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Canadian gov’t may ban compound in Ratty cups

BUDS investigating levels of BPA in cups

Thursday, April 24, 2008

If the Canadian government continues moving toward a ban on a compound used in many plastics, the cups in University dining halls may be considered too risky to drink from by America’s northern neighbors. The Canadian government recently declared toxic a clear plastic compound known as bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is found in the cups in the Ivy Room, Sharpe Refectory and Verney-Woolley Dining Hall.

The Canadian government officially declared BPA toxic because of studies that linked it to long-term changes in animals, the New York Times reported April 19. Chemicals given the toxic designation undergo a lengthy process that could result in a ban on their use, the Times reported. The government has also moved to ban all baby bottles made with polycarbonate plastic.

The cups in the dining halls are made from polycarbonate plastic, which contains small amounts of BPA, a representative of the Carlisle Company, which manufactures the cups, confirmed.

It is still unconfirmed if the level of BPA in the dining hall cups is enough to cause health effects, Ann Hoffman, director of administration of Dining Services, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

BPA is part of a larger group of plastic additives called plasticizers, which are incorporated into plastics to increase their pliability, said John Buster, reproductive endocrinologist at the Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.

Buster said health concerns arise from heavy exposure to the chemical and that the amount of BPA in dining hall cups is probably not enough to cause damage to the body.

The first indication Dining Services had that the cups may be harmful was the media coverage over the Canadian government’s actions, Hoffman wrote. “We didn’t have any reason to believe these cups might be harmful at the time we purchased them,” she wrote.

Although Dining Services is not currently looking into replacing the plastic cups, Hoffman and her colleagues have been investigating the issue further to determine whether or not changes need to be made, she wrote.

“If it is confirmed that our plastic tumblers are unsafe for normal everyday use, we will take steps to identify an appropriate alternative without delay,” Hoffman wrote.

In the past, potentially contaminated food has been taken off the menu in dining halls as soon as a threat was posed, Hoffman wrote, citing a national recall on baby spinach in 2006 and a 2004 Food and Drug Administration alert on alfalfa. In both instances, the dining halls halted use of the food in question.

Both BPA and other plasticizers, including a group called phthalates, can impair reproductive function when introduced to the body in large quantities, Buster said. He added that plasticizers are also used widely in medical supplies such as syringes and intravenous tubing and bags, which poses a major concern for doctors.

Exposure to BPA in large amounts in newborns can lead to developmental problems and reproductive inefficiency, Buster said.

He said studies have also suggested, but not confirmed, that BPA can lead to a decreased sperm count in men. The compound has also been linked to infertility in rats.

The chemical affects reproductive function because metabolites from BPA act as natural estrogens, which can interfere with the body’s hormonal signaling, Buster said.

The manufacturer told Dining Services the material used to make the cups differs from the material used in Nalgene bottles, which also contains BPA, Hoffman wrote. Nalgene Outdoor Products has recently stated it will stop using BPA in the production of its water bottles, the Times reported April 18.

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