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FDA Taking Another Look at BPA, Most Recently Found in Sports Bras

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of those long-lasting chemicals that’s just about everywhere — even in sports bras, according to a new study. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed to reconsider the chemical’s safety.

The sports bra revelation came a few days ago, in a study released by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH). It found that the clothing could expose individuals to up to 22 times the safe limit of the chemical allowed by California law.

The FDA’s decision to take another look at BPA comes In response to a petition filed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a coalition of healthcare professionals, scientists, and public health and environmental organizations. Besides clothing, BPA is found in metal can coatings, and other food-contacting materials. FDA will come to a final decision on its safety by Oct. 31, 2022, EDF said.

The EDF cites a study of more than 3,000 mothers and children that linked BPA exposure in the womb to higher rates of asthma and wheezing in school-age girls. The finding reinforces a study issued last year by a panel of experts convened by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The EFSA found that “harmful effects from BPA exposure can occur at levels tens of thousands times lower than previously thought,” said Maricel Maffini, co-author of the petition who holds a doctorate in biological sciences. “These studies show that extremely low exposures to BPA can lead to an overactive immune system likely producing out-of-control inflammation. This inflammation can then trigger wheezing and asthma-like effects.”

Most Americans get 5,000 times more BPA in their daily diet than the EFSA expert panel says is safe, noted Tom Neltner, EDF Senior Director, Safer Chemicals.

BPA has been used for decades and has been regarded as generally safe, said the trade journal Plastics Today. “The science, according to many experts, lands squarely on the side of its safety, as it has been thoroughly tested and reviewed by FDA and other regulatory bodies,” it said.

In 2012, FDA restricted the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but since then it has consistently maintained that the current low levels of BPA found in some food are safe.

BPA in sports bras

In the case of sports bras, however, the concern is not with BPA being ingested, but rather with its being absorbed through contact with the skin.

“Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time. Sports bras and athletic shirts are worn for hours at a time, and you are meant to sweat in them, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA in our clothing,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, Illegal Toxic Threats Program Director at CEH.  

BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical. It mimics estrogen and can disrupt the normal functioning of the body, including metabolism, growth and development, and reproduction.

“Even low levels of exposure during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring. These problems include abnormal development of the mammary glands and ovaries that can increase the likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer later in life. These effects occur even at low levels of exposure like those seen in people today,” said Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva, Science Director at CEH.

Sports bra brands affected

The sports bra brands found to contain BPA include Athleta, PINK, Asics, The North Face, Brooks, All in Motion, Nike, and FILA. The activewear shirt brands include The North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance, and Reebok.

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