Environmental Health

Banning BPA – Why TSCA Reform is Needed

By Jennifer Pierson, Environmental Health Senior Specialist, APHL

Back in August, we blogged about Bisphenol A (BPA) and it continues to show up in media headlines. The debate continues to rage over whether or not BPA is harmful to humans, and if it is, at what concentrations. A recent interview with Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri’s Endocrine Disruptors Group explains the potential risks, finishing by saying, “There are now a whole series of human studies finding exactly the same relationship between the presence of Bisphenol A and the kind of harm shown in animals. That scares me. I don’t think that’s alarmist.”

Sippy cup

Despite the heated debate over the health effects, some lawmakers agree newborns and infants should not be exposed to BPA. Following on the heels of several other states, California recently passed a ban on BPA in baby bottles. While some see this as a success, changing the way the US deals with chemicals in consumer products is the best way to reduce human exposure to harmful chemicals in everyday products.

The way to truly protect consumers from exposure to chemicals is to reform the way the US regulates chemical production and use. One way to do this is through reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA.)

Last year, APHL sent EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, a letter showing our support of TSCA reform. When she was first appointed to the EPA Administrator position, TSCA reform was one of Ms. Jackson’s goals for at least two reasons: (1) It has not been updated since it was introduced in 1976; (2) only five chemicals have ever been banned under TSCA, none since 1990.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S. 847) again this year. According to Senator Lautenberg, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 will “address each of the core failings of TSCA.” The public health community remains optimistic this bill will make it through Congress and pass; however it’s been held up probably due to other issues such as the economic crisis and upcoming elections, taking precedence.

Back to BPA – a potentially harmful, estrogenic chemical found in so many plastics it’s hard to keep track. If we were following Europe’s approach, the precautionary principle, we would probably never allow BPA into consumer products in the first place.

Even if every state successfully bans BPA in baby bottles, I have to ask, what about all the other food containers with BPA? What about other products like cash register receipts? And what about other estrogenic chemicals? Some research indicates that BPA-free bottles still exhibit estrogenic activity.

Without comprehensive chemical reform, states can go on banning one chemical at a time and the industry will replace it with a new chemical. The catch is the new chemical could be just as harmful because they are not required to prove it is safe. While banning BPA in baby bottles is a good first step, we strongly support overhauling the entire process and can only wait and hope the Safe Chemicals Act will pass.


  • The potential for chemical reform is quite exciting, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice millions of animals (for toxicity testing) in the name of better protection for human health and the environment. The revised bill should mandate and create market incentives to use nonanimal methods. We need to ensure that chemical testing is in line with the 21st century and relies on modern, human cell and computer-based methods that provide accurate data on how a chemical acts and what the impact on human health may be.

  • While I agree reform of the TSCA would be a great idea, I would not expect any changes. We currently have a a do nothing Congress controlled by the GOP who generally don’t like the EPA and hate any new regulations even more. Additionally, the political climate is so bad for the EPA with the GOP that presidential candiate Perry has publically said that he would like to abolish the EPA. I would not expect to see much movement on this until after the election or never depending on the on the next person in charge.

  • Thanks for the comments. We are dealing with a difficult political climate at the moment, that’s for sure. However we are still holding out hope that we will see TSCA reform.

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