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Plastic's health risks debated

The Food and Drug Administration defended its assessment that bisphenol A is safe. The Food and Drug Administration defended its assessment that bisphenol A is safe. (David McNew/Getty Images/File 2008)
Associated Press / September 17, 2008
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WASHINGTON - With scientists at odds over the safety of a chemical found in plastic baby bottles, metal cans, and other food packaging, consumers got minimal guidance yesterday about how to protect themselves.

At a scientific hearing, the Food and Drug Administration defended its assessment that bisphenol A - or BPA - is safe, even as the first major study of health effects in people linked it with possible risks for heart disease and diabetes. The debate could drag on for years.

"Right now, our tentative conclusion is that it's safe, so we're not recommending any change in habits," said Laura Tarantino, head of the FDA's office of food additive safety. But she acknowledged, "there are a number of things people can do to lower their exposure."

For example, consumers can avoid plastic containers imprinted with the recycling number "7," as many of those contain BPA. Or, said Tarantino, they can avoid warming food in such containers, as heat helps to release the chemical. More than 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, but the FDA says the levels of exposure are too low to pose a health risk, even for infants and children.

However, a study released yesterday by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a new concern about BPA. Because of the possible public health implications, the results "deserve scientific follow-up," the study authors said. Using a health survey of nearly 1,500 adults, they found that those exposed to higher amounts of BPA were more likely to report having heart disease and diabetes.

But the study is preliminary, far from proof that the chemical caused the health problems. Two Dartmouth College analyses of medical research said it raises questions but provides no answers about whether the ubiquitous chemical is harmful.

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