Policy Documents

The Troubling Case of Bisphenol A

Jon Entine –
March 31, 2010

On January 15, 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a long-awaited update of its policy regarding bisphenol A (BPA)--an industrial chemical used to add strength and flexibility to many plastic products--finding it safe as currently used. The FDA review was undertaken after intense campaigning by advocacy groups and the media to ban or severely restrict BPA use, which continues even in the wake of the FDA decision. The campaigners' focus has now expanded to include other regulatory bodies, as well as states and localities. If they are successful, they will jeopardize the system for making regulatory decisions based on sound science.

Key points in this Outlook:

  • Regulatory agencies worldwide, drawing on thousands of studies, have concluded that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in many plastic products, does not adversely affect humans.
  • Despite these consistent findings, some groups are using unproven theories to claim BPA presents dangers to humans, and they are advocating for restrictions on BPA.
  • If policymakers are compelled to abandon scientific standards due to political or media pressure, the checks and balances of the regulatory system will be in jeopardy.

BPA is one of the most ubiquitous chemicals in the world. Plastics made from it have been in use since the early 1950s. Approximately 6 billion pounds are produced globally each year by fifteen different corporations. When used as a building block in plastic, BPA makes it stronger--hard enough to replace steel and transparent enough to substitute for glass. BPA can withstand high heat and has high electrical resistance. It is found in electronics, DVDs, car dashboards, water bottles, eyeglass lenses, and microwavable plastic containers and is a key ingredient in epoxy resins used to make dental applications. At present, viable alternatives for many of its uses--such as in the plastic coating of metal can liners, where it does not affect taste, helps prevent bacterial contamination, and extends shelf life at a relatively low cost--do not exist.[1]