EPA begins its initiative on BPA concerns

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a series of actions to address the potential effects of bisphenol A, a chemical used widely in the manufacture of polycarbonate and epoxy resins, rubber-plastic blends and other materials.

EPA's action plan on BPA concentrates on the chemical's environmental effects and will look to adding BPA to the agency's chemicals of concern, mandating environmental testing, according to a March 29 EPA news release.

Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, said that the agency intends to initiate a proposed rule-making this fall to have BPA listed as a chemical of concern. She also told those attending GlobalChem, held March 30 in Baltimore, that EPA plans to issue an advance notice of proposed rule-making before the end of the year to enable the agency to gather data to determine whether BPA represents an unreasonable risk to the environment.

Under that rule, EPA could require testing or monitoring data in the vicinity of landfills and manufacturing facilities to assess the potential for BPA to enter surface water, ground water and drinking water.

She said the action plan on BPA is part of a broader initiative to add 24 chemicals to the list of chemicals of concern under the agency's Toxic Substances Control Program. “We plan to identify four chemicals of concern every four months,” she said.

Since December, the agency has identified 10 chemicals of concern and issued action plans for five of them. “This is the busiest this office has been since the TSCA program was being developed in the late 1970s,” said Cleland-Hamnett. “We have focused on chemicals where there have been well-documented concerns and where actions have already been taken by state and local governments and other countries.”

A January 2010 warning from the Food and Drug Administration prompted the BPA initiative, EPA said. FDA said it had concerns about the impact on human health of BPA, and FDA is pursuing action on that issue.

Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Research Triangle Park, N.C., EPA will evaluate the potential health consequences of BPA, especially in non-food packaging areas that fall outside the FDA's authority but within the EPA's, the agency said.

Cleland-Hamnett also said that under its Design for the Environment program, EPA has already begun an initiative to assess alternates to using BPA in products that use thermal and carbonless paper coatings, where she said alternatives already exist. Those products include airline tickets, event and cinema tickets, labels, and sales receipts.

She said EPA does not intend to initiate regulatory action under TSCA at this time on the basis of human health, as most human exposure to BPA comes through food-packaging materials, which is under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA's office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, said EPA shares FDA's concern about the potential health impacts from BPA.

“Both EPA and FDA, and many other agencies are moving forward to fully assess the environmental and health impacts to ensure that the full range of BPA's possible impacts are examined,” Owens said in a news release.

The EPA action plan on the environmental impacts of BPA includes:

* Adding BPA to the chemical concern list on the basis of potential environmental effects.

* Requiring information on concentrations of BPA in surface water, ground water, and drinking water to determine if BPA may be present at levels of potential concern.

* Requiring manufacturers to provide test data to assist the agency in evaluating its possible impacts, including long-term effects on growth, reproduction, and development in aquatic organisms and wildlife.

* Using EPA's Design for the Environment program to look for ways to reduce unnecessary exposures, including assessing substitutes, while additional studies continue.

* And, continuing to evaluate the potential disproportionate impact on children and other sub-populations through exposure from non-food packaging uses.

Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va., released a statement in response to EPA's announcement: “It is important to recognize that EPA is not proposing any regulatory action regarding human health. In fact, [Health and Human Services] and FDA recently reaffirmed that BPA has not been proven to cause harm to infants or adults, and other regulatory bodies around the world have determined that the science supports the safety of BPA.”

He added: “We look forward to a productive exchange with EPA on this action plan, and working to modernize [the Toxic Substances Control Act] in a way that allows EPA to better prioritize chemicals for review.”

EPA estimated that 1 million pounds of BPA are released into the environment each year.

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