Environmental Health

So What is BPA and Why Are Labs Monitoring it?

By Jennifer Pierson, Environmental Health Senior Specialist

The media began reporting on the potential health effects of BPA in 2007, and, these days, it is almost a household word. So what exactly is BPA?

Bisphenol A, aka BPA, is a chemical primarily used in plastics, resins and protective coatings. Typically found in lightweight plastics, such as those used in water bottles, food storage containers and metal can liners, ­ BPA is present in products that can be easily ingested.

Chemical producers contend that current research shows BPA to be safe. Yet independent studies by government-funded scientists indicate adverse health effects associated with BPA, including breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, abnormal thyroid function and estrogenic effects. Conflicting studies and news reports only compound the uncertainty surrounding this common chemical. 

Already several jurisdictions have banned BPA in food containers for children: the states of Maryland, Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin ; the city of Chicago; and four counties in New York. Even China recently banned the manufacture, importation or sale of baby bottles containing BPA.

But will a ban on BPA in consumer products lead to a reduction in human exposure?  And will removal of BPA eliminate the estrogenic effects of plastic? These are questions public health laboratories are positioned to help answer.

PHLs and BPA

With all of the conflicting information on BPA, the chemical makes a good candidate for a biomonitoring study to assess its level of toxicity in humans and related health effects. (Learn more about biomonitoring – the measurement of chemicals in people – on the APHL website.)

Many public health laboratories are beginning to implement and expand biomonitoring studies for BPA and other potentially harmful chemicals, including California, Washington and New York. However, with the unstable economic and political climate, funding for biomonitoring is in jeopardy, and many public health laboratories have maintained their studies by scraping together funds from whatever sources are available: end-of-year funding, grants and even fees.

Meanwhile, APHL continues to support biomonitoring by:

  • Developing a five-year biomonitoring plan.
  • Formulating the concept for a National Biomonitoring Network to help laboratories improve collaboration, standards and methodologies.
  • Producing a biomonitoring guidance document for laboratories and collaborating with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) on a companion document for epidemiologists. Both documents will be published in the coming year.
  • Creating a biomonitoring database to facilitate member sharing of biomonitoring information, methods and ideas, and to identify other laboratories engaged in similar projects. Look for the launch of the database this fall.

For more information on APHL biomonitoring initiatives, contact Jennifer Pierson at jennifer.pierson@aphl.org.

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