Court clears way for California's listing of BPA as a reproductive hazard

In a victory for the public’s right to know about exposure to toxic chemicals, the California Superior Court ruled that the State of California can proceed with its listing of BPA (bisphenol A) as a chemical known to cause reproductive harm. The ruling also concluded that the opposition brought by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- the main lobbying group for companies that make chemicals including BPA -- was “misinformed and confused”.  ACC’s tactics have resulted in a delay in informing consumers, since BPA had officially been added to the state’s ‘Proposition 65 list’ as a reproductive hazard back in April of 2013 in response to an NRDC petition. However, with this recent ruling, California is back on track to addressing the health threat posed by BPA.

BPA is a toxic chemical found in many plastic products such as water bottles, food packaging, and paper receipts. The Prop 65 listing recognizes the findings of a 2008 government report from the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which concluded that there was clear evidence of reproductive harm from BPA.

In addition to reproductive harm, BPA has been linked to a broad array of health effects, including altered brain development, behavioral changes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.  There is a steady stream of new science on BPA, and the vast majority of it continues to find evidence of harm. 

The next step in the Prop 65 process is determining a “safe harbor level” of exposure. Unfortunately, the state has proposed a Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) of 290 micrograms/day based on older high-dose studies covered in the 2008 NTP report. That MADL is likely too high to trigger warning labels on products in California. But the MADL can be changed, and it should be, based on the latest science documenting that current risk calculations don’t adequately account for how low doses of BPA can cause harm.  

The court’s ruling confirms that ACC’s attack on the science is baseless, and that the Prop 65 listing of BPA is valid. This is a great start, but there is a lot more to be done.

The state needs to take a close look at more recent data on adverse impacts at lower levels of BPA exposure that were not considered in the 2008 NTP report. Also, the state should evaluate findings that some of the chemicals used as replacements for BPA may pose similar health risks, calling into question the value of product claims of “BPA-free.”

California and other states need to persist in their efforts to protect the public from BPA and the many other toxic chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives. Those efforts should include ensuring the right to know, as well as providing comprehensive safety assessments and health-protective regulation, despite opposition from the chemical industry. We look forward to working with the California EPA as it tackles these challenges.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Health & Environment program

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