Serious dangers of BPA recognised by leading chemical safety agency

July 14th, 2017

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) – responsible for implementing chemical legislation in the EU – has officially recognised the endocrine-disrupting properties of bisphenol A, also known as BPA.

The update was made to the ECHA Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), which contains substances that may have serious effects on human health or the environment.

The list forms part of the EU Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

The update was made after a proposal from France and following consideration by the ECHA Member State Committee (MSC).

Endocrine disrupting chemicals

BPA is one of the most studied and well understood endocrine disrupting chemical (EDCs).

EDCs are natural or synthetic compounds that alter endocrine function within the body by mimicking or blocking hormones.

BPA is also one of the most common EDCs found in manufactured products and in the environment.

The convenient, industrialized world that we live in today has led to our essentially continuous exposure to these types of chemicals.

BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate, as a hardener for epoxy resins, in polyvinylchloride (PVC) production and in thermal paper production.

Many studies have shown that EDCs cause significant harm to animals, with the most serious harm caused during fetal and early life exposure.

The sources and pathways of exposure are myriad, but industrial and agricultural run-off making its way into drinking water and direct leaching from food and beverage containers are the most common for humans.

Studies have shown that aquatic life exposed to BPA have increased female-to-male ratios, longer hatching times for young, reduced body weight and deformities.

A recent review of the literature also highlighted that BPA affects immune cells and can exacerbate inflammatory conditions.

An important step

The ECHA has also added endocrine disruption to the hazardous properties of four other chemicals on the SVHC list.

All four of these chemicals belong to a group called phthalates, which are used in the manufacture of plastics to increase the flexibility, durability and longevity of the final product.

While BPA was originally included in the ECHA candidate list in January in recognition of its toxicity for reproduction, the latest update for BPA and phthalates is an important step towards phasing out the use of EDCs in Europe and will help limit future health and environmental impacts.

The inclusion of a substance in the Candidate List creates legal obligations to companies manufacturing, importing or using such substances.

Importantly, any product that contains an SVHC in concentrations more than 0.1 per cent by weight will be given the same level of concern as the substance itself.

SVHCs on the Candidate list may be included in an ‘Authorisation List’ and if so, such substances cannot be placed on the market or used unless an authorisation is granted for their specific use, or the use is exempted from authorisation.

Importers and producers of products containing SVHCs have six months from the date of its inclusion in the Candidate List to notify ECHA.

About the Author

Shane O'Reilly

Shane is a contributor to the Green News. He is an environmental research scientist, based in University College Dublin and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his PhD in environmental chemistry from Dublin City University.

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