Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund, January 20, 2010
Thank you for the opportunity to testify about BPA and phthalates as president of the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund of the National Research Center for Women & Families.
Our Center is dedicated to improving the health and safety of adults and children, and we do that by scrutinizing medical and scientific research to determine what is known and not known about specific health and safety issues.
In addition, I am a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, and a board member for two nonprofit organizations that work to improve resources for the FDA: the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, and the Reagan Udall Foundation.
I was trained in epidemiology at Yale Medical School; was on the faculty at Yale and Vassar; and directed a longitudinal research project at Harvard. I have worked on health policy issues in Congress, the White House, and for nonprofit organizations for 25 years.
The Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund of the National Research Center for Women & Families strongly supports Bill 18-521, the “Human and Environmental Health Protection Amendment Act of 2009,” which will help to ensure that children and residents of the District of Columbia are better protected from the adverse health affects of a variety of chemicals. Due to time constraints, I will address only Sections 2 and 3 of the bill-the sections on Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make plastics, and is frequently used in baby bottles, water bottles, and medical devices. It is also used in an epoxy coating on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans.
We think of plastic as being solid, but BPA leaches out of plastic and epoxy linings into liquids and foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found measurable amounts of BPA in the bodies of more than 90 percent of the U.S. population studied.
BPA mimics and interferes with estrogen-an important hormone in reproduction and development. Scientists are concerned about BPA’s behavioral effects on fetuses, infants, and children at current exposure levels, and whether it can affect the prostate gland, brain, and behavior. There is also considerable concern about the impact of BPA on the mammary gland and its ability to trigger early puberty in girls, as well as the long-term risk of breast cancer.
There is research that claims that the levels of BPA in food containers are not harmful, but that research is funded by companies with financial ties to BPA. It is not objective research, and it is not credible research. That is why the FDA has finally admitted their concerns about BPA and is funding new research to better understand the risks. Meanwhile, the FDA is working with companies to decrease or eliminate BPA in food containers, and they are providing information to consumers on how to reduce exposure to BPA.
Phthalates are chemicals that are used to make plastic flexible and to add fragrances to soap and other personal products. Unfortunately, these chemicals don’t stay only in the products, and phthalates have been found in indoor air and dust, and in human urine, blood, and breast milk. Levels are highest in women and children ages 6 to 11. African Americans have been shown to have higher levels of phthalates than whites.
Research indicates that boys exposed to phthalates may be more likely to develop smaller genitals and incomplete descent of the testicles. Boys who are born with undescended testicles are more than twice as likely to develop testicular cancer as teenagers or young men. Phthalates are believed to also affect girls’ hormones, but the health impact is not yet known. Recent studies also show associations between children’s exposure to phthalates and the risk of asthma, allergies and bronchial obstruction.,  Studies by Harvard researchers have shown phthalates may alter human sperm DNA and semen quality.
Thanks to a Federal law passed in 2008, children’s toys and child care products for children under the age of 3 that are sold in the U.S (such as teething rings and plastic books) can not contain phthalates. However, testing to ensure these products are actually phthalate-free does not even begin until next year in order to give small businesses time to comply with the new law.
What about protecting our children while BPA is being studied? And what about phthalates in plastic products for children older than 3, and shampoos and creams for babies and young children? We don’t think parents should need a PhD in chemistry when they shop for baby bottles, infant formula, and baby creams.
BPA levels are especially high in the bodies of infants and children3 and children are especially vulnerable to BPA and phthalates. So it makes sense that Sections 2 and 3 ban BPA and phthalates in products intended for use by children under the age of 6. This is an excellent first step. But, what about prenatal exposures to BPA and phthalates?
Pregnancy and Chemical Exposures
If a pregnant woman is exposed to BPA or phthalates, then even before her child is born he or she will be exposed to BPA and phthalates. Pregnant women don’t have a special diet of canned foods and beverages-they eat the same food as everyone else. Pregnant women are encouraged to eat fish and fruits and vegetables, and if that is in the form of canned foods, such as canned tuna, they will get even more BPA in their bodies and the bodies of their babies. And, they use the same shampoos and creams that other adults use. That’s why we need to be concerned about BPA exposure from all containers for foods and beverages commonly consumed by adults and phthalates in all personal care products used by women.
BPA may interfere with chemotherapy, especially for breast cancer patients. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in February 2009 found that the effectiveness of chemotherapy could be undermined by exposure to BPA among breast cancer patients. This means that BPA levels in all foods and beverages consumed by adults are potentially dangerous.
BPA and Heart Disease
A study published this month based on a major government data set, the NHANES, “consistently associated [BPA] with reported heart disease in the general adult population of the USA.” That study replicated the findings of an earlier study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found a like to diabetes and heart disease.
Because of these serious health risks, we believe that companies should have labels on all food containers that contain BPA. That will help our residents make informed decisions and it will provide an incentive for companies to find alternatives to BPA.
Safer alternatives to BPA and phthalates are available. Japan has reduced BPA in consumer products, such as canned beverages and plastic tableware. They are using different linings for beverage cans, which leach only a small amount of BPA, and plastic tableware that had BPA has been replaced with tableware that does not. Canada has designated BPA as the highest priority chemical in need of regulation and has banned its use in infant products.
Several cities and states across the U.S. have weighed the scientific evidence and are seeking to implement bans. Suffolk County in New York became the first in the U.S. to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, in March, 2009. In Congress, bills were introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives (S. 593/H.R. 1523) to ban BPA in children’s products.
Responsible retailers are not waiting for local or federal governments to act. Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have pledged to remove products containing BPA from their shelves. Bottle manufacturers such as Playtex and Nalgene are using non-BPA materials for their products. SUNOCO, a BPA manufacturer, announced last year that it would require customers to confirm that no BPA would be used in food or water containers for children under 3 years of age. Despite this progress, however, baby bottles, infant formula cans, and other children’s products with BPA are still being sold and being used by D.C. residents.
Keeping Consumers Safe
The bottom line is that there is a growing body of evidence that the cumulative exposures to BPA and phthalates are endangering our children and possibly also adults. More than 100 studies, many conducted by independent researchers without conflicts of interest, have raised doubts about the safety of BPA and phthalates. And, safer alternatives to BPA and phthalates are available. If the Council wants to protect consumers in the District, then it should ban BPA and phthalates in infants’ and children’s products. And to protect pregnant and nursing women and their babies, chemotherapy patients, and other adults, the DC government should consider what it could do to encourage companies to ensure that food and beverage containers that use BPA are labeled as such. Similarly, phthalates in personal care products meant for adults should also be labeled. As I mentioned, that would make it possible for our residents to make informed decisions and it will provide an incentive for companies to find alternatives to these chemicals.
We thank you for considering the “Human and Environmental Health Protection Amendment Act, and strongly urge you to support it and join with us in finding ways to better protect children and adults from the risks of BPA and phthalates.
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