ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A massive government study suggests that consumers have little reason to fear plastic products containing the chemical BPA. But as NPR's Jon Hamilton reports, the finding is not likely to end a fierce scientific debate about the chemical.
JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: BPA has been used for decades in products like water bottles and in the lining of some food cans. And studies show that tiny amounts can get into our bodies. So in 2012, the government launched a $30 million project called CLARITY to figure out whether BPA exposure was putting consumers at risk. Today a scientist for the Food and Drug Administration named Barry Delclos summarized an important part of that effort - a study involving thousands of rats. During an online presentation meant for scientists, Delclos said that at low doses, BPA...
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BARRY DELCLOS: Did not illicit clear, chronologically plausible or adverse effects.
HAMILTON: In other words, there was no pattern of health problems in rats exposed to the levels of BPA found in people. Delclos also said government agencies around the world have now weighed in on BPA.
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DELCLOS: Most of these regulatory agencies currently conclude that BPA does not pose a risk at estimated dietary exposure levels.
HAMILTON: But a highly vocal group of academic scientists maintains that BPA does pose a risk. Some of these researchers held an online press conference yesterday to pre-emptively challenge the results of the government study. Laura Vandenberg of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said her own analysis of the study data suggested that low doses of BPA are a problem.
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LAURA VANDENBERG: There were significant effects of BPA in both males and in females.
HAMILTON: Specifically an increase in breast cancer and prostate inflammation. And Vandenberg says that sort of risk will be shown more clearly when the second part of CLARITY-BPA is finalized next year. The second part will feature studies from more than a dozen academic scientists. Some of their studies suggest that very low doses of BPA do cause health problems even when higher doses do not. But Norb Kaminski of Michigan State University says his CLARITY study of BPA and immune function found no evidence of problems at lower doses. And he says he trusts the CLARITY effort's findings.
NORB KAMINSKI: This study was extremely comprehensive, and I am very confident and comfortable in the results.
HAMILTON: Patricia Hunt of Washington State University has studied BPA for decades but is not a part of CLARITY. She says academic scientists who specialize in chemicals like BPA think the government's effort is badly flawed. She says these scientists are likely to continue challenging CLARITY's early results.
PATRICIA HUNT: What we're going to see over the course of next few weeks is just some real back-and-forth fighting because there's anger on both sides.
HAMILTON: Hunt says all that fighting may be misguided. The plastics industry has already removed BPA from many products. Instead, she says, they have begun using a range of chemicals that are very similar to BPA but haven't been studied as carefully. Jon Hamilton, NPR News.
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