Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used primarily in the manufacture of “polycarbonate” plastics and “epoxy” resins. In 2015, EFSA concluded that, at current exposure levels, BPA did not pose a risk to consumer health. However, following new studies published after this opinion, EFSA is currently reassessing the toxicity of BPA.

What is bisphenol A?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the production of “polycarbonate” plastics (plastic bottles, baby bottles, etc.) and “epoxy” resins (protective layer inside preserves and cans).

BPA is able to migrate from the materials into foods and is also present in house dust. It can therefore be ingested by the human body.

According to EFSA, the main route of exposure to BPA is oral through to the consumption of food to which BPA has migrated. Other routes of exposure are possible but they are much less frequent: dermal (through thermal paper) and the inhalation route (by inhalation of contaminated dust).

DID YOU KNOW? Since 2011, the manufacture and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles from BPA has been banned in the European Union. In 2013, Belgium banned the manufacture and sale of products containing BPA for children under 3 years. This means that polycarbonate baby bottles have completely disappeared from the market. They have been replaced by other materials such as polypropylene, polyamide, polyethersulfone, silicon and glass.

What are the health risks of bisphenol A?

According to the latest assessment of EFSA published in January 2015, bisphenol A (BPA) poses no health risk for consumers of all ages, because the current exposure to the substance is too low to be dangerous.

Whether through food or non-food routes, exposure is considerably lower than the “tolerable daily intake” or TDI set at 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day.

However, since June 2016, EFSA has re-examined the risk of toxicity of BPA following the publication of a report by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, which raises questions about the effects of BPA on the immune system in foetuses and young children.

DID YOU KNOW? It is important to make a distinction between the concepts of hazards and risks. Hazards are potential threats to health, due to the intrinsic properties of a substance. In contrast, the risk that a substance could produce adverse health effects depends not only on the hazard but also on the exposure. One of the questions that scientists must often answer is “from what dose of exposure does such a substance represent a health risk?“.

Is bisphenol A an endocrine disruptor?

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that alter the functioning of the hormone system in humans and animals so as to cause adverse health effects, such as development and fertility problems.

Bisphenol A (BPA) which was strongly suspected of being an endocrine disruptor, as it interacts with many hormone receptors (estrogen, thyroid, etc.) and estrogenic effects have been demonstrated at high doses, is formally recognised as an endocrine disruptor for human health by the Committee of Member States at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

Many controversies still surround BPA. According to the latest EFSA assessment published in January 2015, BPA does not pose a risk to the health of consumers of all age groups because current exposure to this substance is too low to affect human health.

However, effects at low doses have been identified by various researchers (U. Hass, K. Mandrup). To address these uncertainties, a major study was undertaken (Clarity-BPA). Animals were exposed to a wide range of doses of BPA, including very low doses during the sensitive period of development (on the foetus and after birth). The results of this study are expected in 2018.

Until we can prove that BPA causes adverse effects in vivo at very low doses, the precautionary principle applies. Since hormones play a particularly important role in the developing foetus and young children, in 2011, the European Union banned the use of BPA in the manufacture and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles. In 2013, Belgium banned the manufacture and marketing of products containing BPA for children under 3 years.

DID YOU KNOW? Some polycarbonate substitutes used to avoid BPA also contain substances that could be endocrine disruptors.

Sciensano issues its opinion on cases of substances suspected of disrupting the endocrine system and analyses the migration of bisphenol A in food. Sciensano also analyses the level of endocrine disruptors, including Bisphenol A, in human tissues.

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