Debate about BPA, a common chemical in some plastic food and drink containers, is heating up after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it will fund $30 million worth of research on the substance given its possible developmental harm to infants.
A U.K. study offers further fuel to the fire, suggesting that BPA, or Bisphenol A, may be harmful to cardiac health in adults as well, although some health and medical experts question the findings.
"While the study is being put forward as more proof that BPA causes heart disease ... there are many problems with [it]," said Dr. Richard Besser, senior health and medical editor for ABC News.
The FDA is working on new guidance on BPA in light of growing evidence of its danger to infants but, he said, as far as the harmful effects of BPA on heart health, the study suffers from several design flaws that cast doubt on its findings.
Bisphenol A is a chemical additive found in many products, from bulletproof glass to plastic water jugs to the lining of soda cans. Put into widespread use in the 1950s, BPA aids in producing lightweight, shatter-resistance and heat-resistant plastics.
In recent years, the debate about BPA has focused on the harmful effects that BPA-laden baby bottles and 'sippy' cups might have on infant development. New research suggests, however, that BPA exposure may be a health hazard for adults as well.
The study, published last week by the Public Library of Science, draws on health data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and finds that people with high levels of BPA in their urine are at significantly higher risk for coronary heart disease.
Researchers note that the study confirms their preliminary findings concerning heart disease and BPA, which also found a connection between heart disease and BPA in a similarly-designed 2008 study.
The link between BPA and heart disease found in Tuesday's study, however, was weaker than the one found in 2008, and other BPA health risks found in 2008, such as a diabetes and liver disease, were not supported by the more recent data.
Dr. Michele Marcus, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University, said that while the study does suggest some association between BPA and heart disease, "it's not clear whether the association is due to BPA or something else related to BPA."
For example, she said, people can be exposed to BPA from drinking canned soda, so the observed increased risk of heart disease could be linked to BPA directly or could be more closely linked to consuming soda itself.
Besser said that because the BPA test used by researchers can only detect recent BPA exposure, the study cannot speak to the effect of chronic exposure to BPA during a lifetime; an important but unknown variable.
This is not to say that a link between heart disease and BPA doesn't exist, experts cautioned, only that it requires further research to confirm.
Even so, some experts said the evidence still suggests that BPA is toxic for adults and children alike, pointing to a "smoking gun for BPA exposure," as Dele Ogunseitan, director of the Program in Public Health at the University of California, Irvine, put it.