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Update: BPA Now Bigger on EPA’s Radar

by Bill Chameides | March 30th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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A chemical once common, now slightly less common in plastics might soon be even less common. Or not.

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to take a number of actions to address bisphenol-A or BPA, a chemical that is pervasive in consumer products and has been linked to a variety of health effects.

The Green Grok has discussed the problems with BPA in posts here and here. We’ve also kept track of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new resolve to take a hard look at the whole range of chemicals registered for use in the United States with which we come into contact on a daily basis. (See my “Oh That Chemical Feeling” post.)

On Monday, when EPA announced it would scrutinize BPA more closely, the agency indicated in a statement that the proposed stepped-up efforts to tackle BPA-related concerns are part of administrator Lisa Jackson’s larger efforts to do a better job at regulating the 80,000-odd chemicals used in the country — of which only a handful have been restricted.

So are EPA’s plans for BPA a giant step forward or a baby one? We’ll have to wait and see, but its preview offers some insight.

EPA proposes action in three areas for BPA, a substance it now calls “a chemical of concern”:

  • To rule or not to rule: whether such a course is necessary to limit risks to aquatic species.
  • Building a better case: whether EPA needs additional data to evaluate if BPA poses an unreasonable risk to the environment, paying particular attention to sensitive species, as well as children and pregnant women.
  • Finding possible substitutes: what alternatives to BPA could replace common uses of the chemical.

Given what it knows now, EPA has no immediate plans to use the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to regulate BPA on the basis of the risks it poses to human health. However, the environmental agency expects to have some new findings by the end of 2010. That means by year’s end, we should have a better idea of just how seriously a risk EPA considers BPA.

I should say “U.S. EPA.” After all, both the European Union and Canada have already taken steps to limit BPA exposure. While there are some local and state-imposed limitations on BPA here in the United States (examples here, here, and here), there’s not much on the federal level except for proposed bans such as the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009.

Meanwhile, scientists continue to study the chemical, which has been added to plastics, including certain water bottles, and tins used for canned goods. Research has shown that BPA can leach into the foods and drinks contained in the BPA-lined plastics and tins.

Now comes new evidence that BPA has been leaching from other products, such as paints and resins, which often end up in waterways. At last week’s American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, chemist Katsuhiko Saido, of Nihon University’s College of Pharmacy in Chiba, Japan, added a bit of a wrinkle to the ongoing BPA research: it’s a little more pervasive than we might be thinking. His studies found BPA in coastal seawater and beaches around the world. Is there just no escaping the stuff?

So, an added complication to BPA — it’s showing up in more and more places. Good thing EPA is on the case.

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