An Environmental Working Group study, released Tuesday evening, found traces of BPA in 90% of infants' umbilical cord blood, the first U.S. study to confirm the chemical's presence in babies. BPA is thought to cause fertility and other problems for those exposed to high levels.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has done testing of children and adults, said Anila Jacob, lead author on the report. "They tested 3,000 Americans in the past and found BPA in 93%, which correlates with results," Jacob added.
The study tested the blood of 10 children from racial and ethnic minority groups from around the country for the presence of harmful chemicals and found a total of 232 chemicals in the infants' cord blood, including mercury and lead, though BPA was the most distressing find.
As the public has recently become hyper-aware of the risks involved with BPA, companies are being forced to adapt. Eco-friendly water bottle company SIGG reported in 2008 that their aluminum bottles tested with no detectable levels of BPA but didn't conclusively say the bottles were BPA-free. CEO Steve Wasik explained that while the bottles did not leach BPA, there were traces of the chemical. Beginning in August of 2008, SIGG only produced BPA-free bottles, and offered customers replacements, but only if they were willing to pay for shipping.
Attempts to produce healthier products are a first step, but not necessarily a fix. "People are buying BPA-free baby bottles, which is great," Jacob said. "But they come to me and ask, 'What else is in here?' And I have to say, 'I don't know.'"
The study also reconfirmed the presence of PCBs (in all 10 children), which had been found in previous studies. The government banned the use of PCBs in 1976, and their unrelenting presence should be seen as a warning sign, Jacob said.
"These chemicals may take decades to stop affecting us, so we need to take speedy action now to improve health in the future," she said, explaining that under 1976's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), chemicals undergo minimal testing before hitting the market. "There's a major gap that's allowed chemicals to not only come to the marketplace, but to stay there."
Jacob acknowledges that the BPA finding is the most alarming part of the EWG study, but hopes Americans take note of the bigger picture.
"We're finding babies born with potentially toxic chemicals. We need to pay attention to what's going on with the federal legislation," she said.
Last year, the FDA met heavy criticism when it deemed BPA safe after relying heavily on BPA industry-funded research. The FDA was expected to make an announcement on Monday about its new ruling on the safety of BPA, which the EWG hoped would lead to an improved alternative to TSCA. But with hundreds of new studies to comb through, the FDA failed to meet that deadline.
In the meantime, she suggests "shopping yourself out of these exposures," by decreasing the use of items that carry chemicals like BPA, including canned foods and plastic water bottles, and not microwaving food in plastic. Will it save you from all the toxins we subject ourselves to? Probably not. But it's a start.