BPA in Plastic and Epoxy Resins
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic compound used to manufacture certain kinds of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that frequently appear in baby and water bottles, food packaging and medical and dental devices. Businesses have used BPA in products and packaging since 1957, and still currently use roughly 8 billion pounds of BPA per year as of 2011.
Problems can arise when BPA leaches out of the products that contain it and into the human body, however. Bisphenol A in the human body mimics the function of the female sex hormone estrogen, and several studies have linked BPA to adverse health effects, especially for infants and children. Researchers believe that BPA can leach from products when they are filled with hot or acidic materials or cleaned with harsh detergents.
Consumers have filed several lawsuits against manufacturers of products containing BPA, and organizations have filed lawsuits to force government regulators to take action on the issue of BPA in food and beverage containers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently shifted its stance on BPA, stating that exposure to the chemical is of "some concern" for infants and children. Several states have also passed legislation banning the use of BPA in certain products, such as baby bottles.
What Products Contain BPA?
After intense media focus on the issue of BPA in consumer products, several manufacturers have ended the use of BPA in their products. Manufacturers still commonly use BPA in a range of products, however. Here are some examples of products that commonly contain, or used to contain, BPA:
- Canned foods, including canned infant formula
- Aluminum soft drink cans
- Lunch boxes
- Many plastic food containers with recycling labels 3 and 7
- Reusable water bottles (both plastic and metal)
- Hard plastic baby bottles
- Sippy cups for young children
Many, but not all, of the plastic products marked with the recycling codes 3 and 7 contain BPA. Products with other recycling codes generally do not contain BPA.
What Risks Follow Exposure to BPA?
Since BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the human body, it has the potential to cause a wide range of health problems, especially for young children. Researchers have linked exposure to BPA with numerous issues, but it is important to note that the research into BPA exposure is still at an early stage.
Studies have found connections between BPA exposure and:
- Neurological development issues
- Increased risk of cancer
- Reproductive problems
- Heart disease
- Sexual difficulties
Based on the health risks that have researchers have identified, several plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against manufacturers of products containing BPA. Those cases were consolidated into one multidistrict lawsuit overseen by the Western District Court of Missouri. The plaintiffs have asserted several claims, including violation of state consumer protection statutes, fraud, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment, strict product liability, breach of contract and negligence.
Defendants in the litigation originally included manufacturers of baby and water bottles and infant formula producers, although the court dismissed the formula defendants in late 2009.
At least one manufacturer has already settled the lawsuit against it. Philips agreed to offer refunds to purchasers of its Avent brand baby bottles and sippy cups, but continued to argue that it had offered adequate notice concerning the presence of BPA in the products.
In addition to lawsuits by consumers, the Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration seeking to force the agency to respond to a petition the NRDC submitted requesting a ban on BPA in food packaging.
BPA in Baby Bottles
As mentioned above, researchers studying the effects of BPA believe that exposure to the chemical can have serious impacts on the development of infants and young children. Because of this, the presence of BPA in baby bottles is of major concern to parents and regulators.
Most manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups have voluntarily removed BPA from their products, but several states have gone further and banned BPA from children's products altogether. While each ban is different, their general intent is to forbid the use of BPA in products meant for children, usually under the age of three years. Some of the products covered by the bans include baby bottles and sippy cups, formula and baby food.
So far, seven states have passed this type of ban - Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Washington, Vermont, and New York.
Federal regulation is currently pending in Congress as well.
The science surrounding BPA suggests that exposure to the chemical can have negative impacts on health, especially for infants and children. While many manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using BPA in their products, BPA was, and remains, present in a wide range of products. Litigation currently underway will determine the liability, if any, that manufacturers will face for their customer's exposure to BPA.