Maine has joined a growing list of U.S. states that are restricting the use of the controversial chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA)— fueling the global momentum to rein in, if not ban, the widely used coatings ingredient.
On Dec. 16, Maine’s Bureau of Environmental Protection voted to designate BPA as a priority toxic chemical, becoming the 10th state to put restrictions on the chemical. Michigan also has legislation pending to restrict BPA.
The actions are the latest in a recently growing global groundswell against the chemical.
Applications and Exposures
BPA is a key component in the epoxy resins that are used to make coatings of every type, from protective and marine coatings for ship hulls, tank linings and oil platforms; to powder coatings for automotive parts, metal roofing and gardening tools; to anti-slip and industrial floor coatings.
The most probable routes of human exposure to BPA are inhalation and dermal contact of workers involved in the manufacture, use, transport or packaging of this compound or use of epoxy powder paints.
But it is the chemical’s use in linings of food cans and the manufacture of baby bottles, water bottles and other reusable food and drink containers that has drawn the greatest public outcry. Trace amounts of BPA can enter the food chain through resin coatings used in food packaging.
Based primarily on animal studies and the few limited studies conducted on humans, the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Center for Environmental Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) has concluded that there is sufficient evidence to raise concern about BPA’s effects on the development of the brain, behavior and prostate gland in humans and the reproductive systems of human newborns and fetuses.
More than a hundred peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to health problems. And earlier this year, human studies linked workplace exposure to BPA to sperm damage and male reproductive problems.
So widespread is the use of BPA that a Canadian study recently found detectable concentrations of the chemical in the urine of 91% of Canadians ages 6 to 79. The highest concentrations were found in children and teenagers.
The American Chemical Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, calls concerns about BPA overblown. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not yet regulated workplace exposure to BPA, and the Food and Drug Administration has also declined to regulate the chemical.
But worldwide opposition is growing, which—in conjunction with the state actions—could turn the regulatory tide in the United States.
In October, Canada became the world’s first jurisdiction to declare the chemical toxic, clearing the way for the country to ban BPA outright.
“A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to Bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment,” the government said.
Effects on Painters
Last year, the Global Health and Safety Initiative released a memo concluding that “workers spraying paints containing epoxy resins are exposed to [BPA] with uncertain, but potentially significant, effects on sex hormone levels and the reproductive system.”
The group urged “responsible specifiers” not to “wait for regulatory action,” but to consider “a precautionary approach to protect building occupants and manufacturing and installation workers” by specifying non-BPA products.
Major baby bottle manufacturers have voluntarily removed BPA. And recently, the FDA recently reversed its longstanding opinion that the chemical is harmless, now saying it has some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.
The European Food Safety Authority announced Sept. 30 that it would not lower the official limit on accepted exposure to BPA, despite requests by some European countries to do so. France, German, Denmark and Sweden all have taken steps to rein in BPA exposure.
Earlier this month, the European Union issued a draft directive, which is expected to be signed, banning infant feeding bottles containing BPA for infants up to 12 months.
Defenders Fight Back
Still, BPA’s defenders are not giving up. Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) gave up on her attempt to impose a similar ban in the United States by amending the Food Safety Bill, citing opposition from the chemical industry.
“BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals in commerce today,” the ACC has said. “Extensive scientific studies have shown that BPA is quickly metabolized, excreted and does not accumulate in the body.”