21 August 1995 00:00 [Source: ICB]
HUMANS ARE being exposed to the chemical bisphenol-A, which has oestrogenic effects, says a recent study by Spanish scientists, but more evidence is needed to find out if the chemical is actually harming them.
Bisphenol-A is used to make epoxy resins, which in turn are used to make some of the lacquers used to coat the inside of food cans. Bisphenol-A has been shown to produce oestrogenic effects - mimicking the action of the female hormone oestrogen - in cell cultures. Scientists at the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) are examining its effects on developing male rats.
The Spanish team, from the University of Granada, concluded that all oestrogenic activity in the cans was due to bisphenol-A leached from the lacquer coating, although the presence of other oestrogenic compounds could not be ruled out.
Nevertheless, the scientists said the use of plastics coatings in food packaging may require closer scrutiny to find out if epoxy resins and polycarbonates (which are also made using bisphenol-A) are contributing to human exposure to oestrogenic compounds.
Moira McMillan, of the British Coatings Federation, said the industry was watching developments but felt there was no reason for people to panic. 'It is believed that bisphenol-A does not have the same metabolic route in man as in rats,' she told ECN. 'Further studies need to be made to see if there is a causal link between the chemical and problems in man.'
The most contaminated samples measured by the Spanish scientists contained about 80µg/kg of the chemical - well within the EU limit of 3mg/kg.
A statement issued on behalf of the epoxy resins committee of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME) said it was confident its products were safe for use. 'A thorough review of all the toxicological studies carried out on bisphenol-A has indicated no adverse reproductive effects.
'Even if exposure were to occur, published information indicates that bisphenol-A is rapidly removed from the body by natural mechanisms.'
Despite its confidence in current scientific studies, APME is now working with the US Society of the Plastics Industry to demonstrate further that bisphenol-A is rapidly and safely removed from the body.
APME added that many regulatory and academic bodies were trying to develop more reliable screening tests for oestrogenicity than the E-screen method used in the Spanish study.
Bisphenol-A is just one of a number of chemicals associated with hormonal disruption. Richard Sharpe of the MRC's reproductive biology unit said a study of his which is due to be published later this year shows some phthalates and alkylphenols produce smaller testes and lower sperm counts in rats.
The study comes as the European Union is expanding the scope of its directive which governs plastics which come into contact with foodstuffs to include coatings such as epoxy resins.
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