Sarah Vogel, Ph.D., is Director of EDF's Health Program.
The hotly debated chemical BPA is back in the policy spotlight. This week Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass) joined Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) to announce the Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act. The bill would ban the use of BPA or bisphenol A from food packaging and mandates extensive consideration of the hazardous properties of any BPA alternative, so as to avoid substituting chemicals that may pose just as many health risks (as increasingly it appears to be with the case of the common BPA replacement, BPS).
Low dose exposure to BPA has been associated with a wide range of health effects including behavioral problems, prostate, breast and liver cancer as well as obesity. A study released just last week demonstrated how low dose exposure to BPA during fetal development can alter gene expression in the mammary gland of female rats, resulting in abnormal development of the breast and increased susceptibility to breast cancer later in life.
The Ban Poisonous Additives Act is just the latest in a series of actions taken largely by states and retailers to restrict exposure to BPA in the absence of regulatory action. Today, 12 states have enacted laws to restrict the use of BPA in food containers and most of the leading retailers have pulled BPA-based plastic water and baby bottles from their shelves. So far, the primary target has been reusable plastic bottles. The new bill would ban the extensive use of BPA in the lining of food cans.
The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a recent decision by the European Food Safety Authority that temporarily reduced allowable safe human exposure level for BPA by 90 percent, to 5 micrograms per kilogram per day.
Here in the US, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still maintains that BPA meets the safety standard of the law—“reasonable certainty of no harm” –and allows exposure of 50 micrograms per kilogram per day despite a growing body of scientific research that continues to reinforce the correlation between low-dose exposures to BPA and serious adverse effects.
The agency’s position is to wait on the results of more scientific research on BPA before they reassess its safety. For the past several years, FDA has been working with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) on an extensive research project, known as CLARITY, to answer outstanding questions about the safety of BPA. The project involves the participation of academic researchers and will explore effects on the reproductive system, the brain, heart, metabolism and the mammary and prostate glands. Results are just beginning to come out and are expected to continue to appear in the published literature over the next few years.
But even without further legislative and regulatory action, the future for BPA looks bleak for the food canning industry, in particular. Consumer and political pressure to move away from BPA continues to mount, with the BPA Act just the latest salvo.
After more than a decade of debate about BPA and hundreds and hundreds of scientific papers pointing to BPA’s serious health risks, it’s past time that safer, reliable alternatives to BPA in major consumer uses like food cans and receipt paper are identified and brought to market.