INSIGHT: BPA concerns mount as alternatives carve out a niche

18 January 2010 17:39  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--The US Department of Health & Human Services and the country's Food and Drug Administration(FDA) are urging parents and manufacturers to shift even further away from bisphenol A (BPA).

Pressure against the chemical, which has been used for decades to manufacture polycarbonate bottles and cups and the epoxy resins used in can linings, is mounting.

Toxicity-testing methods are changing, and with them the ability to determine what the FDA calls “subtle effects”.

BPA has been a controversial chemical for years, but its use in food-contact products is changing rapidly. Public disquiet in North America, particularly about polycarbonate drinks bottles and BPA epoxy can liners, has risen sharply.

The chemical industry has reacted stoically, defending the consumer products made from BPA and calling it “one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals in commerce today”.

But the uncertainty over continued use of BPA-derived plastics in at least some applications continues to rise.

In the past week, Europe’s plastics producers have called into question a new statistical analysis of earlier test data that suggested a link between BPA and heart disease.

The FDA notes that health watchdogs in the US have some concerns about the potential harmful effects of BPA, and it is suggesting caution.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers have moved to allay customer fears by giving them a choice.

The six leading makers of baby bottles and infant-feeding cups in the US told the FDA in January last year that they had stopped making those products with BPA for the US market. BPA-free alternatives are offered to worried consumers in markets outside the US.

But is the choice causing confusion and raising even more uncertainty?

“Plastics made with BPA contribute safety and convenience to our daily lives because of their durability, clarity and shatter resistance,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said in a statement on 15 January.

“Can liners and food-storage containers made with BPA are essential components to helping protect the safety of packaged foods and preserving products from spoilage and contamination,” it added.

Replacing these handy and oft-times essential components with less tried and tested alternatives may be easily done, but it does not necessarily increase safety or effectiveness. The problem is particularly difficult when it comes to can linings.

For baby bottles, alternatives to BPA may be made from polyethylene or polypropylene, polyethylene naphthalate (a new form of polyethylene terephthalate), polyethersulphone and even polycarbonate made in a BPA-free process. Each offers the consumer differing characteristics and performance, at a different cost. Some of the chemicals, however  and their breakdown products  are more tested and understood than others.

If BPA is shown to be detrimental to human health in certain applications, then its use should be banned.

The chemical is rapidly metabolised and excreted by adults, but there are concerns about its impact on brain, behaviour, and on the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children. The World Health Organization is jointly organising a meeting of experts on the chemical in October.

One can only hope that the alternative materials that, over the years, will be put to similar use attract as much attention.

Read Doris de Guzman's Green Chemicals blog
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By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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