New concern about plastics



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WASHINGTON: A controversial chemical widely used in baby bottles and plastic food containers has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver abnormalities in adults.

A new report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reviewed the effect on adults of the chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA).

Brain development danger

It found that adults with the highest concentrations of BPA in their urine had nearly triple the odds of cardiovascular disease, compared with those with the least amounts of the compound in their systems. Of 1,455 adults studied, those with the highest BPA levels had more than double the odds of having diabetes, the report found.

"Higher urinary concentrations of BPA were associated with an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities," the authors write.

A group of toxicologists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) also published their concerns about the levels of the chemical found in many food containers, plastic bottles and dental fillings in a study earlier this month.

According to the NIH findings, the chemical could have dangerous effects on the development of the brain and the prostate gland in foetuses and newborn babies. BPA is said to interfere with oestrogen, the hormone which plays a key role in foetal and childhood development.

The authors of today's study said it was the first to track the prevalence in the human body of BPA, which authorities in Canada plan to outlaw as a health risk and major environmental contaminant.

Millions of tonnes

The compound is found in detectable levels in more than 90 per cent of Americans, "primarily through food, but also through drinking water, dental sealants, dermal exposure, and inhalation of household dusts," researchers said.

More than two million tonnes of BPA were produced worldwide in 2003, and demand for the compound has increased by between six and 10 per cent each year since then, the authors said.

Despite the findings, the industry group American Chemistry Council said more follow up studies were needed. "Overall, due to inherent limitations in study design, this new study cannot support a conclusion that bisphenol A causes any disease," said Steven Hentges from the council.

"The weight of scientific evidence continues to support the conclusion of governments worldwide that bisphenol A is not a significant health concern at the trace levels present in some consumer products," he added.