US Environmental Protection Agency adds bisphenol A to 'chemical concern' list and will look more closely at its environmental impacts

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced plans to look more closely at the environmental impacts of bisphenol A (BPA), a common ingredient in plastic baby bottles and food storage containers. 

Under the EPA’s new BPA action plan, released on 29 March, BPA will be added to the chemical concern list, and therefore subjected to stricter rules.

BPA has caused reproductive and developmental effects in animal studies and may affect the endocrine system, EPA says. The agency estimates that over one million pounds of BPA are released to the environment each year.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently shifted its position on the chemical. Having previously judged BPA safe, it announced in January that it had concerns about possible health impacts and would study the potential effects and ways to reduce exposure through food packaging

Shared concern

’We share FDA’s concern about the potential health impacts from BPA,’ said assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, Steve Owens, in a statement. ’Both EPA and FDA, and many other agencies are moving forward to fully assess the environmental and health impacts to ensure that the full range of BPA’s possible impacts are examined.’

Food packaging is the most significant source of BPA exposure and is regulated by the FDA, but the EPA has authority over potential environmental impacts. 

To address the issue, the EPA will require information on concentrations of BPA in surface water, ground water, and drinking water, and will compel manufacturers to provide test data to help the agency evaluate possible impacts, including long-term effects on growth, reproduction, and development of aquatic organisms and wildlife. The EPA will also look for ways to reduce unnecessary exposure to BPA, and continue to evaluate potential effects of the chemical from exposure to non-food packaging sources. 

The major US chemical industry association - the American Chemistry Council (ACC) - is downplaying the developments. The group says other government departments recently reaffirmed that BPA has not been proven to cause harm, and regulatory bodies worldwide have determined that science supports the chemical’s safety. 

’It is important to recognise that EPA is not proposing any regulatory action regarding human health,’ says ACC president, Cal Dooley. He calls BPA ’one of the most thoroughly studied chemicals in commerce’, pointing to comprehensive scientific assessments recently conducted in Europe and Japan affirming that BPA is not an environmental risk at current low levels. 

’Numerous studies have found that BPA rapidly biodegrades, does not bioaccumulate and, if detected at all, is present in the environment only at trace levels that do not cause harmful effects’, Dooley said. 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe