Follow Minnesota’s Lead, Regulate BPA

November 28, 2011 By Renee Jordan, Macalester College

Today we present another installment in Minnesota 2020’s series of columns focusing on environmental policy issues. It’s part of our continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Environmental Studies Department and its students.

Many of us question the safety of the water we drink, but few consider the safety of the container that we drink from. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in many plastic bottles that may be connected to health risks and environmental pollution.

Within the U.S., BPA remains mostly unregulated despite “possible health effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” according to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The Food and Drug Administration… is also taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply by finding alternatives to BPA in food containers,” according to a Mayo Clinic advisory.

 

 

Fortunately for Minnesotans, state policymakers have been leaders in regulating this toxic chemical to ensure public safety. It is now time for the nation to follow Minnesota’s lead in creating more stringent regulations on BPA.

Minnesota set the precautionary bar in 2009, becoming the first state to prohibit the sale and manufacture of children’s cups and infant bottles that contain BPA. With the NTP study raising concern levels, this law passed by quite a large margin. The NTP study also raised concern that BPA may cause premature puberty and damage mammary glands.

Test results from a 2010 scientific study through Kaiser Permanente found that male Chinese factory workers exposed to high levels of BPA had poor quality of semen in comparison to workers with little or no exposure to BPA.

Despite this scientific evidence, there is still much debate around BPA's severity of risk. Discussions over whether or not BPA demands government policy and regulation have been prevalent in the last four years, yet few decisions have been reached.

Minnesota is one of a very few states that have recognized BPA's potential harm and implemented precautionary regulations against it. However, no one disputes that BPA is toxic. The argument is over what level of BPA exposure is safe for humans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied urine samples of U.S. citizens ages six and older to better estimate human BPA levels. Results found that almost everyone had traces of BPA in their urine, which suggests that BPA is widespread throughout the nation. Even those of us who are conscientious about BPA are still exposed to it through the many commodities that contain the chemical.

It might not just be humans that are affected by BPA exposure. Environmental concerns have been raised about the leakage of BPA into water systems. National Geographic released an article on the impacts of plastic chemicals in the ocean, and claimed that some animals’ reproductive systems—which are essential for species survival—are disrupted by BPA.

The article also discussed BPA’s potential accumulation in marine animals. Another environmental concern is accidental consumption of plastic, which directly puts BPA into an animal’s body.

According to a study published by the Association for Environmental Health and Science Foundation, the U.S. releases surprising amounts of BPA into the environment; about 85,300 kilograms of emissions into the air, and 14,600 kilograms into the water. So far, studies have not confirmed BPA emissions to be considerably hazardous to the environment; however, there has not been enough research to safely assume that BPA emissions are negligible.

There must be more research on environmental impacts of BPA pollution. We can start in our own backyard. BPA has been found in the Mississippi River close to St. Paul. A Drexel University study revealed that male walleyes in the Mississippi have lower testosterone levels in their blood stream due partly to the presence of BPA in their environment. More studies on the impacts of BPA in the Mississippi could call further state and national attention to the current BPA emission standards.

Traditionally, Minnesotans have pursued strong public policy regulating potentially harmful products. Unfortunately, this does very little on a national scale, as Minnesota accounts for less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. BPA exposure is a significant issue that must be addressed nationally. Minnesota has been a beacon in preventative policy, and it is time for the nation to follow suit. We have enough evidence of BPA’s toxicity that it would be devastating to continue ignoring the problem at hand.

Renee Jordan is a sophomore majoring in chemistry at Macalester College. She's also on the school's diving team.

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