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Bisphenol-A: The Role of the Citizen

Introduction

Overview of BPA

Citizen Action

U.S. Federal BPA Policy

International BPA Policy

Conclusion

Useful Links


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Bisphenol-A: The Role of the Citizen

Introduction: The Bisphenol-A Controversy

            As both consumers and citizens, we trust our government to regulate industry and set policy in ways that will protect us.  Because of the myriad potential dangers facing us everyday, we are unable to sufficiently inform ourselves of every threat today’s world poses and must instead allow the government to do the research and regulation for us.  However, we have begun to realize that our government may be failing in its duty to protect its citizens when it comes to regulating the thousands of chemicals used in billions of household products nationwide.  Specifically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current regulation, or lack thereof, of the potentially toxic chemical bisphenol-a or BPA is increasingly becoming mired in controversy.

            This website will examine the source of the controversy and the public’s confusion around BPA.  It will examine role of the public – both independent researchers and concerned citizens – in bringing about change by taking action in the absence of governmental action or leadership.  It will then delve more deeply into the controversy around the FDA’s bisphenol-a policy that the public is responsible for shedding light upon.  Although federal BPA policy had not changed, governmental organizations are beginning to give under the weight of citizen pressure and outcry.

Overview of BPA and its Use

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for the use of the potentially-toxic chemical BPA in the production of billions of household products.  In fact, more than six billion pounds of this chemical are produced annually in the United States.

            BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic – a lightweight, shatter-resistant, transparent plastic that is used in products such as CDs, baby bottles, water bottles and toys – and epoxy resins that are used in dental sealants and to line canned foods such as canned vegetables and many baby formulas.[1]

BPA was first synthesized by chemists in the laboratory in 1891 and was used in the 1930s as a synthetic estrogen.  In the 1940s, it was found that BPA could be used to make the hard plastic, polycarbonate.  As a result of this discovery, in the next 70 years, the use of this synthetic estrogen by the plastic industry exploded.[2]  Because of its estrogenic properties, BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor meaning it can cause brain and behavior problems, impaired immune functions, early puberty, breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, and hyperactivity at certain dosage levels.  Developing fetuses, infants and toddlers are most at-risk of damage because of their decreased ability to metabolize the chemical.[3]. 

            Despite the omnipresence of products containing this chemical, its widespread use especially in products used for the most vulnerable infants and toddlers, and the potential for adverse health effects, the U.S. FDA continues to allow its use.  This is because the levels at which BPA is though to leach from plastic products and epoxy resins into food supplies is thought to be lower than the level that causes damage to the human body.  However, this policy and the science behind it are increasingly coming under attack from citizen watchdog groups, independent researchers, consumers, and most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Commerce and Energy. 

            Still, the U.S. is not alone in its policy that allows the use of BPA; research done by the European Union and Japan supports the FDA’s stance, and these countries share the same BPA policy with the U.S.[4][5]  However, Canadian policy has recently shifted to declare BPA a toxin, and individual U.S. states are pushing for the ban of BPA in products intended for use by infants and toddlers.[6]



[1] Gibson, Rachel L. Toxic Baby Bottles. Environment California. Los Angeles: Environment California Research and Policy Center, 2007. 14 Apr. 2008 <http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/uploads/oQ/cF/oQcFtaip3E6Q39-Ny10PYw/Toxic-Baby-Bottles.pdf>.

[2] "Bisphenol a Timeline From Invention to Phase-Out." Environmental Working Group. 2008. 27 Apr. 2008 <http://www.ewg.org/node/26291>.

[3] Gibson, Rachel L. Toxic Baby Bottles. Environment California. Los Angeles: Environment California Research and Policy Center, 2007. 14 Apr. 2008 <http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/uploadsoQ/cF/oQcFtaip3E6Q39-Ny10PYw/Toxic-Baby-Bottles.pdf>.

[4] Butterworth, Trevor. "European Safety Review: No Risk From Bisphenol a Exposure." STATS. 1 Feb. 2007. 24 Apr. 2008 http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:Mh5XQ9lGAzwJ:stats.org/stories/
2007/euro_safety_bpa_feb01_07.htm+europe+bisphenol-a&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3>.

[5] "Comprehensive Japanese Risk Assessment on Bisphenol a Confirms No Risk to Human Health or Environment." Bispenol-A. 20 Mar. 2006. 26 Apr. 2008 <http://www.bisphenol-a.org/whatsNew/20060320.html>.

[6] "Bisphenol a Timeline From Invention to Phase-Out." Environmental Working Group. 2008. 27 Apr. 2008 <http://www.ewg.org/node/26291>.


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Image 1: An array of water bottles potetially containing BPA



           

Last updated:  5/8/2008

 


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