The use of and public exposure to the synthetic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), used in many plastic and metal food containers and other consumer products, is of growing concern to many people across Europe. We sat down with Magnus Løfstedt, EEA expert on chemicals, environment and health to discuss the recently published EEA briefing on the risks posed by Bisphenol A.

Magnus Løfstedt
EEA expert on chemicals, environment and health

Why should we be concerned about Bisphenol A? How is it a risk to our health?

It has been known for a long time that Bisphenol A can mimic human estrogen and act as an endocrine disruptor. This is concerning because it may affect our fertility. Exposure during pregnancy may also disturb the development of the unborn child, as fetal life is a particularly sensitive window for exposure to endocrine disrupting substances.

In addition, newer evidence has shown that Bisphenol A can also affect our immune system. Exposure can result in an increase in certain immune cells which can lead to development of autoimmune disorders such as asthma.

What about the wider impact on the environment?

Bisphenol A can also act as an endocrine disruptor in wildlife. All vertebrates have estrogen receptors and can potentially be affected by Bisphenol A’s estrogen mimicking function. However, these effects are best known for fish where several studies have documented the endocrine disrupting effects of the substance.

On the positive side, Bisphenol A is neither considered to be persistent under most environmental conditions, nor considered to bioaccumulate in living organisms to a significant extent. This means that it will disappear rather quickly from the environment if releases are halted.

What are the key findings of the EEA briefing?

The EEA briefing presents the latest information on human exposure to Bisphenol A, taking into account the recently concluded EU-funded human biomonitoring research project (HBM4EU).

The briefing shows that people in Europe are exposed to worryingly high concentrations of Bisphenol A. The briefing is based on measured concentrations of Bisphenol A in urine from 2,756 people from 11 European countries. At least 92% of the participants had a concentration of Bisphenol A in their urine that exceeds the safe level.

Can you explain a bit about the research done by HBM4EU on Bisphenol A?

Human biomonitoring provides us with information on real exposure to a chemical from all different sources. This is in contrast to the traditional risk assessments that are normally based on modelled exposure data. 

The urine samples for bisphenol A were collected between 2014 to 2020. Whilst the newest samples from 2020 still exceed the guidance value, it appears that there is a trend towards a decrease in urinary BPA levels. The new EU Horizon Europe Partnership for the Assessment of Risk from Chemicals (PARC) has included bisphenols as priority substances to be further examined in human biomonitoring studies in children, teenagers and adults. This will provide further data in the coming years on the occurrence of BPA and other bisphenols in Europeans.

What is the EU doing to address health concerns of Bisphenol A?

It has been known for some time that Bisphenol A can damage fertility and disrupt the hormone system. This is the reason why quite a lot of different restrictions have been adopted in the EU such as a ban in baby bottles and in thermal paper.

But we now know that BPA is even more toxic than previously thought, as the safe threshold was lowered 20,000 times in the newest assessment from EFSA. The European Commission is currently preparing a proposal for a ban of Bisphenol A and other bisphenols in food contact materials.

What other chemicals should we be concerned about?

The European Union has the most comprehensive and protective chemical regulations in the world. However, the system is not bulletproof. Our understanding of the different ways that chemical substances can affect our bodies is constantly evolving. This means that the regulatory system continuously needs to follow the developments in science to keep the best possible protection level.

Under the European Green Deal, the European Commission has announced a number of initiatives to further improve the system. One of these initiatives is the development of an EU Early Warning System for chemical risks to speed up how warnings from e.g., scientific research are used for risk management. 

Interview published in the September issue of the EEA newsletter, No 03/2023.

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