EU recognises bisphenol A as an endocrine disruptor

Many plastic straws contain the endocrine disruptor BPA. [Horia Varlan/Flickr]

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified bisphenol A, a chemical found in many common plastic products, as an endocrine disruptor and a ‘substance of very high concern’. EURACTIV France reports.

The ECHA last week classified bisphenol A (BPA) as an endocrine disruptor, due to its “probable serious effects to human health which give rise to an equivalent level of concern to carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction substances”.

BPA is notably suspected of damaging fertility and foetal development.

In itself, this decision is nothing new. France banned BPA in baby bottles in 2010 and in food containers in 2012. The substance is widely used in the plastic coatings inside aluminium food cans, but is also present in plastic straws, many plastic toys and the coatings of paper till receipts.

The new European classification for BPA follows a proposal by the French food security agency (ANSES) from February this year. ECHA’s member state committee, made up of representatives from all 28 EU countries, agreed the change unanimously on 16 June.

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Still no European definition

Despite repeated calls from scientists, NGOs and consumer and environmental groups, the EU has yet to set a legal definition of endocrine disruptors.

Scientific definitions are not hard to come by, but the big chemical lobbies and pesticide producers have so far managed to short-circuit any European action on the subject and safeguard their interests. Under these conditions, imposing any limitations on the use of these products, even if they are known to pose risks to human health and the environment, is no easy task.

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This makes last week’s decision all the more important. “It is a double first: to begin with, it is the first time a substance has been declared highly concerning for its endocrine disrupting properties and their negative effects on human health. Secondly, it is the first time the label ‘endocrine disruptor’ has been placed on BPA,” said Dominique Gombert, director of risk analysis at ANSES.

Manufacturers will now have to warn ECHA and consumers of the presence of BPA in products made in or imported to the EU.

The decision also opens up the possibility that BPA will be subject to authorisation for approved uses on a temporary, renewable basis.

“It is very satisfying to see our work obtain recognition across Europe. Our position on bisphenol A had previously been seen as ‘atypical’ by the big European agencies,” said Gombert.

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