National health institute cites MU biologist's research

Thursday, April 17, 2008 | 11:42 p.m. CDT; updated 3:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — About 10 years ago, MU reproductive biologist Fred vom Saal’s research found that bisphenol A —­­ a common chemical in plastic bottles, audio CDs and canned goods — posed serious health risks to people, such as possibly causing cancer and other damage to the brain and reproductive organs.

This week, for the first time, an arm of the National Institutes of Health recognized “some concern” regarding BPA’s effect on the development of the brain and reproductive organs in fetuses, infants and children.

What can I do to prevent exposure?

  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures.
  • Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 on the bottom. Reduce your use of canned foods.
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids. Use baby bottles that are BPA-free. BPA free
Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

“I was very satisfied that they looked at the information and came to the conclusion that we’ve been coming to,” said vom Saal, who researches with MU professors Susan Nagel and Wade Welshons. “We are now absolutely, completely vindicated and validated.”

The report, issued by the National Toxicology Program, is based on lab studies working with rodents, including vom Saal’s. Studies have suggested that exposure to BPA may lead to changes in the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland and the timing of puberty in female mice, the report said.

“Because these effects in animals occur at bisphenol A exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed,” the report reads.

In a 2003-2004 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPA was found in 93 percent of the 2,517 people sampled, all of whom were older than 6.

“I don’t think it provides basis for an alarm,” said Mike Shelby, director of Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, which oversaw the report. “I think at this point, with the uncertainty we have of these effects, it becomes a matter of personal choice as to whether you take steps to reduce or try to eliminate your own exposure or your children’s exposure to BPA.”

Vom Saal’s research was cited 13 times in the 69-page report.

“His work is cited and certainly considered,” Shelby said.

BPA is exposed to people through the lining of common items such as some polycarbonate bottles or a canned good, vom Saal said. “We’re not talking about massive amounts causing harm.”

The report’s conclusions were “very similar” to the conclusions that a National Institutes of Health panel of 38 scientists agreed on, said vom Saal, who served on the panel.

Steve Hentges, executive director of polycarbonate/BPA global group at American Chemistry Council, said BPA is still safe to use.

“They found no serious or high-level concerns with bisphenol A,” Hentges said. “It provides us some good opportunities for research.”

The same day the report was released, vom Saal said, the Canadian government announced it would declare BPA a dangerous chemical.

“Everything we see in animals we expect to see in humans,” vom Saal said. “The bottom line is that bisphenol A is going to be taken out of food and beverage containers. The public is not going to tolerate the continued use of this chemical.”

The draft report could impact regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“We now have a convergence of all these different programs, and they’re all reaching the same conclusion. No one can claim there’s a scientific argument,” vom Saal said. “Regulatory agencies that don’t pay attention to that find themselves in trouble.”

The report, which cited 247 studies, also called for more research. It placed negligible concern that the exposure of pregnant women to BPA would result in fetal mortality, birth defects or growth in offspring. It also placed negligible concern that BPA exposure causes reproductive effects in adults who are not exposed to BPA at work and minimal concern for people exposed to higher levels in work settings.

The report used a five-level scale, with serious concern at the top, negligible concern at the bottom and some concern in the middle.

“My view as a scientist is that at the end of the day the scientific information would win the battle,” vom Saal said. “At first, people thought we were crazy, and now it’s quite the opposite.”

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Kevin Gamble April 18, 2008 | 12:51 p.m.

The last statement in the story, from vom Saal, is telling. There are so many examples of this in our society--where, just for the sake of convenience, financial profit, and expedience, we'll go along blindy with just about anything we're handed by Corporate America rather than consider that something we take for granted is dangerous to us.

It makes me think of my feelings toward topics like climate change--you may or may not be certain about the ultimate truth, but is the health and safety of your children and the future of our collective health really worth more than making some changes whose only cost is dollars? To resist change in such cases is to say that, in no uncertain terms, your convenience is worth more than your children's health and the world they'll live in. Because that's the gamble we're all making with energy production, industrial agriculture, genetically-modified foods, plastics, and more.

The publicity these new findings have been getting is a welcome, if belated, acknowledgement of vom Saal's findings, and gratifying for those of us who've been aware of these dangers for years and have been trying to inform others.

(Report Comment)
matthew marsh May 3, 2009 | 7:28 p.m.

Why risk it. Ready Made Inc ( has non plastic bottles that are not only BPA free, but they come pre filled with formula and a nipple reday to pop off the top and feed your baby.

(Report Comment)

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