BPA can harm human health due to its properties as an endocrine disruptor that can alter how the hormone system functions. It can damage the reproductive system and negatively affect the immune system.
A recent Horizon 2020 research initiative, HBM4EU, measured chemicals in people’s bodies in Europe and detected BPA in the urine of 92% of adult participants from 11 European countries.
The levels of BPA measured in people’s urine also exceed recently revised European safety thresholds, which raises long-term health concerns for everyone.
Human Exposure to Bisphenol A in Europe: Understanding the Health Risks
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical that has been used extensively in Europe and around the world for decades, finding its way into various consumer products and packaging. This article delves into the significant issue of human exposure to BPA in Europe, highlighting its widespread presence and the potential health risks associated with it.
Understanding Bisphenol A (BPA) and Its Usage
BPA, a synthetic chemical, has been a staple in European industries, with over one million tonnes manufactured or imported into the EU annually, as per the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) (ECHA, 2023a). Its primary application lies in the production of polymers such as polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, both of which find their way into numerous consumer products, including food packaging (ECHA, 2023b; HBM4EU, 2022a).
Polycarbonate plastics are used in the production of reusable plastic bottles, feeding bottles, and storage containers. Epoxy resins, on the other hand, serve as protective coatings for food and beverage cans and are applied to the inside of pipes used in delivering drinking water (EFSA, 2023a; Geens et al., 2012; Lehmler et al., 2018). Apart from food-related items, BPA has a pervasive presence in various other products, spanning thermal paper, inks, textiles, paints, electronics, building materials, toys, CDs, automotive coatings, medical devices, and dental sealants (Govarts et al., 2023).
The Hazards of Bisphenol A on Health
BPA’s classification as a hazardous chemical in the EU stems from its detrimental effects on human health. It can impair fertility, cause severe eye damage, provoke allergic skin reactions, and induce respiratory irritation.
Furthermore, BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor, disrupting the normal functioning of the hormone system, leading to adverse impacts on reproductive function, mammary gland development, cognitive function, and metabolism (ECHA, 2017).
Figure 1 illustrates some of the potential health effects stemming from BPA exposure above safe levels. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently updated the tolerable daily intake (TDI) threshold for BPA due to its observed impact on the immune system. Studies using mice have demonstrated effects on immune system cells critical for cellular immune mechanisms and linked to the development of inflammatory conditions, including autoimmunity and lung inflammation (EFSA, 2023a).
Figure 1. How Bisphenol A affects your health
Source: HBM4EU (HBM4EU, 2022b).
Notably, these effects occur at extremely low doses, prompting EFSA to significantly reduce the TDI compared to the temporary TDI set in 2015 (see Box 1). EFSA also acknowledges that reproductive, developmental, and metabolic toxicity can occur in similar dose ranges.
While the general population faces BPA exposure, some individuals, particularly workers, may encounter higher levels of exposure due to their occupation. For instance, cashiers who frequently handled thermal receipt papers before a ban on BPA use in such papers (introduced under REACH in 2020) were exposed to BPA through skin contact (Björnsdotter et al., 2017).
BPA can degrade rapidly in surface water, but its degradation may slow under specific environmental conditions. However, it is not considered highly bioaccumulative in living organisms (JRC, 2022). Thus, the environment, including water, air, or food via contaminated soil (rather than food contact materials), is not deemed a major exposure route. However, indoor exposure remains a concern as BPA can leach out of polycarbonate plastic products and contaminate dust.
Evaluating the Health Concerns and Regulatory Measures
To assess the significance of BPA levels in European residents’ urine, a human biomonitoring guidance value (HBM-GV) was established. The HBM-GV represents a concentration in a human biological matrix (in this case, urine) below which adverse health effects are not expected. Using the new TDI for BPA set by EFSA, the HBM-GV was calculated to be 11.5 ng/L of total urinary BPA for adults. When compared to internal exposure data collected under HBM4EU, 92% of the sample population exceeded this HBM-GV.
In the 11 participating countries, the exceedance level ranged from 71% to 100% (Figure 3). This indicates that population exposure to BPA in Europe is alarmingly high and constitutes a potential health concern.
Figure 3. Share of adults in 11 European countries with BPA levels in urine exceeding the HBM-GV, 2014 to 2020
It’s worth noting that the analytical methods used to monitor BPA in human urine have a limit of quantification above the HBM-GV, implying that the reported exceedances represent minimum numbers, potentially affecting all 11 countries.
These findings align with EFSA’s conclusion that there is a health concern for EU residents due to BPA exposure (EFSA, 2023). Human biomonitoring offers concrete measurements of total internal exposure from various sources, and the data on BPA levels in human urine underscore that exposure remains too high, despite regulatory measures introduced since 2015.
Protective Measures Against Harmful BPA Exposure
Several regulatory measures have been implemented at the EU level to mitigate BPA exposure and protect public health. BPA was designated as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) under the REACH Regulation in 2016 (due to reprotoxic properties) and in 2017 (due to endocrine-disrupting properties in humans and the environment). Table 1 provides an overview of these measures.
Table 1. Regulatory measures to limit exposure to bisphenols in the EU
|2011||Ban in plastic infant feeding bottles.||EU, 2011b|
|2016||Harmonised classification of BPA as a reproductive toxicant cat. 1B, which imposed a number of restrictions for use in chemical mixtures intended for consumers.||EU, 2016a|
|2018||Restriction on the amount of BPA (0.04 mg/l) that is allowed to leach out of toys for children under three years of age, and in any toys that are intended to be placed in a child’s mouth.||EU, 2018a|
|2018||Ban in plastic bottles and coated packaging containing food for babies and children under three years of age.||EU, 2018b|
|2018||Reduction of migration limit of BPA in plastic food contact materials to 0.05 mg/kg food and application to coated FCMs.||EU, 2018b|
|2020||Restriction for use in thermal (printing) paper under REACH.||EU, 2016b|
Proposals for additional regulatory measures to further restrict the uses of and limi
Proposals for further regulatory measures to restrict BPA and other bisphenols are under consideration in the EU. A new REACH proposal submitted by German authorities seeks to restrict the use of BPA and other bisphenols (BPB, BPS, BPF, and BPAF) with endocrine-disrupting properties for the environment. The proposal aims to limit market placement if their concentration equals or exceeds 10 ppm (0.001% by weight) (ECHA, 2022c). However, this proposal was temporarily withdrawn due to a dossier revision need following public consultation (BAuA, 2023).
Additionally, France and Sweden submitted a proposal under REACH to restrict over 1,000 skin-sensitizing chemicals in clothing, footwear, and similar articles with skin contact. If adopted, this restriction would also apply to skin-sensitizing bisphenols.
The European Commission recently expressed its intention to propose a ban on the intentional use of BPA in manufacturing food contact materials, such as plastics or coatings (EU, 2023a; EU, 2023b).
Uncertainties and Future Directions
BPA has been extensively studied and remains a topic of significant debate among experts. Divergent scientific opinions exist regarding its TDI value, as evidenced by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) expressing varying viewpoints (EMA, 2023) (BfR, 2023). Nevertheless, the EFSA assessment has garnered support from scientists who endorse its methodology, including the inclusion of academic studies and the use of intermediate endpoints (Zoeller et al., 2023).
While the HBM-GV for BPA in urine has been updated, it is not an official regulatory limit value. Nonetheless, it currently stands as the most viable measure for assessing health risks linked to urinary BPA concentrations.
Unlike persistent environmental pollutants, BPA does not significantly persist or bioaccumulate. Therefore, regulatory measures should lead to a relatively quick reduction in human exposure, especially concerning disposable food contact materials and short-lifecycle products. However, products with longer lifecycles, such as non-disposable food contact materials, consumer products made of polycarbonate, PVC products with BPA additives, and epoxy linings in drinking water networks, will require more time to see the effects of regulatory measures.
Recent data trends indicate a decrease in urinary BPA levels and a slight increase in bisphenol S. However, conclusive statements cannot be made at this stage. The EU Horizon Europe partnership for risk assessment of chemicals (PARC) is set to further investigate bisphenols in human biomonitoring studies, offering more insights in the coming years.
In conclusion, despite two decades of rigorous oversight and numerous regulatory interventions, BPA exposure remains alarmingly high and continues to pose a potential health concern for Europeans. This underscores the urgency of enhancing protection against harmful chemical exposures. The European Commission’s Chemicals Strategy and Zero Pollution Action Plan outline several measures, including a proposed ban on BPA and other bisphenols in food contact materials, slated for consideration in the first quarter of 2024 (EU, 2023a).
Human Exposure to Bisphenol A in Europe
Given its widespread use, it’s safe to assume that a majority, if not all, Europeans are exposed to BPA (Covaci et al., 2015; Geens et al., 2012; Vicente et al., 2022). The primary routes of exposure to bisphenols are depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Overview of exposure sources and routes for bisphenols
For most individuals, the predominant source of exposure is through their diet (Geens et al., 2012). Minimal quantities of residual BPA can migrate from food contact materials into food and beverages, leading to ingestion-based exposure. Moreover, epoxy resins employed to line drinking water pipes can result in BPA leaching into the drinking water supply. Exposure may also occur through various other pathways, including certain dental sealants, medical devices, and contact with consumer goods made from polycarbonate plastic.
reference link :https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/peoples-exposure-to-bisphenol-a/human-exposure-to-bisphenol-a#:~:text=It%20can%20damage%20the%20reproductive,participants%20from%2011%20European%20countries.