The health effects of plastic have been hotly debated nowadays. This study forces some new questions into the arena that need to be answered.
Bisphenol-A, (BPA) is a chemical found in hard, clear plastic used to make everything from baby bottles to food packaging. BPA is not found in soft, pliable plastic used in most water bottles.
Studies have linked BPA to a risk of brain damage, birth defects, hyperactivity, heart disease, early puberty, obesity, and prostate cancer. The potential health effects have caused some baby-bottle and water-bottle manufacturers to stop using the chemical, in developed countries.
According to a study conducted in China, an increase in the risk of erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems in male factory workers exposed to large amounts of the substance is noticed.
Among the men who work with BPA, the risk of having difficulty ejaculating was seven times greater than it was among the non-exposed group, and the risk of erectile problems was more than four times greater. The BPA-exposed workers also reported higher rates of low sex drive and lower overall satisfaction with their sex lives.
Researchers compared the rates of sexual dysfunction in two groups of workers in China. 230 men who worked at factories that produce BPA or epoxy resin which contains the chemical, and some 400 men, including workers in other industries, who were not exposed to abnormally high levels of BPA. The men who worked in the BPA and epoxy-resin factories were exposed to levels about 50 times higher than average. Epoxy resin is used in the lining of canned foods and is another potential source of BPA in addition to hard, clear plastic.
The greater a worker’s exposure to BPA, which was measured using spot air and urine samples, the more likely he was to have sexual dysfunction. Yet the dysfunction was apparent even in workers who had worked in a BPA factory for one year or less.
Dr. Rebecca Sokol, the director of the andrology program at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who specializes in the effects of toxins on the reproductive system. The study, published in Human Reproduction and funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that BPA, when it enters the body, can mimic the effects of estrogen and may block male sex hormones including testosterone.
An increased risk of cancer and obesity need to be taken more seriously. The study “opens a new front in BPA research.
It’s unclear, for instance, whether the everyday exposure to BPA that people receive from food packaging and other plastics is significant enough to produce the sexual dysfunction seen in workers who were inhaling the chemical all day.
This study comes amid mounting concerns over the safety of BPA from consumers, scientists, and public officials. It was moving towards a ban on the sale and import of BPA-containing baby bottles. A number of countries have passed bans or have taken steps to do so. Several companies have also announced that they will voluntarily phase out the chemical from their products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reconsidering its stance on BPA. The National Toxicology Program (NTP), a federal agency that advises the FDA on chemicals and other environmental toxins, released its own report expressing “some” concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brains, behaviour, and prostate glands of foetus, infants, and children, as well as “minimal” concern about earlier puberty for girls.
Although the study isn’t likely to drastically change the course of the debate, it will help keep the spotlight on the health effects of plastic.