Last Thursday, research pharmacologist K. Barry Delclos summarized the results of a crucial part of CLARITY-BPA, a study launched by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been used to make plastics for decades. Previous studies on the harmful effects of BPA have been inconclusive, spurring the aforementioned organizations to begin the CLARITY-BPA program in 2012. While this study was meant to resolve the issue, more questions remain than these organizations would like to acknowledge.
According to FDA pharmacologist K. Barry Delclos, low doses of BPA did not “elicit clear, biologically plausible adverse effects” in rats. However, he did admit that rats receiving one thousand times more BPA than humans normally absorb into their bodies via use of plastics showed effects paralleling those created by the hormone estrogen, such as reproductive changes and tumors. At first glance, these results seem simple, but further inspection into Delclos’ claims and study reveals gaping holes.
Scientists who have conducted research on BPA themselves have claimed that the type of rat the government chose for the study was faulty. In addition, many of the rats that were claimed to be BPA-free were actually exposed to BPA, drastically reducing the study’s validity (). If the holes in the study alone aren’t enough to completely disqualify Delclos’ conclusions, consider the FDA’s position on BPA: during the press conference, despite claiming the study did not reveal adverse health effects of BPA in rats, Delclos refused to directly discuss BPA’s safety and the FDA’s position on using the chemical in products such as water bottles and food containers. If the FDA and other organizations tied to the study are not willing to form a position based on the results, how can they trust other people to believe in the data? Could the FDA’s actions be influenced by an outside force, such as private corporations?
There is even some question as to whether the data itself actually indicates a lack of adverse health reactions under low doses of BPA. According to University of Massachusetts at Amherst Associate Professor, Laura Vandenberg, closer analysis of the data does reveal health problems in rats exposed to low BPA doses. She notes that both male and female rats demonstrated adverse effects, such as higher rates of prostate inflammation and breast cancer ().
Granted, CLARITY-BPA is not entirely finished. The second part of the program will be completed next year and include dozens of experiments from scientists receiving funding from the study. Some of these scientists have already gathered data suggesting that low amounts of BPA cause health problems.
Regardless of how the study concludes in the coming months, it is wrought with error and claims from those supporting it that should raise suspicion. Ultimately, the CLARITY-BPA study should not be viewed as the final word in the discussion over BPA’s safety and should be compared with other data consisting of clear results and well-controlled variables.
The debate is not one that can afford faulty or corrupt studies: BPA has widespread influence that extends across the nation and globe. According to a 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent out of 2517 urine samples from people ages six years and older revealed detectable amounts of BPA. In addition, some studies indicate adverse effects from BPA in fetuses and newborns. This is therefore not an issue that the public can push aside, blindly accepting whatever position large organizations take. We all are players in this global conversation of health, corporations, and research. It is within our rights to use this power to make educated choices when purchasing items and support studies that are founded upon solid experimental structure and data.
Kate Lee is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org .