New EPA scrutiny of plastic chemical

Concerns over bisphenol-A

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to add bisphenol-A, or BPA, a plastic widely used in food packaging and plastic bottles, to its list of chemicals of concern because of potential adverse impacts on the environment and human and animal health.

The agency will require new studies of concentrations of the plastic in surface water, ground water and drinking water to determine where it exists in levels requiring action. More than a million pounds of the chemical, used to harden plastics, are released into the environment each year, the agency said.

The environmental agency also will require manufacturers that use BPA to provide test data to help evaluate effects on growth, reproduction and development in aquatic organisms and wildlife.

The action follows a Food and Drug Administration statement in January expressing concern about the human health risks of BPA, which the agency had declared safe in 2008. The agency said at the time that it would look into the potential effects of BPA on “the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children” and would join other federal agencies in studying the chemical in animals and humans.

Monday’s announcement from the environmental agency indicated that the government is looking to reduce the use of BPA in food packaging, plastic bottles and other sources of exposure.

“We share FDA’s concern about the potential health impacts from BPA,” said Steve Owens of the environmental agency’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

The moves by the two agencies are part of the Obama administration’s effort to regulate health, food safety and environmental matters more forcefully.

But some consumer advocates said the administration was not moving quickly enough to assess the dangers of BPA and other industrial chemicals. This month, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chided the environmental agency for not including BPA on a list of chemicals that would be more strictly regulated. Legislation is pending to ban or sharply curtail BPA’s use in consumer products.

Concerns about BPA are based on studies that have found harmful effects in animals, on evidence that the chemical seeps into food and baby formula and that nearly everyone is exposed to it, starting in the womb.

Health officials have said there is no proof that BPA is harmful to humans, but are urging people to limit exposure by discarding scratched or worn containers made with it (usually marked with a 7 for recycling), not putting very hot liquids into cups or bottles with BPA and using microwave-safe containers.