On July 26 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened up for public debate the question of whether it should require new toxicity testing and environmental sampling of bisphenol A (BPA), found in many plastics and packaging in contact with food.
An increasing number of studies are pointing to the fact that BPA is toxic and has the potential to be detrimental to human health, as well as to wildlife and the wider ecosystem. The EPA's own BPA Action Plan website highlights its reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicity in animal studies and its action as a hormone disruptor.
Up to now, standardised toxicity tests th EPA used for regulatory decision-making had indicated levels of BPA in people and the environment fall below levels of potential concern. After reviewing the most recent studies on BPA toxicity, many using novel low-dose approaches and examining different biological effects, the EPA now acknowledges that some low-dose findings that correlate with the average person's typical exposure “are potentially of concern.”
According to a 2007 literature review by Vandenberg et al. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide and is used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins which in turn are used in the manufacture of countless consumer products. These researchers concluded that the levels of BPA reported in the body fluids of the general population in epidemiological studies are higher than the levels required to cause detrimental effects in biological systems in laboratory experiments.
BPA has been associated with increased risk of several diseases. It is considered an 'endocrine disruptor' since it can mimic the actions of estrogen in the body. One consequence of this is that BPA can promote the growth of human breast cancer cells. In men, BPA exposure has been linked to erectile dysfunction, while animal studies suggest it may lower sperm count. Scientists have also linked BPA to higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes and liver disease in adults as well as brain and hormonal development problems in fetuses and infants.
The major source of BPA for most people is food packaging. The chemical has been demonstrated to leach out of packaging and into the food it contains before the food is consumed. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 97 canned foods sold in the United States and found detectable levels of BPA in more than half. Canned meats, pasta and soups were the worst offenders.
Recent reports also indicate that BPA is even present in significant quantities in till receipts and the money you have in your wallet - and can rub off onto your hands.
Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, has said: “A number of concerns have been raised about the potential human health and environmental effects of BPA”. Going on to explain that data gathered from the proposed new tests “would help EPA better understand and address the potential environmental impacts of BPA.”
The new position of the EPA will be welcomed by many who have felt regulations have been lagging behind the science when it comes to BPA toxicity and the hazard it causes to human health, particularly to infants and children.
To find out how you can have your say visit the BPA Action Plan website.