Bispehenol-A (BPA), the insidious toxic substance found in infant food packaging among other consumer items, is on its way to getting banned in Oregon. The bill to ban BPA was passed by the Oregon Senate in a 20-9 vote on April 7 and is now on its way for consideration by the House.
What exactly is bisphenol A?
Bisphenol A or BPA is a chemical used to protect metal in canned foods from rust, to make clear hard plastics for water bottles and sippy cups and has become widely used in other products that consumers handle daily.
When was BPA first used commercially?
It was first made in 1891, and was investigated for use as a replacement for estrogen. Its original use was put aside in favor of a better chemical for this purpose. But in the 1940s it came into widespread use for canned foods.
The resin made from BPA is sprayed into a can, dries instantly and this thin layer of epoxy keeps the metal in the cans from reacting with the acids in the processed food. This new use for BPA increased the shelf life of canned foods such as soups, vegetables and fruits and significantly reduced food borne illness. Now BPA is used as a commercial hardener and is a applied to a wide variety of uses besides the traditional ones in the food industry.
Releases of BPA to the environment exceed one million pounds per year.
Chemical Structure of BPA
Bisphenol A Is an organic compound with two phenol functional groups. An organic compound means it contains carbon atoms and a phenol is a 6-carbon compound that forms a ring and has a hydroxyl group (what water is when it loses a hydrogen atom) attached.
What products contain BPA?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a table to give an estimate of the distribution of BPA in products sold by US companies. In 2003, the global production of bisphenol A was estimated to be over 2 million tonnes, and more than 2.2 megatonnes in 2009. In the U.S., the largest manufacturers of BPA containing items produced just over 1 million tonnes of bisphenol A in 2004. In 2003, annual U.S. consumption was 856,000 tonnes, 72% of which was used to make polycarbonate plastic and 21% going into epoxy resins. In the US less than 5% of the BPA produced is used in food contact applications.
- Common Metal Coatings Liners of food cans (6 billion pounds a year) Insides of water pipes
- Dental Fillings
- Baby Bottles The hard plastic ones.
- Water Coolers and Bottles Tableware and Food Storage Containers
BPA-based materials are ubiquitous. Apart from food-related uses, they are used in automotive and other transportation equipment, optical media such as DVDs, electrical/electronics equipment, construction, linings inside drinking water pipes, thermal and carbonless paper coatings, foundry casting, and elsewhere. BPA-based materials are popular for their performance characteristics. For example, polycarbonates are lightweight and tough compared to glass.
How can it hurt me, my children or my pets?
BPA has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor. This means that BPA is able to fool the body into thinking it is a hormone and this sort of mimicry can wreak havoc on many parts of the body, from the hypothalamus (in the brain) to the testes and ovaries, in the reproductive system. This characteristic of BPA leads to its effect on the dopaminergic system, which leads to attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. It also tends to disrupt thyroid function and has been shown to be carcinogenic. Also, a 2008 National Institutes of Health study determined that BPA could affect fetal and infant brain development and behavior.
A study published in the September 17, 2008 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with high concentrations of BPA in their urine had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities. Higher BPA levels in the urine were associated with a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver-enzyme abnormalities. Animal studies have shown that BPA interacts with estrogen receptors and liver and pancreatic cells, which may be the way in which it raises risk for diabetes and liver abnormalities.
Is BPA bad for the environment?
Scientists first suspected that endocrine disruptors were affecting the environment a few decades ago when they observed unusual, abnormalities in wild animals, particularly along the Great Lakes, which are well known for industrial pollution. Some of the observations included female gulls nesting together, birds with twisted bills and frogs with severe deformities, including one with an eye growing inside its mouth. Elsewhere across the country, scientists reported finding male fish with sacks of eggs and alligators with withered penises.
In 1991 a zoologist named Theo Colborn convened a conference with leading wildlife biologists, toxicologists and endocrinologists in Racine Wisconsin. She coined the term “endocrine disruptor” to describe the causative agents of these abnormalities. At this conference the scientists signed a consensus statement, expressing concern about the dangers that these new chemicals posed and calling for them to be tested immediately. Due to their publications and efforts, Congress unanimously passed two laws ordering the EPA to begin screening and testing chemicals and pesticides for endocrine disrupting effects by 1999.
It was predicted that the EPA would screen 15,000 chemicals used in thousands of common products. However by 2000, none of these actions had been taken, due to politically-based delays.
What kinds of laws regulate BPA?
After over 3 decades of insistence that BPA is safe, the FDA announced plans in 2009 to study what BPA does to the human body. “We need to know more,” Deputy FDA Commissioner Dr. Josh Sharfstein told reporters earlier this year.
BPA was included in the initial proposal of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) list published in 1987. That initial list was mandated by the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) section 313(c). In 2009, the EPA Office of Water considered BPA during its development of the third Candidate Contaminant List (CCL3) of substances that might be appropriate candidates for future regulation. Although BPA appeared on the potential CCL (PCCL) list used during the screening process, BPA did not meet the combined screening criteria of potential to occur in public water systems and potential for public health concern because its measured presence in water was well below potential effect levels in guideline studies, and thus did not appear on the final CCL3 list.
In March 2010, the EPA announced a number of actions to address the potential effects of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the manufacture of a wide range of consumer and industrial products. The EPA’s action plan on BPA focuses on the environmental impacts of BPA and will look to add BPA to EPA’s list of chemicals of concern and require testing related to environmental effects. The EPA is working closely with FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on research to better assess and evaluate the potential health consequences of BPA exposures, including health concerns from non-food packaging exposures that fall outside of the FDA’s reach but within EPA’s regulatory authority. Based on what this new research shows, EPA will consider possible regulatory actions to address health impacts from these other exposures.
These actions on BPA are part of the agency’s efforts to strengthen EPA’s chemical management program that includes the proposed of TSCA reform as the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010.
How can I tell if something contains BPA?
BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” recycling label #7. Not all #7 labeled products are polycarbonate but this is a reasonable guideline for a category of plastics to avoid. Polycarbonate plastics are rigid and transparent and used for sippy cups, baby bottles, food storage, and water bottles. Some polycarbonate water bottles are marketed as ‘non-leaching’ for minimizing plastic taste or odor, however there is still a possibility that trace amounts of BPA will migrate from these containers, particularly if used to heat liquids.
When possible it is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food. Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom are safer choices and do not contain BPA. Glass baby bottles in glass versions, or those made from the plastics including polyamine, polypropylene and polyethylene are suggested to be safer to use. Soft or cloudy-colored plastic normally does not contain BPA.
Many metal water bottles are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA. Look for stainless steel bottles that do not have a plastic liner.
While the levels of BPA that leach from hard plastics are generally low, it is recommended to avoiding using plastic containers to microwave food. Ceramic, glass, and other microwaveable dishware are good alternatives. Also, avoid using old and scratched plastic bottles.
If SB695 becomes law in Oregon, it will be unlawful to manufacture, distribute, sell or offer for sale a child’s beverage container or reusable bottle made with or lined with bisphenol A or a replacement material that is a carcinogen or reproductive toxin.
– by JeanMarie Calvillo, Ph.D., Environmental Microbiologist