BPA Health Risks to Water Supply Under Investigation

Federal regulators say they have begun an investigation into the potential environmental impacts of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in many types of plastic bottles and other consumer products, including a review of what BPA may be doing to our water supply. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a press release on Monday announcing a BPA action plan and said it plans to add BPA to its list of chemicals of concern, giving the EPA greater regulatory power over its use.

BPA is used to make many plastic products hard and shatterproof. Originally developed as a form of synthetic estrogen, it is used in the manufacture of many consumer products, such as bottles, cups, can liners, baby products and other food containers.

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Exposure to BPA is suspected of causing hormonal changes by impacting the human endocrine system. It has also been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Some research has suggested that BPA side effects can cause developmental abnormalities and other problems over time in infants and young children.

In it’s action plan, EPA said while BPA is generally not present in humans or the environment in the high amounts that usually indicates a chemical regulators need to worry about, a number of studies that have looked at the low-dose exposure to BPA have raised concerns over the effects of BPA water contamination.

In January, the FDA recommended that parents take “reasonable steps” to reduce infant exposure to BPA. The FDA is conducting a health risk review of BPA, despite having deemed the material safe previously. The BPA re-evaluation was started in June after the agency received substantial criticism from outside groups, politicians and its own scientists.

“We share FDA’s concern about the potential health impacts from BPA,” said Assistant Administrator Steve Owens, from EPA’s Office of Prevention. “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.”

Under the EPA’s new BPA Action Plan, the agency says it intends to:

  • Add BPA to the Concern List, meaning BPA represents an unreasonable risk of injury to the environment.
  • Order data collection on U.S. water supplies to determine how much BPA Americans are being exposed to in their drinking water.
  • Evaluate the possibly disproportionate effect BPA has on children.
  • Find ways to reduce unnecessary BPA exposure and releases into the environment while further studies are being conducted.

The EPA said that rulemakings putting the parts of the plan into effect would begin in the fall of 2010.

There are also growing calls for a ban on the use of BPA by states, municipalities and by federal lawmakers. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has introduced legislation intended to ban BPA in infant products, and there are bills calling for BPA bans currently under consideration in several states. In February, the state of Maryland banned BPA in cups and bottles used by children ages 4 and younger. The state of Minnesota and the city of Chicago have already passed BPA bans.

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