Specialist in Environmental Policy
Sarah A. Lister
Specialist in Public Health and Epidemiology
Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to produce certain types of plastic that are used in thousands of formulations for myriad products. Containers made with these plastics may expose people to small amounts of BPA in food and water. Medical devices and other more ubiquitous products, such as thermal paper coatings, also may contribute significantly to human exposure. Some animal experiments have found that fetal and infant development may be harmed by small amounts of BPA, but scientists disagree about the value of the animal studies for predicting harmful effects in people.
In the United States and elsewhere, scientific disagreement about the possibility of human health effects that may result from BPA exposure has led to conflicting regulatory decisions regarding the safety of food containers, especially those intended for use by infants and children. In the United States, a conclusion by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that BPA use is safe conflicted with earlier findings by one panel of scientific advisors, and was later challenged by a second panel. These events prompted some to question FDA's process for the assessment of health risks such as this, and others to question the agency's fundamental ability to conduct such assessments competently. Recently, FDA expressed concern about possible health effects from BPA exposure and announced that it was conducting new studies on the matter, pending possible changes in its regulatory approach.
In March 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a "chemical action plan" for BPA that proposes to list BPA as a chemical of concern that may present an unreasonable risk to certain aquatic species at concentrations similar to those found in the environment, to consider rulemaking to gather additional data relevant to environmental effects, and to initiate collaborative alternatives assessment activities under its Design for the Environment (DfE) program to encourage reductions in BPA releases and exposures.
Some food companies, bottle manufacturers, and paper receipt producers have voluntarily changed to BPA-free products. It is reported that some companies are exploring alternatives to BPA-containing food cans. However, others have said that for some types of canned foods, alternatives that preserve the safety and quality of the food currently may not be available.
In the 111th Congress, companion bills (S. 593/H.R. 1523) have been introduced that would prohibit the use of BPA in food and beverage containers regulated by the FDA. The Senate bill may be proposed as an amendment to pending food safety legislation (S. 510). A different approach to BPA regulation would be taken by a second pair of bills (S. 753/H.R. 4456) that would require Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) prohibition of BPA use in children's food and beverage containers under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. The House acted July 30, 2009, on a third approach when it approved H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Section 215 of the bill would require FDA to determine whether there was "a reasonable certainty of no harm for infants, young children, pregnant women, and adults, for approved uses of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin made with bisphenol A in food and beverage containers ... under the conditions of use prescribed in current [FDA] regulations." FDA would be required to notify Congress about any uses of BPA for which a determination could not be made and how the agency was planning to regulate to protect the public health. Finally, a fourth bill, H.R. 4341, would require a warning label on any food container containing BPA.
Date of Report: August 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS22869
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010