A researcher at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS; Washington, D.C.) has received a $209,926 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study plastics and their potential human health risks, particularly in the cardiovascular system. The grant specifically will support the study of two chemicals found in plastics—bisphenol A (BPA) and di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP). The research is led by Nikki Posnack, PhD, a postdoctoral pharmacology and physiology researcher.
During the multi-year study, Posnack will attempt to determine whether these endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) interfere with the internal stability of the cardiovascular system. She will also study whether EDCs affect the mechanical function of excised hearts, expanding on her previous research finding that BPA exposure slowed electrical conduction in these hearts.
While there are many BPA-free and phthalate-free plastics, these compounds are still found in many consumer products, including food containers, toys, and medical devices. As a result, exposure to EDCs has become virtually continuous and essentially unavoidable, a fact highlighted by human biomonitoring studies, notes a press release issued by SMHS. Of particular concern, according to the university, are the high levels of exposure experienced by industrial workers and infants in neonatal intensive care units.
"The one thing we are trying to get to the bottom of is whether BPA is toxic or not," said Posnack. "There are groups on both sides, offering different conclusions, often depending on funding. Some researchers have seen correlations between BPA and cardiovascular disease. We are trying to find out whether real concentrations of the chemicals people are exposed to might cause an adverse cardiac effect. We hope to find out definitively whether this is or is not a concern."
This grant will include research into prenatal exposure to these chemicals, as well as the effects of BPA and DEHP on animals that have undergone heart failure or cardiac injury.
Posnack's research will add to a bounty of findings about these chemicals, and, as noted in the press release, a bevy of conflicting opinions. PlasticsToday has reported extensively on this debate.
BPA is used to produce polycarbonate, which is widely used in medical devices, and it is one of of the most thoroughly tested chemicals in commerce today, Sam Stewart of Bayer MaterialScience told PlasticsToday Content Manager Heather Caliendo. "It is so widely used that it would be unwise to attempt to replace it with anything that is less tested," he said.
As for DEHP plasticizers, they have been under attack globally by healthcare institutions for many years because of concerns of chemical leaching that could particularly impact infants, wrote Doug Smock on PlasticsToday. Numerous healthcare organizations will no longer buy IV medical equipment made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and DEHP-type plasticizers, and a number of alternative materials have been developed to meet market demand. As with polycarbonate, however, these materials do not have the decades of data underpinning PVC use.
To be continued.