Is BPA Actually Harmful? Scientists Still Can't Say

Bisphenol-A (BPA) has fired up more than a few debates in the food world. Certain plastics carry the chemical, and the majority of our cans and containers expose us to the stuff. Yet BPA is thought to mimic the hormone estrogen and could cause a wide range of side effects.

But what effects, and are they harmful? We still can't say, The New York Times reports today. Its in-depth article illustrates that many studies are years away from showing whether BPA causes definitive harm to humans. But at this point, the debate has moved away from science:

Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted, with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.

About half a dozen states have banned BPA in children's products, and Senator Dianne Feinstein hopes to accomplish the same nationwide, with an amendment to the food safety bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate next week.

This year, a presidential panel on cancer and the environment said there was a "growing link" between BPA and several diseases, including cancer, and recommended ways to avoid BPA, like storing water in bottles free of it and not microwaving food in plastic containers. Some cancer experts said the report overstated the case against chemicals, but the concerns it raised seemed to reflect growing public worries.

Consumer fears have made the words "BPA-free" a marketing tool. Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Sears, CVS and other retailers have said they will stop selling baby bottles made with BPA, and major formula and baby-bottle manufacturers have also scrapped it.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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