The chemical Bisphenol-A goes on the Proposition 65 list this week after a unanimous vote by a state scientific panel concluded the element is harmful to women’s reproductive health, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
BPA is a commonly found chemical in plastic products, from toys to water bottles to the liners of canned goods. It will join more than 800 other toxic compounds on the list known to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harms.
The OEHHA’s committee decided Thursday that BPA is a “female reproductive toxicant” – meaning it could cause a wide range of reproductive problems including difficulty conceiving to premature births.
Agency Spokesman Sam Delson said the committee reviewed numerous volumes of new research in making its decision, including a 2014 study in Environmental Health Perspectives titled "Bisphenol A and Reproductive Health."
"Proposition 65 serves a vital public interest in providing Californians with information that helps them make decisions about exposure to hazardous chemicals," Delson said.
This is the latest chapter in a long fight over BPA, which is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins.
The American Chemistry Council and the Can Manufacturers Institute oppose the listing. They maintain there is no evidence that BPA is harmful. The Council points to the FDA's position that BPA is safe if used according to government regulations. A spokeswoman says the council is considering its legal options.
"We know how it's processed through the body, it's removed from the urine and does not go through the blood at all," said Katheryn St. John, spokeswoman for ACC. "The FDA says that in their letter and they link to that research."
The state panel, called the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee, first considered BPA in 2009 but did not choose to list it at that time.
A few years later, in 2013, BPA was added to the list based on a finding by the National Toxicology Program, part of the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services, that high levels of BPA exposure caused developmental effects on laboratory animals.
In response, the American Chemical Council filed suit. The Court granted a preliminary injunction and BPA was pulled from the list. The state agency won the case in late 2013 but the injunction is still in effect pending an appeal by ACC.
While all of that was going on in California, the Food and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2011.
Supporters of the recent listing decision include the Breast Cancer Fund, the Environmental Working Group and the National Resources Defense Fund. They point to scientific studies that show BPA is toxic to female reproductive health and impacts fertility, conception and delivery.
"It's a really great step forward to inform the public and help people make better choices and more informed choices for safer products," said Veena Singla, staff scientist with NRDC.
The Environmental Working Group called the move a "victory in the fight to protect people from this harmful hormone disruptor." The EWG testified before the committee that the chemical often leaches into food from containers and is also found on certain types of store receipts.
Advocates for the listing hope the move will eventually lead to the removal of BPA from products.
The addition of BPA to the Prop. 65 list kicks off a 12 month-period for the state to determine what level of BPA in a product will require a warning label.
Delson said the agency will determine what is the base level where no effects are evident and then will apply a 1,000-fold safety factor to figure out the maximum allowable dose level. Factors include how people are exposed – ingestion, inhalation, skin – and how often they are exposed.
Manufacturers, distributors and retailers will have 12 months to implement warning signs from the listing date this week.