Canned food commonly eaten by pregnant women and infants contained over 200 times the accepted level of a chemical linked to cancer and birth defects, according to claims made in a study.
The results show a single serving of one in ten of all foods tested contained more than 200 times the acceptable level Bisphenol A (BPA) for pregnant women and infants, according to a study released last week by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
A third of infant formula tested found similar levels of the toxin present.
The findings will add to the body of research on the toxin and fuel growing consumer concerns. The resulting consumer and regulatory fallout from the health scare could force processors to seek safer alternatives.
Traces of BPA was found in 55 of the 97 products, taken from three supermarket's shelves across three states.
BPA is an additive widely used in plastic packaging and the resin linings of food cans. Studies have found that the chemical migrates in small amounts into food and beverages from packaging containing the substance.
In response to the study, the Can Manufacturers Institute has disputed the findings, stating the safety of BPA is well-tested, with no peer-reviewed scientific study indicating a basis for concern.
Previous studies performed world wide have linked BPA with cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems.
EWG said the "acceptable limit" it used is based on government studies on rodents, with human exposure typically set to between 1000 to 3000 times the levels that harm lab animals.
According to EWG, the 'unsafe' level is less than five times lower than doses that harm lab animals.
Tests on six cans of infant formula across two brands found BPA was present in two of the samples. Both samples contained unsafe levels of BPA, according to EWG.
BPA was found to exceed the threshold in all six cans of spaghetti and ravioli pasta tested during the study, with unsafe levels in 33 per cent of samples.
From 19 cans of soup tested, including chicken vegetable and tomato, BPA was present and exceeded the threshold in 89 per cent, while 11 per cent of samples contained unsafe dosages.
Of the six cans of baked beans tested, BPA was found in 83 per cent, with 50 per cent above the threshold and 11 per cent with unsafe levels.
Tests on six cans of tuna found that the 50 per cent that contained BPA, were all above threshold, but none exceeded unsafe levels.
Vegetables in eight of the 17 cans tested had traces of BPA present, with 35 per cent over the threshold level for the chemical and 26 per cent within unsafe levels.
BPA was found in 35 per cent of the 17 samples of canned fruit taken from supermarket shelves, including cranberry sauce and pineapples. No samples contained unsafe levels of the additive, but 24 per cent were above EWG's acceptable level.
Liquid meal replacements sold in cans were found to have BPA present in 40 per cent of five samples tested. All positive samples were about the threshold, while 20 per cent of the total were above the unsafe dosage.
Finally two of the five milk products contained BPA traces, but neither were above the unsafe or threshold levels set by EWG.
Of the twelve cans of cola and diet cola tested, 42 per cent contained BPA, with 17 per cent above the threshold. No cans were found to contain unsafe levels.
The migration of the chemical from packaging into food is a cause for concern given the findings of previous research that has shown the presence of the chemical in humans.
Scientists have detected BPA in breast milk, serum, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, and cord blood from at least 2,200 people in Europe, North America, and Asia.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently detected BPA in 95 per cent of nearly 400 US adults and children.
According to EWG, the last comprehensive review of low dose studies found that 94 of 115 of peer-reviewed studies confirmed BPA's toxicity at low levels of exposure.
At present, there are no safety standards in the US for BPA usage in packaging and human exposure through migration from packaging into food.
The study said that most recent government reviews of the BPA had failed to set a limit consistent with chemical's low-dosage toxicity.
EWG, a non-profit environmental research organization based in Washington DC, provides information for public interest groups. The organisation is now calling on regulators to act quickly to revise safe levels for BPA exposure.
The findings, published on March 5, 2008, coincide with a public consultation on the use and effects of BPA held in Virginia, this week.
An independent panel of experts, convened by the Center for Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) met to identify data gaps and research needs.
EWG however expressed concerns over the integrity of CERHR science and the conflicts of interest on the part of a center contractor, Sciences International (SI).
It claims the SI plays a major management role in CERHR operations while at the same time doing business with a client base that includes manufacturers of chemicals under review by the Center, including BPA.
CERHR is expected to publish its consultation findings shortly. The consultation takes the US a step closer to the European approach on Bisphenol A.
Following extensive research on the harmful effects of the chemical, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a maximum daily tolerable intake level after considering extensive research that links the chemical to cancer and other illnesses.
A level of 5 milligram/kg body weight of was set, although it was accepted that the average daily intake was 30 per cent of the new limit.
BPA is used to manufacture polycarbonate, a rigid plastic used to make infant feeding bottles, plates, mugs, jugs, beakers, microwave oven ware and storage containers.
It is also used in the production of the epoxy-phenolic resins that form internal protective linings for cans and metal lids. The resins are also used as coatings for water storage tanks and wine vats.
Recent US and Japanese scientific studies caused a scare over BPA in 2005. The US study found low doses of BPA could harm the development of young brains.
Another US study found that BPA increased breast cancer cell growth. The US studies were done on rats.
The Japanese study indicated a link between recurrent miscarriages in women and BPA.