Bisphenol A (BPA) is in the news. This is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics in turn have many important applications, including use in certain food and drink packaging, e.g., water and infant bottles, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices. Polycarbonate plastic can also be blended with other materials to create molded parts for use in mobile phone housings, household items, and automobiles. Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Some polymers used in dental sealants or composites contain bisphenol A-derived materials. U.S. manufacturers produce some 7 billion pounds of BPA annually, and business worldwide has been growing about 4 percent a year, driven by rising demand in Asia.
Recently, BPA has been in the news, with regulatory and legislative attention being applied, scientific data being generated, and litigation being brought. MassTortDefense questions those in the media suggesting this should be the “next mass tort.”
BPA has been in use for decades, and has been long regarded as safe by FDA. (Aside: Attacks on the FDA, and the alleged politicization of science is a favorite line of plaintiffs, and we will see it here. But, the agency relied in part on research backed by the American Plastics Council only because FDA had input on its design, monitored its progress, and reviewed the raw data. The fact is, it is industry's responsibility to demonstrate the safety of the products they sell; that industry generated data is used in looking at product safety is neither unusual or inappropriate. )
BPA received considerable recent attention due to widespread human exposures and concern for possible reproductive and developmental effects reported in laboratory animal studies. A recent draft report by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) examined the Food and Drug Administration finding that bisphenol-A is safe when used to line infant formula cans.
The CECHR was established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) as part of the National Toxicology Program in 1998. CERHR convenes a scientific expert panel that meets in a public forum to review, discuss, and evaluate the scientific literature on a selected chemical. CERHR selects chemicals for evaluation based upon several factors including production volume, extent of human exposure, public concern, and the extent of published information from reproductive and developmental toxicity studies.
The CERHR/NTP draft report, issued April 15 for public comment, expressed "some concern" based on animal studies that the chemical might affect the neurological systems and behavior of fetuses, infants, and children.
The legislative [knee jerk] reaction? Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced recently that they have introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of bisphenol-A in all children's products. Canada recently proposed to ban bisphenol-A from polycarbonate baby bottles. Several states also are considering legislative bans or restrictions on the chemical. California legislators, for example, are considering a bill that would ban BPA in children's products.
And the litigation wasn’t far behind. A California woman has initiated a class action accusing Nalge Nunc International Corp. of suppressing key information about the potential health risks of its hard-plastic sports bottles containing bisphenol A. See Felix-Lozano v. Nalge Nunc International Corp., E.D. Cal., No. 08-cv-854, filed 4/22/08). Of course, the suit comes despite the fact the manufacturer already announced it was phasing out the production of bottles using the chemical within a few months. Plaintiff does not claim use of the bottles has harmed her or her children's health. As is typical with product claims in which the plaintiff was not injured by the product, the suit alleges fraud, and violations of consumer fraud laws, specifically the Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, etc. Based on all available scientific evidence, the defendant in this case continues to believe that products containing BPA (bisphenol-A) are safe for their intended use.
However, plaintiffs will try to treat the product-line change/subsequent remedial measure as an admission of liability rather than a simple reflection of the fact that customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and the company acted in response to those concerns. U.S. retailers Wal-Mart and Toys 'R Us have already removed baby bottles containing BPA from store shelves. Playtex said it would offer free non-BPA bottles to parents and will stop using BPA in all products by the end of the year.
And a purported class action has been filed over the use of bisphenol A in plastic baby bottles and toddler training cups. The suit, Maria Sullivan et al. v. Avent America Inc. et al., 4:08-cv-00309 (W.D. April 30, 2008), alleges that five baby bottle makers failed to disclose that BPA poses risks to an infant’s brain and sexual development. Plaintiffs allege that defendants continue to represent that their BPA-laced products are safe despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The suit is seeking to recover the amount plaintiffs spent to purchase the defendants’ products and the amount plaintiffs spent and will spend to replace the products.
Does the NTP draft report warrant all this?
The NTP Brief on Bisphenol A is not a quantitative risk assessment, nor is it intended to supersede risk assessments conducted by regulatory agencies. The NTP Brief on Bisphenol A does not present a comprehensive review of the health-related literature; it does not include a comprehensive analysis of the issues related to this chemical. The NTP report relies heavily on animal testing, rather than human epidemiology. Regarding the neural and behavioral effects reported in some studies of rats and mice at relatively low BPA doses, the Panel authoring the report also acknowledges that it is not even clear whether these effects should be construed as an adverse toxicological response. The draft report does not conclude that BPA is dangerous. It notes that further research is needed – that’s the right approach to new data or concerns about a product that has been in use for decades. And the key reported low-dose effects are not replicated or corroborated.
The report found that there was negligible danger in exposure to BPA for adults and pregnant women, and only minimal concern for adults exposed even to high levels of the chemical in an occupational setting. The CERHR Panel also noted the apparent scientific implausibility of any mechanism that would produce endocrine effects at low doses that are not also observed in well conducted studies at higher doses. Again, the need for more research. And the panel report documents that much of the sampling to date on possible migration of BPA into food has been done utilizing an approach subject to interference from substances naturally present in food products.
The American Chemistry Council has noted that the weight of scientific evidence, as assessed by Health Canada and other agencies around the world, provides reassurance that consumers can continue to safely use products made from bisphenol A. Consumer products made from polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, including products for infants and children, are accepted as safe for use, and used, around the world. But an FDA re-review of the safety of the chemical for additional reassurance to the public on the safety of consumer products makes perfect sense to industry.
Cure Worse Than Problem
Any wide-spread ban of the product – or litigation accomplishing the same result -- may risk the public safety more than enhance it. Epoxy resins derived from bisphenol A are used to manufacture protective polymer coatings for the inner surface of metal food and beverage containers. This critical technology protects the contents of these containers from aggressive food products, thereby assuring a safe, wholesome, and nutritious food supply. Compared to other coating technologies, coatings derived from epoxy resins provide superior adhesion to the metal surface, greater durability, and higher resistance to the wide range of chemistries found in foods and beverages. These attributes are essential to protect the packed food from microbiological contamination, which is a significant food safety issue.
Canning might be the single most important innovation in the preservation of food in history. More than 1500 food items are regularly packed in cans, making out of season foods globally accessible year-round. More than 90% of food and beverage cans use epoxy-based coatings because of their strength, adhesion, formability and resistance to chemical reactions in the food and drinks -- without affecting the taste or smell of the product. They protect the food from the container and from bacterial contamination. They give canned foods their long shelf-life.
State court jury rooms are a bad place to make policy decisions that can have far-reaching impact on public health.