Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Public Health Concerns of BPA & the Need for New Regulations

By Julia MalitsPublished October 5, 2015

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical commonly found in many food and beverage products. Despite its harmful health effects, there continues to be a lack in regulatory action to address BPA on a large scale in the U.S.

By Julia Malits, 10/5/15

            If you have ever purchased canned food at your grocery store, drank from a plastic water bottle or used plastic Tupperware to store your food, you've most likely been exposed to Bisphenol A, a chemical currently under major scrutiny. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used primarily in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are used in the production of food and drink packaging, medical devices, infant bottles and CDs. Epoxy resins, on the other hand, are applied as lacquers to coat metal products, including dental sealants, bottle tops, water supply pipes and food cans. Though it is used in nearly every industry, and can be found in air, dust and water, BPA in food and drink packaging is responsible for the majority of human daily exposure. The reason is that BPA can leach out of the packaged containers and into food and drinks, especially in a hot environment. Given the severity of BPA's health effects, the United States Federal Drug Administration (USFDA) and similar governing bodies in Canada and France have outlawed the use of BPA in baby bottles for fear of long-term developmental consequences. In fact, France upheld stringent restrictions on the import of BPA altogether as of September 2015. However, the US's federal regulatory action is inadequate given how adversely BPA impacts the human body at unsafe levels of exposure.
            The health effects of BPA have been thoroughly studied for decades, and the results are telling. One body of research found that BPA exposure was linked to accelerated rates of puberty, as well as increased risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. On its website, the EPA has stated that BPA was found to be weakly estrogenic and a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies. In addition, scientists recently discovered that minimal BPA exposure early in life could alter the stem cells responsible for sperm production, ultimately lowering adult men's sperm count. To add to the body of disheartening data, researchers recently learned that BPA is not broken down in the human body as safely as the plastics production industry has long thought. Instead, they found that BPA in the body is converted into another chemical that prompts the creation of more fat and can thus spur obesity.
            BPA exposure through diet is evidently a serious public health concern, and legislators should treat it as such. At the federal level, the USFDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and children's drinking cups in 2012. However, it has not since taken further action to restrict the use of BPA in other food and drink packaging. For this reason, 13 states and Washington D.C. have taken initiatives to place restrictions on BPA since 2009. Massachusetts, for example, classified children's reusable food and beverage containers containing BPA as hazardous substances, and banned them altogether in 2011. In 2010, New York prohibited the "sale of pacifiers, baby bottles, sippy cups and other unfilled beverage containers for use by children under three years of age that contain BPA." However, while these state-led efforts are important first steps, they are by no means comprehensive. As such, both federal and state legislators and regulators must work hand in hand to entirely ban the use of BPA in both children's and adults' food and beverage packages.