Bisphenol-A (BPA): Endocrine Disruptor

The mildly estrogenic compound bisphenol-A (BPA) was first created in 1891 by Aleksandr Dianin, a Russian, who named it "Dianin's Compound." In 1938, the much more potent synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) was synthesized by Leon Golberg, a graduate student at the University of Oxford in England. In 1941, the FDA approved DES's use for menopausal symptoms and in 1947, its use to prevent miscarriages. However, in 1953, the first study was published indicating that DES was not effective in preventing miscarriages. Manufacturers continued to market DES to pregnant women until 1971, when the first study was published linking DES to vaginal cancer in female children of women taking DES. Between 1941 and 1971, millions of women and their children were exposed to DES.

Meanwhile, in the 1940s and 1950s, the chemical industry discovered that BPA was an excellent hardener for epoxy resins and could be polymerized to form polycarbonate plastic. It is now used in a wide range of products, from plastics to linings of food cans, with an estimated use per year of 6 billion pounds. The CDC has found that over 90% of Americans have BPA in their urine, with the highest exposure occurring in infants and children. Overt toxicity from exposure to BPA occurs at only very high doses, but more subtle effects on the endocrine system occur at very low doses.

Though animal studies and limited human studies have found endocrine-related health effects, government agencies have been reluctant to ban or restrict the use of BPA. While the US FDA has not taken regulatory action, governments that have instituted bans on BPA in baby bottles include the Canadian Ministry of Health, the European Union, and US states including Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

As we have seen time and time again, it is neither sufficient nor efficient to test and regulate synthetic chemicals after exposure to the general population has already occurred. A precautionary approach would assure that chemicals are tested for safety before they are used and that only the chemicals known to be the safest are permitted for use in industry. This is the only way we can protect the health of our children, who have the right to learn and develop in an environment that allows them to reach and maintain their full genetic potential.