The German Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt or UBA) announced yesterday it recommends limiting the use of the increasingly controversial chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), in certain products to protect public health.

BPA has been used for 60 years to manufacture a range of plastic products, including water bottles and the lining of food and beverage cans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chemical is now also found in the urine of 90 percent of Americans, indicating that exposure is widespread. A rapidly evolving body of research has linked exposure to BPA, an endocrine disruptor, to reproductive, neurological, and behavioral problems.

“Given the existing and growing body of scientific knowledge about the health risks of BPA to consumers–and the growing U.S. consumer and industry movement against this chemical–we strongly support the UBA’s position to apply the precautionary principle and limit the use of products containing BPA,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, technical director for policy at Consumers Union, a consumer advocacy group that has been pushing for BPA restrictions for years.

“Consumers Union believes that that there is enough scientific evidence to date to warrant a ban on BPA in all food contact products now,” said Rangan in a statement yesterday.

Jochen Flasbarth, president of UBA, was less certain on the scientific consensus, but expressed caution in dealing with the chemical.

“There is still a lack of data but what is already known about Bisphenol A should be sufficient to take decisions on the application of the precautionary principle and limit the use of special products containing Bisphenol A,” said Flasbarth in the announcement.

“The Agency advises manufacturers, importers, and users of bisphenol A to

use alternative substances that pose less risk to human health and the

environment in all areas of use that significantly contribute to

exposure,” announced UBA. “This way, an important contribution can be made to product

responsibility in the case of a substance for which precautionary

protection of humans and the environment is advisable.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to make a final decision on whether low level exposure to BPA is a threat to public health, though it did announce in January that it has “some concern” about the chemical.  The FDA said it needed more time to review the growing body of research. 

As federal regulators review BPA safety, a number of state and local governments are pushing for local bans.

Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin have passed bans on BPA in food and drink containers intended for children 3 and younger. Chicago and Suffolk County, N.Y., have taken similar action. Similar bills are pending in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Canada became the first country to ban BPA use in baby bottles, followed by Denmark and then France, which took similar action last month.

Federal legislation to ban BPA in all food and beverage containers was introduced last March. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has also promised to introduce the bill as an amendment to the pending Senate FDA Food Safety Modernization Act when it comes to the floor.

Major players in the food and packaging industries say the decision should be left up to the FDA.

The UBA published a background paper on BPA yesterday, a short is available in English here: