by Angela Logomasini, Ph.D.
During the past several years, a chemical used to make baby bottles and other plastic products has been making headlines. Activists suggest it can put infants at risk. Groups like the Washington Toxics Coalition claim that this chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA), is “toxic” and could cause cancer and a number of other ailments.
The Children’s Safe Products Act of 2009 (HB 2367) was introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2009. It would have regulated chemicals in children’s toys, including BPA. But activists like the Oregon Environmental Council and Environment Oregon are also pushing legislation that focuses on BPA in food products and containers, such as baby bottles and canned goods-proposals likely to appear on the 2010 legislative agenda.
WHAT IS BPA? Bisphenol A is a chemical intermediary used in the manufacturing of certain products, including polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. These plastics are used in a variety of products: baby bottles, five-gallon water jugs used in water coolers, medical equipment, sports safety equipment, cell phones and other consumer electronics, household appliances, and many other products. The resins are used for industrial flooring, adhesives, primers, coatings, and computer components. Its applications for food packaging and containers, particularly uses for water cooler jugs, canned foods, and baby bottles, have been the focus of much debate.
NEGLIBLE RISK. In wide use for over fifty years, BPA has been extensively studied. The best science tells us that consumer exposure to BPA is far below levels of concern. An analysis published in Medscape General Medicine reveals that consumers are most likely exposed to BPA at levels that are 100 to 1,000 times lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated safe exposure levels. It notes further that the research on BPA also shows that the exposure levels per body weight are similar for adults and children, which indicates that infant exposure is not significantly higher. Moreover, risks to humans are probably much lower than these estimates suggest because humans metabolize BPA faster and better than do the rodents used in BPA studies.
Endocrine Science. Scientific research identifies BPA as “weakly estrogenic.” Humans are regularly exposed to such estrogen mimicking compounds. Most are produced by plants: so-called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are found in all legumes, with a particularly high level found in soy. The impact of weakly estrogenic synthetic substances like BPA is insignificant compared to human exposures to naturally occurring phytoestrogens in the human diet. According to data from a 1999 National Academy of Sciences study, exposure to natural phytoestrogens is 100,000 to 1 million times higher than exposure to estrogen-mimicking substances found in BPA. “Given the huge relative disparity between the exposure to phytoestrogens as compared to BPA concentrations, the risk of BPA in consumer products appears to be about the same as tablespoon of soy milk,” notes researcher Jonathan Tolman.
COMPREHENSIVE STUDIES AND REVIEWS. Scientific panels around the world have reviewed, and continue to review, the complete body of evidence; and none report serious concerns about BPA. These include:
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Several FDA reviews have maintained that current BPA exposures are too low to warrants significant health concerns. After its most recent review, the FDA initiated additional research in one area based on findings in recommendations for further study by the National Toxicology Program.
- The European Union Risk Assessment. The EU’s risk assessments in 2006 and 2008 find no compelling evidence of BPA-related health effects at estimated human exposure levels.
- National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Japan). This extensive study found: “the risks posed by BPA were below the levels of concern.”
- U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP). This review found no direct evidence of problems among humans. It expressed minimal to negligible concern for almost all factors. It called for more research in one area where it had only “some concern” because of rodent studies.
- Health Canada: “Health Canada’s Food Directorate has concluded that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children.”
CONCLUSION. BPA bans will do little for public health, since they do not address significant risks. They are part of an ever-expanding arbitrary regulatory state that places many valuable products and freedoms at risk.
 Oregon House of Representatives, HB 2367 “Children’s Safe Products Act of 2009,” 2009 session, http://www.leg.state.or.us/09reg/measures/hb2300.dir/hb2367.intro.html.  For example, see Oregon Environmental Council, “Protecting Children’s Health from Toxic BPA,” Fact Sheet, undated, http://oec.otis.onenw.org/our-work/smart-policy/2010-legislative-fact-sheets/2010%20BPA%20BAN%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf; and Environment Oregon, “Protect Kids’ Health, Ban Toxic BPA,” undated, http://www.environmentoregon.org/airwater/banbpa.  Kamrin, MA, “Bisphenol A: A Scientific Evaluation,” Medscape General Medicine, September 3, 2004. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/484739 (You must register with the site to read this article. Registration is free.), citing European Commission’s Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Bisphenol A, available at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scf/out128_en.pdf, accessed August 13, 2004.  Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, National Toxicology Program, NTP-CERHR Monograph on the Potential Human Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Bisphenol A (Bethesda, Md.: National Institutes of Health, September 2008), NIH pub no. 08-5994, http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/bisphenol/bisphenol.pdf, 9.  National Research Council, Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1999); see also Jonathan Tolman, Nature’s Hormone Factory: Endocrine Disrupters in the Natural Environment, (Washington, D.C.: Competitive Enterprise Institute, January 1996), http://cei.org/pdf/1455.pdf.  Jonathan Tolman, “Even Less to Fear About Plastics,” Open Market (blog), April 16, 2008, http://www.openmarket.org/2008/04/16/even-less-to-fear-about-plastics.  Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission related to 2,2-BIS(4-HYDROXYPHENYL)PROPANE (Bisphenol A, Question number EFSA-Q-2005-100, Adopted on 29 November 2006, European Food Safety Administration Journal 248: (2006) 428, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/cs/BlobServer/Scientific_Opinion/afc_op_ej428_bpa_op_en,3.pdf?ssbinary=true.  European Food Safety Authority, “EFSA Updates Advice on Bisphenol,” Press Release, July 23, 2008, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902017373.htm.  Junko Nakanishi, Ken-ichi Miyamoto, and Hajime Kawasaki, Bisphenol A Risk Assessment Document, (AIST Risk Assessment Document Series No. 4), “Summary,” (Japan: National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, 2007), http://unit.aist.go.jp/riss/crm/mainmenu/BPA_Summary_English.pdf.  Health Risk Assessment of Bisphenol A from Food Packaging Applications, Bureau of Chemical Safety, Food Directorate Health Products and Food Branch (Ottawa: Health Canada, August 2008), 10, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/securit/bpa_hra-ers-eng.pdf.