February 1, 2013

By Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, National Resources Defense Council

Today a California EPA office announced that they intend to put bisphenol A or BPA on the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause reproductive toxicity.  This listing is long overdue and is not based on any new science.

In fact, today’s listing is based on a 2008 report by another federal agency, the National Toxicology Program, which found clear evidence of harm at high doses.  The NTP report serves as an authoritative source for listing chemicals on Prop 65 and should have triggered an automatic listing by Cal EPA.

However, the listing didn’t happen automatically or quickly and it took a nudge from NRDC to get BPA on the Prop 65 list.  One year after the NTP report came out, in 2009, NRDC filed a petition requesting the listing, in 2010 Cal EPA put out a call for scientific data and now over two years later the next step in the process has finally occurred, the intention to list.

The listing still isn’t final. The agency has announced a 30 day comment period and once those comments have been reviewed, hopefully, without any further delay, the listing will be final. Cal EPA also put out a regulatory limit or maximum allowable dose (MADL) as part of today’s notice with a 45 day comment period.

A Prop 65 listing is not a ban of the chemical but can trigger warning labels if exposure from a consumer product is expected to be greater than regulatory levels.  The proposed MADL for BPA is relatively high at 290 micrograms/day and is not likely to trigger any warning labels on canned food or beverages.

However, a listing alone is quite significant and makes official what parents have known for years – BPA is harmful and should be avoided. BPA is practically a household word these days. Everyone has heard of it. Everyone has seen the “BPA-free” labels.  Baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula no longer contain BPA. However, many of us continue to be exposed to BPA in canned foods and drinks where it is used as a lining.

Since the NTP report was released over 4 years ago, there has been an explosion in the research on BPA.  More and more studies of BPA at lower doses continue to find evidence of harm not just in the reproductive system but also in the mammary gland, brain and increasingly there are links to obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Because of FDA’s refusal to ban use in food packaging and a long delay in finalizing any safety evaluations, a number of states have decided to protect their most vulnerable.  Just last week, the state of Maine banned BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging despite strong opposition by the chemical industry and the Governor.  Previously, eleven states have banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups and at least two others have banned BPA in infant formula.

Despite these welcome announcements, we are still a long way from protecting the public from harmful BPA exposures. Until we can eliminate BPA from food packaging and ensure that any replacement chemicals are shown to be safe, the most vulnerable of all, a developing fetus, will not be protected from BPA exposures.  Read our tips here on how to reduced your own exposure.

Sarah Janssen, MD, Phd, MPH, is a senior scientist in the health and environment program at NRDC in San Francisco. In her capacity as a scientist with NRDC, Dr. Janssen provides scientific expertise for policy and regulatory decisions on a number of toxic chemicals, including hormone-disrupting substances which interfere with fertility and reproduction. Her work has included research on flame retardants, cosmetics, plastics and plasticizers, breast cancer and threats to adult reproductive health and child development. Click here to see Sarah’s blog.

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This blog post originally appeared on January 25, 2013 on Switchboard.