Debate rages over plastic bottle chemical's safety

Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:34pm EDT
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Canada is moving to get rid of products with a chemical common in plastic baby bottles, the United States is expressing concern over its safety and some retailers are planning to stop selling these items.

But whether the chemical bisphenol A poses genuine health risks in people remains a matter of debate, with industry groups defending its safety and environmental activists saying studies involving animals show otherwise.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a clear shatter-resistant material in products ranging from plastic baby and water bottles to sports safety equipment and medical devices.

It also is used to make durable epoxy resins used as the coating in most food and beverage cans.

People can eat or drink the chemical when it leaches out of the plastic into liquid such as baby formula, water or food inside the container.

"At this point, the writing is on the wall for bisphenol A. Major retailers and governments all across the country and the world are now recognizing that this chemical is extremely toxic at very low levels of exposure," Michael Schade of the U.S. environmental group Center for Health, Environment and Justice said in a telephone interview.

Critics of BPA said more than 150 scientific studies involving laboratory rodents show BPA to be harmful at even low levels. But some experts are not convinced.

"For me, the big question is: what levels of exposures are we getting and are those levels of exposure sufficient to cause harm?" Carl Winter, director of the Food Safety Program at the University of California-Davis, said in a telephone interview.   Continued...

<p>Baby bottles free of the chemical bisphenol A are seen during a news conference with Canada's Health Minister Tony Clement in Ottawa April 18, 2008. Canada intends to ban the import and sale of plastic polycarbonate baby bottles, which would be the first such step in the world, Clement said on Friday. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>