MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:
And I'm Andrea Seabrook.
See that water bottle over there on your desk? Or that one in your cup holder next to you? Or maybe the one over in your baby stroller? If it's a clear, hard plastic bottle, it might contain a compound called bisphenol A. It's also in the lining of cans like canned vegetables and some baby bottles.
Bisphenol A can act as a synthetic estrogen, and it's been the subject of debate. Does bisphenol A leach into your drink or your food? And if so, is it harmful? Well, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health has now looked at a research with an eye towards the safety of pregnant women and young children in particular.
Jane Adams is a neurodevelopmental toxicologist who was on the National Toxicology Program panel. She says the panel discounted a number of worries, but some concern about the neural and behavioral effects of bisphenol A was raised by animal studies.
JANE ADAMS: I'm talking, for example, about behaviors in which males might normally show a higher frequency than females. Male rats of a particular age would be more active when exploring a new object than females would be. So if those animals are exposed to bisphenol A - and in this case, that study related to the exposure turning puberty, which is also a period of brain development - the males showed reduced activity.
SEABROOK: Now, you can't extrapolate from animal studies to human studies, can you?
ADAMS: Well, not directly. But when you know the brain area that is controlling a particular behavior and you know that that is similar between species, then it can be suggestive of the reasons to be concerned.
SEABROOK: So what do that mean - the message is when a pregnant woman or somebody who might be thinking about becoming pregnant, when they're, when they're looking at this, an NIH group saying there is some concern. What does that mean they should do?
ADAMS: Well, first of all, not panic, because the concern is really just a concern that some flags have been raised and that we need to understand this more thoroughly. But there are certain precautions that can be taken, especially during pregnancy or lactation. Eat fresh foods or frozen foods, preferentially, to canned foods if you are trying to reduce your exposure. With respects to babies - the first thing - that would be breastfeeding is probably better than bottled feeding. And there's - with respect to the bottles themselves, if it's possible to use glass bottles instead of the plastic bottles.
And when these polycarbonate plastics start showing signs of wear, they leach a little bit more of bisphenol A into the liquids that they contain or foods.
SEABROOK: So when they sort of get that ring on the inside or crack...
ADAMS: That's the way I'm remembering their appearance, yeah. A kind of a cracking that doesn't lead to leaking, but nevertheless, it's a change in appearance. That might suggest it's time to get new bottles.
SEABROOK: Now, Jane Adams, these are your recommendations, not those of the expert panel, correct?
ADAMS: That's right. I'm speaking as an individual. The expert panel did not make any suggestions with respect to specific actions that people might take to reduce exposure.
SEABROOK: It turns out that the expert panel also found some good news here, that there are some things not to be concerned about. Can you tell me about that?
ADAMS: That's right. One thing that has happened has been that a number of groups have made statements that are not well supported by the literature as we just reviewed it. At the recent meeting of the expert panel, individuals from the audience mentioned things like prostate cancer and breast cancer and obesity, and they had quite a list, and so it's equally important to pay attention to what our panel judge to the adequate animal data or even human, in some cases, to make the statement that those effects are not produced. The consensus from this panel was that there should not be concern about prostate cancer, breast cancer, obesity, for example.
SEABROOK: Jane Adams is a neurodevelopmental toxicologist who is part of the expert panel that released its findings yesterday. Thank you very much.
ADAMS: You're welcome.