Bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial organic compound found in everything from baby food jars to microwave popcorn, has been found to reduce male fertility.
The Kaiser Permanente study published Thursday in the journal Fertility and Sterility examined workers in Chinese factories, many of whom had increased concentrations of the chemical in their urine. Those workers who showed high levels of BPA exposure were found to have decreased sperm count and concentration, as well as impaired sperm vitality and motility. A previous study by the organization also found an association between BPA exposure and poor male sexual function, including decreased libido and difficulty having an erection.
Unfortunately, BPA isn’t easy to avoid. The chemical is widely used in the manufacturing of food containers and packaging (including baby bottles), and according to the Endocrine Society more than 90% of Americans have been exposed to BPA. And its potential effects go far beyond damaging sperm. The researchers said the endocrine disrupter likely affects female reproductive systems as well, and it has also been linked to neurological effects and breast cancer.
So why is BPA still around? Several companies, like Nalgene, have stopped using BPA in their products, but it’s still used to make both polycarbonate containers and epoxy resins used to line food containers. And the manufacturers who use it clearly have some sway in Congress, as evidenced by the uproar that ensued when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced an amendment to a food safety bill aiming to ban its use.
While the Food and Drug Administration has expressed “some concern” over the effects of the chemical, it still allows low levels of acceptable exposure. But as Consumer Reports noted last year, those federal guidelines are based on decades-old research, and the FDA has promised it will continue to monitor research regarding the effects of BPA and safe levels of exposure. We’ll see whether this latest research will have a significant impact on the FDA’s decision, and whether the threat to our nation’s sperm will be a tipping point in public opinion against BPA.