French ban on toxic bisphenol A should spur wider regulatory action

14.12.12 Editorial
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The French Parliament on December 13 voted to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in infant food packaging beginning January 1, 2013 and from all food contact packaging beginning in 2015.

BPA is a chemical compound widely used in the manufacture of hard plastics and the epoxy resins which are used to coat the inside of most food and beverage cans. Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disrupter (substances which disturb the hormone system) and a growing body of evidence has linked it to serious negative health impacts on the development of fetuses and young children and in adults.

The EU, the US and other countries have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, but permit it in infant (and other) food. Japan, alone of the industrialized countries, began phasing out BPA in food packaging in 1998.

While the occupational risks to food industry workers handling packaging containing BPA have not been systematically studied, the few sector-specific studies have indicated heightened risks for workers (including increased risk of breast cancer)  in canning and food processing, where exposure occurs primarily through inhalation (consumers of food, on the other hand, ingest BPA through eating).

Millions of retail workers around the world are also massively exposed to BPA through its use as a coating on the thermal paper which is used to print retail receipts. BPA transfers readily to the skin, where it penetrates deeply and can be absorbed into the blood.

The French law came in response to a study by the country's food, environmental and occupational health agency. Despite mounting scientific evidence of BPA's toxicity, the European Food Safety Agency (like the US FDA) has rejected action beyond baby bottles. The coming into legislation of the French law should serve as a spur to wider regulatory efforts to limit exposure to this harmful substance. It should serve as well to focus attention on the considerable number of commonly used pesticides and fungicides which are known endocrine disrupters and whose massive application continues to devastate the lives and health of agricultural workers.