Newborn babies are more intensely exposed than previously documented to contamination by bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen and ubiquitous plastic component, according to two new studies published by Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The studies offer new and serious insights into the harm caused by BPA, an industrial chemical found to disrupt the endocrine system, to diminish brain and neurological activity and to cause permanent damage to the reproductive systems of young lab animals.
In a pioneering December 10, 2008, study entitled “Exposure to Bisphenol A and other Phenols in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Premature Infants,” a team led by Antonia M. Calafat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the urine of 41 premature infants being treated in two Boston-area hospital neonatal intensive care units for the presence of BPA and other plastic chemicals.
The scientists detected BPA in the urine of every infant, with a median level of 28.6 micrograms per liter, nearly 8 times the median level (3.7 micrograms per liter) found by CDC in children 6 to 11 in the general population. The most alarming finding: the infant with the most severe exposure to BPA had a total urinary concentration of 946 micrograms per liter, 256 times greater than levels in older children tested by the CDC.
The preemies’ BPA readings are even more striking when compared to other CDC data showing that adults in the general U.S. population have a median BPA urine level of 2.7 micrograms per liter. By that standard, the infants’ median BPA level was 10 times that of adults; the child with the highest reading had a body burden 350 times that of the median adult level.
A second ground-breaking study, “Predicting Plasma Concentrations of Bisphenol A in Young Children,” published in EHP in November 2008 and authored by Canadian scientists Andrea N. Edginton of the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and Len Ritter of the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph, used a mathematical model to predict that a newborn exposed to the same amount of BPA as an adult, per pound of body weight would have 11 times more of chemical in its bloodstream. The reason: an infant’s immature body is less able to detoxify and excrete the chemical, so some ingested BPA lingers longer in the baby’s blood.
Under the Bush administration, FDA leaders have resisted pressures from scientists and health and consumer advocates to order BPA removed from food packaging, including baby formula containers, baby bottles and kid-friendly foods such as canned soup, ravioli and vegetable. Last fall, the FDA Science Board issued a blistering critique of that stance, but the agency insisted that more study was necessary and delayed regulatory action. The agency has initiated a separate review of BPA exposures from medical devices, but so far, no results are in.
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