European chemicals agency names BPA a substance of very high concern

The Member State Committee (MSC) of the European chemicals agency (Echa) has voted unanimously to identify bisphenol A (BPA) as a substance of very high concern (SVHC). The committee cited the material’s “endocrine disrupting properties, which cause probable serious effects to human health,” as the reason for this judgment. In a press release issued late last week, the MSC added that BPA is already listed as an SVCH Candidate owing to its toxicity in relation to reproduction properties.

Polycarbonate from Covestro
Image courtesy Covestro.

Naming the material an SVCH was proposed by France, which has phased in a national ban over several years on the use of BPA in a swathe of products, including packaging, containers and utensils intended to come into direct contact with food. 

BPA is a building block of polycarbonate and, consequently, is present in countless products. While some studies have shown a link with health risks, especially infants, the FDA, European Food Safety Authority and other government agencies at various times have declared BPA to be safe for humans at current exposure levels.

Industry observers expect Echa to seek further restraints in the use of BPA under the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation. However, the Guardian reports that industry groups are likely to challenge the Echa opinion, noting that industry association Plastics Europe already opposed Echa’s earlier finding that BPA is toxic to human reproduction.

A Plastics Europe spokeswoman told the Guardian that the association is “highly concerned about this development. We believe that it weakens the strong principle of science-based regulatory decisions in the EU, and will result in further uncertainty without providing benefit to the safety of consumers,” said Jasmin Bird.

A leading supplier of polycarbonate, materials company Covestro has published a number of fact sheets about BPA. Noting that it is one of the most thoroughly examined chemicals during its 50-plus years of use, the company acknowledges that trace amounts of BPA could migrate from packaging to food. But it disputes the notion that it carries any health risks given the quantities in which it would it would accumulate in the body. “A person weighing 60 kilograms [132 pounds] would have to drink at least 300 liters of water stored in polycarbonate water containers each day for their whole life before reaching the safe limit established by the European Food Safety Authority,” writes Covestro in one of its reports.

Regardless of the merits of the scientific debate on either side, the die may well be cast for BPA in the court of public opinion. A steady drumbeat of BPA-related health concerns has prompted consumers to seek BPA-free products, while advocacy groups have been successful at pressuring corporations to seek alternative materials.

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