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Plastic chemical may expose foetuses to cancer

Bisphenol A is a common component of plastic bottles and the linings of food cans

Image: Paul Tomlins/Eye Ubiquitous

FRANCE HAS SAID today it will call for Europe-wide controls on a paper product containing bisphenol A after a watchdog agency said the widely-used chemical may expose unborn children to breast cancer later in life.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a common component of plastic bottles and the linings of food cans, but some studies have linked it to brain and nervous system problems, reproductive disorders and obesity.

It has been banned for use in baby bottles by the European Union, United States and Canada and many manufacturers have stopped using it in general.

France’s ANSES food safety agency urged pregnant women to avoid food preserved in lined cans, or drinking water from polycarbonate water fountains found in many office buildings which it said was a “source of exposure to bisphenol A”.

It also advised them to avoid handling slips from shop tills, and urged further research into the risk of exposure for cashiers.

Risk to unborn children

The agency said bisphenol A could pose health risks to unborn children if their mothers ingested, inhaled or repeatedly touched products that contain it – including thermal paper used in some kinds of cash register slips or ATM receipts.

Bisphenol is also commonly found on CDs and DVDs and plastic containers used for microwave cooking or fridge storage.

Ecology and Energy Minister Delphine Batho said that on the basis of the ANSES report, France would recommend that the European Commission ban the use of bisphenol A in thermal paper receipts.

“Until then, it is imperative that manufacturers prioritise the search for a substitute for this substance,” she said in a statement.

Report

In a report summarising several global scientific studies on the topic up to July 2012, ANSES said its experts were “moderately” confident of the evidence pointing to a risk to babies in the womb, though the danger for other people remained unclear.

“The conclusions show that certain exposure of pregnant women to BPA poses a risk for the mammary glands of the unborn child,” the agency said in a report that wrapped up a three-year investigation.

The risk “may be characterised… by increased sensitivity of the mammary gland to the formation of tumours. The risk potentially concerns both sexes,” said the report.

There was also a possible risk for the foetus’ brain, metabolism and reproductive system, it added.

ANSES stressed there were still many uncertainties in the data.

Advised by agencies like ANSES, the French parliament in December voted to ban BPA in baby food packaging from 2013 and in all food containers from 2015.

The chemical is still used around the world in plastic products, and the United States said last year it would not impose a general ban of BPA as there was no evidence of harm to adults.

BPA in Ireland

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Wayne Anderson of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that the chemical is “less widely-used now in Ireland”.

“Effectively the industry has seen a lot of scrutiny over it so they’re looking for alternatives,” he said. “Of course those have to me safe as well and approved because there is a limited number of them.”

“The area is under scrutiny scientifically, there are no definitive views on it yet and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are looking at it,” he added.

Anderson said that the FSAI will be waiting to see what EFSA’s conclusions will be but that he didn’t “think people should be concerned at this stage”.

“It will be dealt with quickly and with this chemical it’s an issue of long-term exposure anyway,” he added.

-  © AFP 2013 with additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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