After three months of debate, California has decided to add controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA) to the Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals. The announcement was made late on April 11 by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), a part of California's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"The listing of BPA is based on formal identification by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an authoritative body, in a final report by the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), that BPA causes reproductive toxicity (developmental endpoint) at high doses," the OEHHA said in a statement. The agency agreed to move forward with the decision despite a March 2013 lawsuit by the American Chemistry Council that calls the listing "unjustified."
Prop. 65, formally known as Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires that a publicly available warning be included on products containing one of the 800 substances deeded toxic. Products containing a level of BPA above OEHHA's recommended dosage will need to provide a label on the packaging or on the item itself stating that it contains one or more chemicals known to cause birth defects and cancer.
The act does not prohibit the use of any of the listed chemicals, although users often avoid products with the labels and manufacturers are quick to find replacement materials. BPA was used in plastic sports bottles and drinkware for years, but most promotional products suppliers have switched their lines to include BPA-free options since the chemical came into question in 2008.
Opponents of BPA quickly applauded the EPA's decision. "This is a public health victory that has been a long time coming and after years of delay, California has moved quickly in just a few months to finalize this listing," said Sarah Janssen, senior scientist at the National Resource Defense Council. "We should all thank them for doing the right thing to protect public health and not bowing to industry pressure."
Representing the industry, The American Chemistry Council responded quickly to the announcement, claiming the state was ignoring scientific evidence and pledging to continue pursuit of its March lawsuit. "We strongly disagree with California's decision to move forward with listing BPA under Proposition 65 and we will continue with our legal efforts to overturn this action," said Steven G. Hentges, Ph.D., of the American Chemistry Council's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group.
While plastic industry advocates may disagree with environmental and public health organizations, all parties acknowledge that the dangers posed by BPA are real. Debate on the subject now centers on acceptable levels of the chemical. Last week, a group of scientists lead by Yale University's Dr. Csaba Leranth said that California's maximum allowable dose level of 290 micrograms per day was too high, and asked them to reduce it to 50 micrograms. Opponents like Janssen want to err on the side of caution and remove the plasticizer from consumers products entirely, while The American Chemistry Council noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the chemical is "safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods."
The stakes in the BPA battle are high, as California's ruling will set a precedent for other states in the future. Even though the OEHHA made its decision, the fight is expected to continue in the state. Dr. Leranth said his associates would continue to advocate for lower dose levels, while Hentges of the American Chemistry Council said his organization was not prepared to give up challenging the legislation. "Because the regulatory and scientific process has been derailed, we will continue to pursue legal action," he said.
Related story: California to Add BPA to Prop. 65 List of Toxic Substances