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Watchdog Group Finds High Levels of BPA in Sports Bras and Athletic Wear


An increasing number of sports bras and athletic wear brands have been found to contain high levels of BPA, a chemical compound used in certain plastics that can cause health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, according to a watchdog group.

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) issued a warning on Wednesday after previously alerting customers in October about the presence of BPA in athletic clothing. The CEH has now sent legal notices to eight additional brands, including Athleta, Champion, Kohl’s, Nike, and Patagonia, whose products like leggings, shorts, sports bras, and athletic shirts tested to expose wearers to up to 40 times the safe limit of BPA as set by California’s stringent health standards.

California law, under Proposition 65, enacted in 1986, sets the maximum allowable dose level for BPA via skin exposure at three micrograms per day. While most BPA exposure has been studied through ingestion, skin absorption has been mainly researched through handling thermal paper receipts rather than clothing. Despite BPA being eliminated from the body within a few days, experts worry about the risks of continuous exposure from multiple sources.

Ana Soto, a professor of immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine, emphasised the dangers of BPA exposure through ingestion and skin absorption. Soto, who has studied endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including BPA, for over 25 years, noted that combined low doses of BPA from different sources could lead to significant health risks, including obesity, diabetes, behavioural issues, and cancer.

Conversely, the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, insists that BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals and is safe at the low levels consumers are exposed to. They reference a 2018 US Food and Drug Administration study that found BPA safe.

CEH, founded in 1996 as a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, has a history of raising alarms about various chemicals in consumer products. In their latest findings, they identified BPA in polyester-based clothing containing spandex, urging brands to reformulate their products to remove all bisphenols, including BPA. Until then, they recommend consumers limit their time in activewear by changing clothes immediately after workouts.

Athleta, one of the brands named, refuted CEH’s claims, stating their commitment to safety standards and standing by their products. Other brands, including Nike, Reebok, The North Face, and Victoria’s Secret (which owns PINK), did not comment on CNN.

CEH’s October warnings about BPA also targeted brands like PINK, Asics, The North Face, Brooks, All in Motion, Nike, and FILA, finding their sports bras exposed wearers to up to 22 times the safe BPA limit. Similar results were found in athletic shirts from brands including The North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance, and Reebok.

The watchdog group’s legal notices gave companies 60 days to address violations before initiating lawsuits, which CEH did in February against the implicated brands. Their ongoing investigation aims to ensure that reformulated products eliminate BPA, thus protecting consumers in California and across the country due to the economic infeasibility of producing separate versions for different markets.

Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva, CEH’s science director, highlighted that even low BPA exposure during pregnancy is linked to health issues in offspring. Pam Factor-Litvak, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, explained that BPA, while chemically bonded to fabrics, can quickly transfer, particularly from plastic containers or stretchy fabric chemicals.

CEH continues to push for industry-wide changes, citing past successes in removing harmful chemicals from products like children’s candy and toys, aiming to extend protections to all consumers, not just those in California.

Source: CNN

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