FAO and WHO did not reveal which participants made these comments however, and their representatives strongly dissuaded Ottawa-based journalists from PRW from talking to meeting specialists to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the issue.

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