Going Another Round in the Never-Ending BPA Debate

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story described C&EN as a publication of the American Chemistry Council, when it is actually a publication of the American Chemical Society.

If you walk through the baby-products aisle of a big-box retailer, you could be forgiven for thinking the controversy around bisphenol A (BPA) was settled. The chemical, which has been implicated in developmental problems, diabetes and other health issues, has been pulled from many baby items and water bottles, and has been banned in some uses by Minnesota, China and the European Union, among other places.

But a series of features in Chemical & Engineering News yesterday highlights the fact that not only is the debate about BPA's impacts very much alive, but that there are still a number of sources of exposure to BPA that haven't been addressed, and that no alternative has yet been widely adopted.

It all boils down to the fact that BPA continues to be one of the murkier chemical issues companies have to wade though.

C&EN (a publication of the American Chemical Society) has put together, as part of their series on BPA, an exhaustive look at the numerous studies, bans and more actions on BPA. In short:

On one side of this debate, consumer and environmental advocacy groups who emphasize potential health problems stemming from steady, low-level exposure to BPA support their position by invoking the precautionary principle, which holds that even in the absence of scientific consensus it’s prudent to act as though a potentially harmful substance is, in fact, harmful. They argue that there is already enough scientific evidence of BPA’s toxicity to warrant a ban and that the general population shouldn’t have to be human guinea pigs while waiting for more compelling evidence.

On the other side of the debate, manufacturers and chemical industry groups out to protect a multi-billion-dollar market from regulation are defending BPA as safe. They say the problem with applying the precautionary principle is that it could lead to a ban on a useful chemical that poses no actual danger.

BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical, has been used in hard plastic water bottles, baby bottles and other infant items, epoxy resin liners in canned food, receipt paper, CDs, some sports equipment and numerous other items. Numerous lab studies have linked BPA to a host of negative effects like reproductive and developmental problems, diabetes and more.

Next page: BPA alternatives are hard to come by