On BPA, California contradicts global health experts

Photo: Monticello, via Shutterstock

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued shocking assertions about the dangers of Bisphenol-A (BPA). In one sense they are right, their research findings are shocking – but only because they contradict the published scientific literature on BPA safety as well as the opinions of credible global health experts, including our own United State Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who conduct research under the most comprehensive and stringent scientific standards.

Back in 2015, OEHHA requested that DART-IC evaluate BPA for listing as a female reproductive toxicant under Proposition 65. OEHHA’s standards require use of studies “of sufficient quality.” Unfortunately, the studies OEHHA is relying on for this listing don’t meet that standard, and the FDA has said they are of “no utility” due to serious fears and limitations.

A consumer would have to ingest more than 500 pounds of canned foods or beverages in a day to exceed the safe exposure limit.

BPA is a chemical compound used as a building block in manufacturing many plastic products, including water bottles, dental fillings and sealants, medical devices, eyeglass lenses, DVDs and CDs, household electronics, and more. BPA is also found in epoxy resins, which are commonly used as protective coatings inside food and beverage packaging.

Respected worldwide regulatory authorities such as the FDA, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Health Canada, Japan Research Institute for Science Safety and Sustainability, and Food Safety Australia and New Zealand have conducted in-depth evaluations which show that BPA is safe. Years of research have consistently shown that the infinitesimal levels of BPA found in commercial products of all kinds poses no increased risk of undesirable side effects.

BPA is a poster child for what happens when chemophobic ideologues and activists make the decision about risk levels in chemicals. The act of selectively sifting through evidence to make a case against a chemical, while ignoring credible studies that point to safety, is irresponsible to human health.  The process results in a denial of scientific fact, the banning of safe products, and a switch to new products that are less understood, and often, more threatening. In the end, this results in a misallocation of research, takes regulatory resources away risks that pose real dangers to humans and the environment, and manipulates consumers into looking for risk in all the wrong places.

Science works the other way around: evidence is examined, plausible mechanisms of actions are tested, and conclusions are drawn. Let’s be clear — typical exposure to BPA is extremely low, in fact, it’s 1000 times below the acceptable upper threshold limit of consumption, it is quickly metabolized to a biologically inactive form, and completely eliminated from the body in less than 24 hours

A consumer would have to ingest more than 500 pounds of canned foods or beverages in a day to exceed the safe exposure limit. In a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of members of the Society of Toxicology rated the risks of BPA below those posed by corn syrup.

In evaluating BPA, OEHHA needs to take the approach that is consistent with the overwhelming majority of respected authorities. EFSA’s standard, for example, requires manufacturers to prove an ingredient is safe, rather than for critics to prove it is harmful. EFSA has concluded five times between 2006 and 2015 that BPA is safe at the levels present in commercial products.

Under the OEHHA decision, products that contain any trace of BPA must be pulled from the shelves or come with a warning by May 11, 2016.  Products with traces of BPA range from newspapers, to receipts, to milk cartons and canned fruit. Modern testing is so sensitive that even products currently manufactured “BPA Free” often show traces of BPA.

It is reckless for OEHHA to dictate science by ideology and emotion – the facts are there, and the results are consistent, the traces of BPA found in consumer products pose no risk to health.

Ed’s Note:  Dr. Bruce Chassy is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Food, Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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