The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that bisphenol A will be added to a list of “chemicals of concern,” and the agency will adopt an action plan on BPA, which has been present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.

“Because BPA is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic, there are questions about its potential impact particularly on children’s health and the environment,” the EPA stated in its Action Plan Summary.

Most human exposure to BPA comes from food packaging, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But exposure also comes from non-food packaging and consumer products, and the chemical could end up in the water supply.

Although past studies have indicated that levels of BPA in humans and the environment are too low for concern, recent studies have found subtle effects in lab animals when exposed to very low concentrations of BPA. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA present in the urine of 93 percent of all Americans over the age of six. A report released late last year by the Environmental Working Group found the chemical in 9 of 10 umbilical cord blood samples the group tested, providing evidence that babies are being exposed to BPA before birth.

Many regulatory authorities are taking precautionary measures. In January, the FDA stopped short of a BPA ban, but said it will take steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services provided recommendations to families for reducing BPA exposure. Four states, including Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Connecticut, have voted for varying degrees of BPA prohibitions. And Canada is taking steps to ban BPA in baby bottles.

“We share FDA’s concern about the potential health impacts from BPA,” Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said in a press release. “Both EPA and FDA and many other agencies are moving forward to fully assess the environmental and health impacts to ensure that the full range of BPA’s possible impacts are examined.”

The EPA’s action plan includes:

  • Adding BPA to the chemical concern list on the basis of potential environmental effects.

  • Requiring information on concentrations of BPA in surface water, ground water, and drinking water to determine if BPA may be present at levels of potential concern.

  • Requiring manufacturers to provide test data to assist the agency in evaluating its possible impacts, including long-term effects on growth, reproduction, and development in aquatic organisms and wildlife.

  • Using EPA’s Design for the Environment program to look for ways to reduce unnecessary exposures, including assessing substitutes, while additional studies continue.

  • Continuing to evaluate the potential disproportionate impact on children and other sub-populations through exposure from non-food packaging uses.

“The rap sheet of serious health problems this chemical is associated with reads like the public health version of the FBI’s Most Wanted list,” said Richard Wiles, EWG’s co-founder and senior vice president for policy and communications. “Breast cancer, diabetes, infertility, neurological disorders, prostate cancer, early puberty, obesity and heart disease, to name just a few. EPA’s decision to put BPA under the microscope is yet another blow to the chemical industry and a good step forward for public health.”