BPA use in doubt as Europe seeks protective health limits

European regulators tackled the common plastic additive BPA on Thursday, reducing the recommended daily dose by 100,000 and ensuring the chemical cannot be used in any product that comes into contact with food.


The decision, if upheld, promises to revolutionize the food contact materials industry, particularly food packaging and processing equipment, and align BPA regulations with the health concerns against them. which scientists have been warning about for decades.

BPA is a key ingredient in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, added to everything from Tupperware to can liners. Scientists have long known that BPA escapes plastic and enters food; virtually all humans tested on the planet have BPA in their blood.

BPA: no safe dose

Until Thursday, regulators had long considered that a certain amount of BPA in our food and our bodies was acceptable, with the US safety level being around 12 times higher than European standards.

But scientists have known since the 1990s that BPA has potentially harmful effects on reproduction, brain development, mammary gland health, and metabolism, among others.

The proposed new rule, from the European Food Safety Authority, the European equivalent of the United States Food and Drug Administration, brings regulations in line with this science.

A dose of BPA from a glass bottle with a BPA-based sealer in the cap would likely be too high under the rule proposed by Europe, experts told EHN.

“They recognize what many of us have known for many years: Even at very low doses, BPA is harmful,” said Laura Vandenberg, professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health & Health Sciences.

“Sadly, this is a decision that is two decades too late. An entire generation of children have been allowed to be exposed to potentially harmful levels.”

BPA rule “decades behind”

In 2015, EFSA set a temporary safety level of 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight for daily exposure to BPA, what regulators call a “tolerable daily intake”. For comparison, that’s roughly the amount of folic acid doctors recommend pregnant women take daily to keep their baby healthy.

In its draft re-evaluation of BPA, published on Thursday, EFSA’s expert group on food contact materials, enzymes and processing aids recommended setting the tolerable daily intake at 0.04 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day, a drop of 100,000 times.

That’s the equivalent of taking the size of a healthy portion for a cake of one slice to a thousandth of a grain of flour.

The United States in 1988 set the safe daily exposure level for BPA at 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. It remains unchanged today.

“Thank goodness to EFSA advisers because it’s been decades away,” said Terry Collins, green chemist at Carnegie Mellon University.

“The challenge that such a cut will create for the chemical company is enormous, but for the sake of Europe’s fertility and general health, regulators cannot back off this essential step.”

“All of Europe – every pocket of the ecosphere – is contaminated with BPA,” Collins added. “You can find it in the translucent shrimp at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It’s everywhere.”

Hormone pirates

The European recommendation comes as regulators assess new scientific evidence on BPA and its impact on hormone, brain and body development, particularly the immune system, EFSA said.

“This updated version is the result of an in-depth evaluation over several years,” said Dr Claude Lambré, chairman of the CEP Food Contact Panel, in a statement. “The new scientific studies that have emerged in the literature have helped us resolve important uncertainties about the toxicity of BPA.

The American Chemistry Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the United States, federal regulators reviewed but dismissed the same evidence through a process that an EHN.org investigation found very problematic and “willfully blind.”

This study, dubbed CLARITY-BPA, found that even the lowest dose administered had adverse effects, prompting scientists involved in the study to conclude that the safe dose of BPA should be at least 20,000 times lower than federal standards. current. European regulators are pushing for an even lower safe dose.

“This rift between how European regulators view BPA toxicity and the US approach is going to cause major challenges in trade and commerce – and fundamental questions about what US regulators are doing,” said Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences, editor of EHN. .org. “What do European regulators know that the US FDA does not know? They can’t both be right. “

BPA is an endocrine disruptor, disrupting hormonal functions in the body at extremely low concentrations. “What we’ve learned from literally tens of thousands of articles is that endocrine activity is stimulated by very small amounts of endocrine hormones,” Collins told EHN.org for his survey, “Exposed : How willful blindness keeps BPA on the shelves and infects our bodies. “

“Really, if you look at the data, we shouldn’t be making these compounds, period.”

BPA in food, recipes

The rules proposed by EFSA have their limits.

They only apply to materials in contact with food. BPA is also used in non-food applications, primarily in paper used for cash register receipts, airline boarding passes, and baggage tickets, although food is considered the primary route of exposure for BPA.

And the ruling only applies to BPA, not the multitude of chemical cousins ​​like BPS and BPF that have proliferated in recent years as a replacement for BPA. While consumers and regulators have focused on banning BPA, most of these chemical substitutes have the same harmful health effects.

But Limits is the start of a revolutionary approach to assess the potential threats posed by chemicals in everyday products, the chemists said, an approach that is expected to reverberate across the Atlantic and transform the chemical industry.

“There are consequences for the industry, but there are also consequences for human health,” said Thomas Zoeller, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“It’s just a hammer telling us that our risk assessment strategies just aren’t working.”

EFSA’s draft rules are open for public comment until February 8, 2022. You can comment on BPA’s health standards here on EFSA’s “public consultations” page.

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