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Friday, May 20, 2011

Bisphenol A (BPA) in Plastics and Possible Human Health Effects

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Sarah A. Lister
Specialist in Public Health and Epidemiology

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to produce certain types of plastic, in thousands of formulations for myriad products. Products made with these plastics may expose people to small amounts of BPA. The most significant source of public exposure is thought to be through food, although other ubiquitous products such as thermal paper coatings, and for some individuals medical devices, such as feeding and breathing tubes, also may contribute significantly to human exposure. Some studies have found that fetal and infant development may be harmed by very small amounts of BPA, but scientists disagree about the amount of BPA that is likely to harm human health.

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 by various advisory bodies and regulatory agencies. Controversy has centered on the safety of food containers, especially those intended for use by infants and children. A conclusion by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that BPA use is safe conflicted with earlier findings by a panel of scientific advisers, but other scientists who reviewed that panel’s conclusions disagreed. These events prompted some to question FDA’s process for the assessment of such health risks, and others to question the agency’s fundamental ability to conduct such assessments competently. More 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.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting public health and the environment from unreasonable risks associated with production, interstate commerce, and use of industrial chemicals, including BPA, when they are not specifically regulated under other federal laws. In March 2010, EPA released a “chemical action plan” for BPA that proposed 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. EPA is evaluating alternatives to BPA for use in paper for thermal printing.

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 112
th Congress, companion bills, H.R. 432 and S. 136, would ban the use of BPA in food containers. In the 111th Congress, a number of bills (S. 593/H.R. 1523, S. 753/H.R. 4456, H.R. 4341, H.R. 5820) were introduced that would have curtailed uses of BPA in certain products, required labeling of products containing BPA, or required EPA or FDA to reassess risks. None of these bills was enacted.

Date of Report: May 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS22869
Price: $29.95

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