April 13, 2010
By: S.L. Baker
Earlier this year, research linked bisphenol A (BPA), a common component of plastics and a powerful hormone disrupter, to heart disease. Now, in the March issue of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, researchers have reported yet another newly discovered danger posed by BPA. Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, and his research team have found for the first time that BPA exposure during pregnancy can cause abnormalities in the uterus of offspring and permanent alterations in DNA.
But at least you can avoid plastics and therefore avoid exposure to the BPA, right? Unfortunately, another group of scientists has just announced that’s getting harder and harder to do. Bottom line: there is now solid evidence that Earth’s oceans have been contaminated on a global scale with BPA.
Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D., of Nihon University in Chiba, Japan, and his colleagues announced their startling and worrisome findings at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society held in San Francisco recently. He stated that the massive BPA contamination of oceans resulted from hard plastic trash thrown in the seas as well as from another surprising source — the epoxy plastic paints used to seal the hulls of ships.
“This new finding clearly demonstrates the instability of epoxy, and shows that BPA emissions from epoxy do reach the ocean. Recent studies have shown that mollusks, crustaceans and amphibians could be affected by BPA, even in low concentrations,” Dr. Saido said in a statement to the media.
The scientists noted that light, white-foamed plastic decomposed rapidly at temperatures commonly found in the oceans, releasing the endocrine disruptor BPA. It isn’t just soft plastics that leach BPA, either.
“We were quite surprised to find that polycarbonate plastic biodegrades in the environment,” Dr. Saido explained. “Polycarbonates are very hard plastics, so hard they are used to make screwdriver handles, shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, and other very durable products. This finding challenges the wide public belief that hard plastics remain unchanged in the environment for decades or centuries. Biodegradation, of course, releases BPA to the environment.”
Dr. Saido’s research team analyzed sand and seawater from over 200 sites in 20 countries, including areas in Southeast Asia and North America. Every site tested contained what Dr. Saido labeled as “significant” amounts of BPA, ranging from 0.01 parts per million (ppm) to 50 ppm.
Dr. Saido pointed out that littering currently results in about 150,000 tons of plastic debris washing up on the shores of Japan alone each year. In addition, a huge area of plastic waste known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is about two times the size of Texas, now contaminates the area between California and Hawaii. “Marine debris plastic in the ocean will certainly constitute a new global ocean contamination for long into the future,” Dr. Saido predicted in the press statement.
In yet more BPA news, Rolf Halden, associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University and assistant director of Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, has just published a sobering research article on the hazards of chemical-loaded plastics. His findings, which are included in the latest issue of the Annual Review of Public Health, provide more evidence that plastics in garbage dumps, landfills and the world’s oceans are an ever-increasing toxic problem.
In fact, Dr. Halden concluded in his paper that plastics and their additives such as BPA aren’t only around us; they are inside virtually every human. The chemicals show up in blood and urine tests because they are ingested with the food we eat, the water we drink and from other environmental exposures.
“We’re doomed to live with yesterday’s plastic pollution and we are exacerbating the situation with each day of unchanged behavior,” Dr. Harden said in a press statement. “We are at a critical juncture and cannot continue under the modus that has been established. If we’re smart, we’ll look for replacement materials, so that we don’t have this mismatch — good for a minute and contaminating for 10,000 years.”