Experts demand European action on plastics chemical

LONDON Tue Jun 22, 2010 7:06pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists and international health organizations from around the world called on Europe's food safety watchdog on Wednesday to regulate against exposure to a potentially harmful chemical found in plastic containers.

In an open letter to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a group of 60 scientists and health campaigners from 15 countries said they feared exposure to the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) could damage health, particularly among vulnerable groups such as babies and pregnant women.

BPA is a mass produced chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics. It is found in plastic food and drink packaging, such as baby bottles and sports bottles, and as an epoxy resin in canned food and drinks and storage containers.

Some recent scientific studies have linked BPA exposure to higher risks of health problems such heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes.

The EFSA is expected to publish a new "scientific opinion" on the safety of Bisphenol A in food packaging next month, after it was asked by the European Commission to re-assess the risks.

"Over the last decade and a half, a substantive body amounting to several hundred peer reviewed scientific papers, have been published that have highlighted potential adverse health effects associated with BPA exposures," the letter said.

"It is our opinion that any objective and comprehensive review of the scientific literature will lead to the conclusion that action is necessary to reduce the levels of BPA exposure, particularly in groups at highest risk, namely young infants and pregnant mothers."

Regulators in Canada and the United States are already beginning to take action on BPA exposure, with Canada planning to ban its use in baby bottles, but as yet there has been no similar action at a European Union level.

"It is high time that EFSA caught up to the overwhelming science showing genuine reasons for concern about our daily exposure to BPA," said Lisette van Vliet, an adviser on toxics policy at the Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance.

Some European countries, notably Sweden, Germany, France and Denmark, have made unilateral moves ahead of the EFSA review.

Sweden's environment minister said last month that if the EU would not ban BPA in baby bottles, Stockholm would go ahead with a national prohibition. And Germany's environment agency issued new guidance this month calling on manufacturers and importers of BPA to use "alternative substances that pose less risk to human health and the environment in all areas of use that significantly contribute to exposure."

Experts estimate that BPA is detectable in the bodies of more than 90 percent of the U.S. and European population. It is one of the world's most widely manufactured chemicals, with more than 2.2 million tonnes produced each year.

Andrew Watterson of Britain's Stirling University, one of the signatories to the letter, said hundreds of academic studies had shown the potential risks of BPA and "this should dictate a strong precautionary policy response from European regulators.

"If this is not forthcoming, the UK government must intervene as other European countries are already doing so," he said in a statement.

(Editing by Paul Taylor)

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