PLASTICS AND HEALTH
Plans for US-style REACH unveiled by Obama administration / BPA discussion gathers intensity
As various interest groups continue to debate the potential health hazards of bisphenol A (BPA), the administration of US president Barack Obama is calling for tougher regulation of chemicals sold in the country, including BPA. Lisa P. Jackson, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; www.epa.gov), said tougher rules are “long overdue.” The agency is also seeking more authority to compel industry to comply with regulations.

With the same intent, at least, as the European Union’s REACH legislation – although it is as yet unclear how tough the US rules would be – the plan would require manufacturers to provide more information about the chemical makeup of thousands of substances used in consumer products and the workplace. Jackson said she would attempt to regulate six “high priority” chemical groups used in particular in the plastics industry, including phthalates and BPA in baby products, along with fluoropolymers and brominated flame retardants.

Experts say tougher US legislation is sorely needed, especially as the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act “grandfathered” 62,000 existing chemicals, which were thus exempted from any safety tests. Since Congress passed the act, the EPA has restricted only five of almost 80,000 existing chemicals, Jackson said in presenting the administration’s scheme.

The American Chemistry Council said the chemical industry will not oppose tougher legislation, as long as it is based on a scientific assessment of risk. In fact, many producers are believed to prefer a federal programme to states and cities making their own rules. Current laws require the EPA to prove that potential risks are not outweighed by possible benefits, and critics maintain that these laws are too weak to be useful. The agency’s challenge to the widespread use of asbestos in 1991, for example, failed despite thorough documentation when a federal court threw it out.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA; www.fda.gov) intends to complete its review of BPA by the end of November. The findings are eagerly awaited by many environmentalists and consumers in light of new concerns about the use of the substance, especially in products for children. Up to now, the FDA has maintained that BPA is safe. Although it does not recommend that anyone continue using products containing BPA, while it continues the risk assessment process, the agency’s website points out to “concerned consumers” that “alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist,” including glass bottles.

The US city of Chicago meanwhile has moved to ban BPA in baby bottles and drinking cups from 1 January 2010, the US Endocrine Society has linked the chemical to irregular hearth rhythms in rats and mice, and the American Medical Association recently pointed to a the risk of heart disease and diabetes in humans. Another US study on 77 student volunteers, conducted by Harvard University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warns that BPA leaching from plastic bottles can cause reproductive defects as well as brain damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

In the face of what they see as flawed evidence, a group of 33 US scientists contends that the FDA is “wasting millions of dollars” studying BPA, as it has already been the subject of “more than 900 studies.” Several of the scientists signing a letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg have participated in studies of the chemical. As they see it, the USD 7m the government is spending on additional BPA studies is “meaningless” because its protocol calls for the substance to be “tested on a certain strain of rat that has proved to be insensitive to the effects of BPA at low levels.”
21.10.2009 Plasteurope.com [214639]
Published on 21.10.2009

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