Recap: What is bisphenol A (BPA), when will the FDA step up regulations aginst it, and what can you do to avoid it?
May 7, 2008
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It exists at room temperature as a white solid and has a mild “phenolic” or hospital odor. Polycarbonate plastics have many applications including use in certain food and drink packaging, e.g., water and infant bottles, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices.
Polycarbonate plastics are typically clear and hard and marked with the recycle symbol “7” or may contain the letters “PC” near the recycle symbol. Polycarbonate plastic can also be blended with other materials to create molded parts for use in mobile phone housings, household items, and automobiles. Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Some polymers used in dental sealants or composites contain bisphenol A-derived materials.
In 2004, the estimated production of bisphenol A in the United States was approximately 2.3 billion pounds, most of which was used in polycarbonate plastics and resins.
Pressure is growing on the US Food and Drug Administration to set new restrictions on the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging following a new safety study.
A report from the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that there was “some concern for neural and behavioural effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” to BPA, which is used extensively in the plastic lining in food cans.
According to the NTP, there was evidence that BPA could induce cancer in humans at current exposure levels, although it stressed that “more research is needed”.
The report, published early in April, has prompted calls from senior US politicians for rapid action from the FDA, which has previously cleared BPA for use in food packaging.
This is not the first study to suggest a link between cancer and BPA. A report published last year by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental research organisation, showed that the chemical could leach into canned food at levels reaching 200 times the ‘acceptable’ amount.
As yet, the FDA has set no maximum exposure levels for BPA – EWG’s ‘acceptable’ level was based on government studies on rodents, with human exposure typically set to between 1000 to 3000 times the levels that harm lab animals.
But it is the NTP’s suggestion that BPA could be harmful even at ‘normal’ exposure levels that has prompted calls for the FDA to finally set some form of maximum intake level, in line with regulators elsewhere.
Can makers insist that there is insufficient evidence to show that the chemical is a health risk given the current exposure levels.
How to minimize exposure?
• Limit canned foods. BPA leaches into canned food from the lining. When possible, and especially when pregnant or breastfeeding, limit the amount of canned food your family eats. Particularly avoid canned soup, pasta, and infant formula.
• Avoid polycarbonate plastic. Hard, translucent plastic marked #7 is probably polycarbonate, which leaches BPA, especially when heated. Ditch your polycarbonate water bottles (including Nalgene) in favor of a stainless steel bottle. Don’t microwave plastic — use ceramic or glass instead.
• If you’re formula feeding your infant, consider using powdered formulas packaged in non-steel cans. Also, choose baby bottles made from glass or specially-marked plastics that don’t leach BPA (like polypropylene or polyethylene).
For the full report from US National Toxicology Program (NTP) go to : http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/bisphenol/BPADraftBriefVF_04_14_08.pdf
See also: Canadians ban BPA, will US follow?