November 11, 2009

More bad news for BPA: seems it’s making us sexually dysfunctional too

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All that research pointing to big problems with BPA for humans appears to have yet another, powerful study in its corner, this one a  study of Chinese workers showing that exposure causes erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems in men. It’s the first study to examine the impact of bisphenolrita_hibbardweb on the reproductive system of human males. Previous studies have examined mice or rats.

The compound is found in thousand of consumer products – from your plastic water bottles to baby bottles to the lining of canned food to dental sealants — and has been detected in the urine of 93 percent of the U.S. population. The Washington Post, reporting on the study published in the journal of Human Reproduction, said the study, funded by the federal government, found that the men handling BPA were four times as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and seven times as likely to have problems with ejaculation. The study was conducted on 634 male workers with extremely high exposures at four factories in China.  The study followed the men over five years and compared their health with that of male workers in other Chinese factories where BPA was not present.

De-Kun Li, a scientist at the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute that conducted the study with federal funds, said the study is significant because chemical manufacturers and other defenders of BPA have long complained that research raising questions about its health effects was conducted on laboratory animals.

“Critics dismissed all the animal studies, saying, `Show us the human studies,’ ” Li said. “Now we have a human study, and this can’t just be dismissed.”

The workers were exposed to 50 times what the average U.S. man faces. Li says now researchers need to study the effects of lower-level exposures, perhaps over much longer exposure periods.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration has insisted so far that the compound is safe, despite the fact that it is readily absorbed through food and drink containers. Health advocates have lobbied to have the compound banned, and some jurisdictions have removed it from baby products, and products are marketed as “BPA free.” But the industry dismissed even this most recent evidence, claiming the exposure levels were so high as to make it not applicable.

“Although this study presents interesting information, it has little relevance to average consumers who are exposed to trace levels of BPA,” said Stephen Hentges of the American Chemistry Council.

However, don’t expect business as usual. The FDA has come under increasing criticism for its failure to act on BPA, and the Obama administration has promised a “fresh look” at the issue. The agency’s own scientific advisory board last year criticized it for ignoring more than 100 studies linking BPA with adverse health effects, and $30 million in federal money has been allocated to study the compound.

For consumers, two good background pieces remain my former Seattle Post-Intelligencer colleague Lisa Stiffler’s groundbreaking consumer guide published two years ago, which you can find here, and this interesting piece, which gives some fascinating context on how the problem came to be identified. You’ll be amazed.

— Rita Hibbard

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