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Chemical Used in Household Plastics Sparks Concerns

The chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA, is used to make many common plastic products used in U.S. homes, including baby bottles. Scientists and expert panels have been tasked with determining whether BPA has adverse effects on human health.

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  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    When these four Washington, D.C., moms get together these days, talk turns inevitably to baby bottles.

  • HEIDI PARSONT, Mother:

    The fact that it potentially cause cancer, I think, is alarming.


    Heidi Parsont is frightened by what she's read and heard.


    Some of the studies are so scary, and some of them are inconclusive, and some of them just say, you know, they don't really know. And so it's hard to decide how to proceed in a day and age when everything is made of this.


    The "this" Parsont is talking about is a chemical called Bisphenol A. It's used to make millions of plastic products found in American homes, including baby bottles.

    Recently, both Parenting magazine and two popular books, "Baby 411" and "Baby Bargains," recommended moms stop feeding their infants with polycarbonate plastic bottles. That's because some scientists warn Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, is harmful, especially to young children.

    While Parsont is on the fence about what to do, the other three mothers decided to throw out all of their plastic bottles and replace them with glass or BPA-free ones.

  • KIM TRUCANO, Mother:

    I also saw that there was possible — could be possible issues with the nervous system, and that worries me.


    So if I can, you know, go out and spend $30 on bottles, I'm going to do it and then have that peace of mind later. So for me, it's about the peace of mind. It's very difficult, because we just know just a little to get us scared.


    BPA has been used for more than 30 years to make polycarbonate plastic products shatter-resistant and optically clear. Each year, 6 billion pounds are produced around the world.

    It's not just in baby bottles. Almost every food can on the shelves at American grocery stores is lined with a resin made from BPA to prevent the metal from breaking down and affecting the contents. BPA is also found in CDs, DVDs, eyeglasses, dental sealants, bike helmets, shin guards, dinnerware, and the ever-present accessory at sporting events, the hard plastic Nalgene water bottle.

    Recently, the Centers for Disease Control said it found BPA in the urine of 95 percent of over 2,000 adults tested at random. But the question nobody seems to be able to answer definitively is: Does the chemical do harm to the human body?

    Thirty-eight internationally recognized scientists, all experts on BPA, recently said yes.

    In an unusual consensus statement, after looking at 700 different studies on BPA, and after publishing their findings in six peer-reviewed papers, the scientists said: Adverse effects found in animals exposed to low doses of BPA gave them cause for "great concern" because of the "potential for similar adverse effects in humans."

    Developmental reproductive biologist Retha Newbold is one of the 38 who is worried about what BPA may be doing to humans.

    RETHA NEWBOLD, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: If we look at all these things that — illnesses that are going up in the United States, there's an increased incidence in breast cancer. There's an increased incidence in prostate cancer. We have more problems with infertility and fertility. We do not have the direct link to say that Bisphenol A is directly associated with these lesions, but there is reason for concern that BPA is actually playing a role in some of these.