Hazardous Chemicals

One of the most widely used chemicals for consumer packaging in the U.S. has been linked once again to serious health and developmental issues. Bisphenol A, which is more commonly known as BPA, is banned in the European Union and Canada, but the FDA has only banned the chemical in the manufacturing of baby bottles and sippy cups. According to CBS News, a recent study by researchers at Duke University has linked environmental exposure to the chemical with disruption of a gene necessary for proper functioning of nerve cells.

Humans are exposed to BPA through much of what they eat and drink. The plastic chemical is used to line aluminum cans to protect them from corrosion and is also used in bottles, tableware and food storage containers. Over the years, research has shed light on the negative health effects associated with BPA, and studies suggest that it is an endocrine disruptor. BPA is known to mimic estrogen in the body and can affect the way hormones work, and exposure to the chemical has been linked to diabetes, obesity, reproductive disorders, and immune system problems.

Now, Duke University researchers have linked BPA to potentially dangerous effects on a child’s developing nervous system by shutting down the KCC2 gene that’s necessary for the process. KCC2 helps remove chloride from neurons—a fundamental step in proper functioning of brain cells, as too much chloride can damage nervous system pathways and disrupt the developing neuron’s ability to move to where it needs to in the brain.

Researchers exposed neurons in mice, rats and humans to minute amounts of BPA and found that the gene that makes KCC2 shut down. They suspect that the BPA made a different type of protein, known as MECP2, which bound to KCC2 and shut it own. Dr. Wolfgang Liedtke, an associate professor of medicine and neurobiology at Duke University, notes that the study “found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders.”

The list of negative health effects linked to BPA seems to be growing longer each year. Another recent study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health found a possible connection between BPA detected in urine samples of children and later problems with breathing. Although the results suggest a group of positive associations between BPA and breathing problems such as asthma, the study does not suggest a cause and effect scenario. Researchers hope that their data will be strengthened by similar studies in the future.

BPA and other hormone-disrupting chemicals are common in everyday products, and many researchers believe that BPA is present in almost everyone in the United States. Although the American Chemistry Council still declares the chemical safe to use, researchers note that the findings are an important validation step given health relevance of their findings and ongoing public concern about ubiquitous BPA exposure. However, they “expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from KCC2 are affected by BPA” and explain how “this is a chapter in an ongoing story.”

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