Companies Seek BPA AlternativesSep 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
BPA—Bisphenol A—has been used in a wide variety of consumer products for decades and can be found in items containing polycarbonate plastic, a transparent, durable, and shatter-resistant plastic that is used to make water bottles, plastic utensils, and medical devices. BPA is also used in the linings of food cans, including baby formula and can leach out of plastic into liquid such as baby formula, water, or food inside a container. Recently, some big name retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, are phasing out products made with BPA and increasing health concerns over BPA are opening a market for some companies to make BPA-free products.
Despite the controversy, health concerns, and countless studies pointing to issues with BPA ingestion—including a new study published this week linking the toxic plastic to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and abnormalities in liver enzymes—the plastics and food packaging industries and the US Food and Drug Administration continue to defend the BPA’s safety, arguing that for certain uses there are no alternatives that can do everything BPA can do. They are also clinging to the argument that other alternative chemicals, considered safe today, may pose future health problems.
Some say this week’s study places added pressure on regulators and want BPA banned, at a minimum, in children's products. "Large retailers are moving away from BPA products. I think it's going to force manufacturers to switch to BPA-free products only, in feeding (products), or in toys, or whatever else you can think of that has BPA," Ron Vigdor, president of Florida-based company BornFree, said. Vigdor added that his company has seen big sales increases in its BPA-free products, including plastic baby bottles and cups made of Polyamide PA, a form of nylon. Also, Nalgene recently launched a new line of BPA-free water bottles made from a plastic made by Eastman Chemical Company, introduced last year, called Tritan copolyester. The plastic is BPA-free but claims to have BPA’s benefits such as transparency and shatter resistance. Eastman Chemical spokeswoman, Tracy Broadwater, said it is increasing Tritan production capacity, with new facilities to be ready by late 2009.
Industry officials said big chemical food packaging companies are looking at BPA alternatives, but claim a BPA ban would be unwise and unwarranted. "An alternative would have to be found that, number one, works; that provides the necessary function. The second big hurdle is that the alternative should be at least as safe," Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council industry group said. BPA makers include such heavy hitters as Dow Chemical, Bayer, Sunoco Chemicals, and Hexion Specialty Chemicals, according to Hentges. John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, representing the food and beverage packaging industry, said there is no alternative that works as well to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life for canned foods as the BPA epoxy resins used in can linings. These epoxy coatings became the "gold standard" 25 years ago, replacing an earlier generation of materials. "With the use of epoxy coatings, shelf life of foods virtually doubled overnight," Rost said.
Despite its benefits, BPA—an estrogen mimicker—has been routinely linked to hormonal disturbances including breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, miscarriage, low sperm count, as well as immune-system changes and behavioral and neural effects.