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9.10.2013 7:37 AM

Studies Point to Prenatal Risk from BPA Exposure

Review of scientific literature suggests risk in first 11 weeks of pregnancy.

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pregnant woman's belly
Photo: Mélanie Chaput/ Istock/Istock

By Dan Shapley

The chemical Bisphenol A has for years been among the prime targets of consumer advocates concerned about the growing list of independent studies that suggest government regulations could be too weak to protect us from harmful effects from the chemical, which is used in the lining of cans, to make hard plastics and in certain retail receipts, among other uses. Because it mimics the hormone estrogen, small exposures to the chemical may even be more harmful than large doses, according to some research.

The consumer outcry prompted manufacturers and retailers to remove the chemical, known as BPA, from most products designed for babies and children. (The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in infant formula packaging belatedly this year, after it had already been removed by manufacturers and retailers, and the Environmental Protection Agency just pulled a regulation that would have added scrutiny to BPA and a host of other suspect chemicals.)

A new analysis of recent scientific studies by the Breast Cancer Fund, however, suggests that those efforts may not go far enough, as the analysis suggests exposure during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy may cause changes to fetal development with lasting consequences for the child's sexual and neurological development, metabolism, immune system and even cancer risk. The studies analyzed include

“The report summarizes more than 60 peer-reviewed animal and human studies on prenatal BPA exposure, many of which demonstrate increased risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer, metabolic changes, decreased fertility, early puberty, neurological problems and immunological changes,” said Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., director of science at the Breast Cancer Fund and co-author of the report. “It also explores why the developing fetus is particularly sensitive to the effects of BPA—especially during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, when many women don't yet know they're pregnant.”

The advocacy group has been arguing for reforms--whether by manufacturers or the government--that will remove BPA from the lining of cans, which it sees as the most important pathway for exposure to this at-risk group. Six states have considered bills to ban or label BPA in canned foods, but none passed, bills in Congress haven't moved far, and the federal government has not indicated it is considering regulations. Some canned food manufacturers have indicated they are developing BPA-free can linings (and indeed, some are on the market today)

To read the Breast Cancer Fund analysis, visit breastcancerfund.org.


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