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Bisphenol A Concerns Spark More Retailer Action

Dec 26, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP Worries about hormone-mimicking BPA used in sports bottles led a major Canadian retailer to remove Nalgene and other polycarbonate plastic containers from store shelves in early December.  BPA—or bisphenol A—mimics the effects of estrogen in cells and some researchers and environmentalists revealed it can be toxic and cause several types of cancer (breast and prostate) as well as developmental, neural, behavioral, and reproductive harm (miscarriages and other reproductive failures), and obesity and hyperactivity in animals.  Fred vom Saal, professor of biology at the University of Missouri and one of the study's chief authors said the panel reviewed 700 published articles on BPA, practically all published in the last 10 years, yet US health and environmental regulators "are pretending they're still in the dark.”

Industry maintains BPA is not dangerous, citing studies from government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that containers manufactured from polycarbonate do not pose health risks to humans.  Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) became the first major Canadian retailer to stop selling BPA-containing products and is waiting for Canadian health regulators to finish a preliminary review.  The consumer cooperative is Canada's largest with 2.7 million members.  In response, the FDA reiterated that "BPA has been used in consumer products for over 50 years.  In that time, there has been no evidence that BPA is harmful to humans, either as the result of dietary intake or industrial worker exposures."  Patagonia Inc., another outdoor-gear retailer based in Ventura, California, pulled polycarbonate water bottles from its 40 stores worldwide in December 2005.  A month later, organic foods chain Whole Foods Markets stopped selling polycarbonate baby bottles and child drinking cups.  Norway and the European Union are also reviewing BPA; Japanese manufacturers stopped making products using polycarbonate plastic years ago.

Everyone agrees BPA can disrupt the hormonal system; however, scientists differ widely on whether low doses are harmful.  The FDA sides with the plastics industry that BPA-based products pose no health risk; however, an expert panel of researchers reported at a U.S. government conference that the potential for BPA to affect human health is a concern and more research is needed. The panel cited evidence that Americans have higher BPA levels than those found to cause harm in lab animals.

Nalge Nunc International, a division of Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. employs about 900 people at its Rochester plant.  "Rarely has a chemical been the subject of such intense scientific testing and scrutiny.  And still, important agencies across the globe agree that there is no danger posed to humans from polycarbonate bottles," Tom Cummins, a Nalge Nunc research director, said.  Highly durable and lightweight, resistant to stains and odors, and able to withstand extremes of hot and cold, screw-cap Nalgene bottles are marketed as an environmentally responsible substitute for disposable water bottles.

With over six million pounds produced in the United States each year, BPA is found in dental sealants, the liners of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses, and hundreds of household goods.

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