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Bisphenol A (BPA) - Endocrine Disruptive Chemical

Guest Gwynne Lyons

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Guest Gwynne Lyons

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical, used to manufacture polycarbonate and numerous plastic articles. However, recent studies have shown that it can leach out of certain products, including the plastic lining of cans used for food, polycarbonate babies’ bottles and tableware, and white dental fillings and sealants.


Low levels of BPA have also been found to cause biological effects, and its mode of action appears to mimic that of the female hormone, oestrogen. BPA therefore belongs to a group of chemicals termed “hormone disruptors” or “endocrine disruptors”, that are able to disrupt the chemical messenger system in the body.


There is growing international concern about manmade endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), because they can de-rail the development of offspring exposed in the womb. It is feared that they may be partly responsible for the decline in sperm counts, and the increased rates of hormone related cancers, such as cancers of the

breast, testes and prostate.


They are also suspected of causing birth defects of the reproductive tract (including un-descended testes), and other hormone related effects, such as earlier puberty

in girls.

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Guest Seiwa

Given the importance of thyroid hormones in brain development and cognitive function, endocrine disrupters can interfere with thyroid function.

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Guest Suzi Emmerling

Reproductive health in the United States is declining as human exposure to dangerous chemicals is rising, according to a data-rich slide show titled, “Reproductive Roulette: Declining Reproductive Heath, Dangerous Chemicals, and a New Way Forward.”


Fertility problems, miscarriages, preterm births, and birth defects are all up. Meanwhile, the number of chemicals registered for commercial use now stands at 80,000—a 30-percent increase since 1979.


These trends in reproductive health are not simply the result of women postponing motherhood. In fact, women under 25 and women between 25 and 34 report an increasing number of fertility problems. Men and boys are also experiencing problems. Average sperm count appears to be steadily declining, and there are rising rates of male genital birth defects such as hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra does not develop properly.


“Something is not right,” said Reece Rushing, Director of Regulatory and Information Policy at the Center for American Progress and author of the report. “Americans are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals that we know can harm reproductive health. These exposures appear to be taking a disturbing toll.”


Chemical exposures occur in a variety of ways, including through industrial releases, contaminated food, household products and cosmetics, and workplaces where chemicals are used. Tests of blood and urine confirm rising and widespread exposure to a chemical soup of metals, pesticides, plasticizers, and other substances, many of which are dangerous to reproductive health. Young children are often exposed to significantly higher levels of these chemicals than adults. Racial and ethnic minorities are also exposed at higher levels.


The slide show provides an overview of this problem and spotlights three chemical groups—phthalates, Bisphenol A, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers—that are linked to reproductive health consequences. Phthalates and BPA are found in toys, food containers, cosmetics, and many other consumer products. PBDEs are used as flame retardants in household furniture and electronics.


U.S. chemical safety laws do not provide adequate protection from these chemical groups and other dangerous substances. Indeed, the Government Accountability Office recently added chemical safety to its “high-risk list” of areas that should be addressed immediately.


“Regulatory agencies lack the authority and capacity to adequately evaluate safety and set strong standards against dangerous chemicals,” Rushing explained. “And chemical manufacturers are not required to conduct premarket safety testing of their products. Instead, human beings in the real world end up as the guinea pigs.”


Congress is beginning to pay attention. Lead and phthalates were banned from children’s products last year following the discovery of contaminated Chinese-made toys. Legislation has also been introduced to ban BPA in all food and beverage containers. And the Kids Safe Chemical Act is expected to be introduced later this summer to reform the ineffectual Toxic Substances Control Act.


“Congress should act now,” Rushing said. “America’s reproductive health is on the line.”

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