Bisphenol A in foods, the role of microplastics

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bisphenol A

Bisphenol A, a chemical substance harmful to health, also contaminates foods due to microplastics that pollute soil and water. The measures adopted so far by the European Commission are insufficient to protect the population, warns SAFE, which calls for decisions consistent with the now clear danger of the molecule. (1)

Bisphenol A in materials in contact with food

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical substance authorized in the EU in the production of some plastics, including food contact materials (FCM). It’s used

– in transparent and rigid polycarbonate plastic, used to produce reusable food containers and drink bottles, except polycarbonate baby bottles where it is prohibited by Regulation (EU) No. 321/2011.

– in epoxy resins used as the internal coating of metal cans for food and drinks and the metal lids of glass jars and bottles.

Chemical migration in water, soil and food

The exposure BPA occurs in several ways:

– through the consumption of foods and drinks packaged in jars made with this chemical substance, which can migrate into the contents,

– through the consumption of foods of animal and environmental origin contaminated by BPA dispersed in the environment, water and soil. Animals drink water, plants use it for photosynthesis and for their life cycle. And the accumulation of bisphenol A in plants (lettuce, soybean, tomato, cabbage, etc.) through the soil is demonstrated in the literature.

The role of microplastics

To environmental contamination microplastics also contribute, which as we have seen are now ubiquitous. They end up in water through industrial and domestic waste (loaded with cosmetics made with microplastics), transported by the air (3) or deposited on site, as happens in agricultural land due to the many plastic materials in use, such as protective sheets for crops, (4) and the spreading of pesticides and fertilizers. (5)

The presence of BPA in water in surface and deep water bodies it has not yet been evaluated at European level, because the obligation to analyze its presence has only been in force since 2021 and there have been delays in the definition of monitoring plans in the Member States and in the choice of analysis methods‘, warns SAFE.

The searches carried out so far, however, demonstrate that the contamination is real and even concerns sparsely populated areas, as emerged in the analyzes conducted between November 2021 and December 2022 in rivers and some high-altitude streams in the Italian Alpine region of Alto Adige.

Obvious health risks

The health risks resulting from exposure to bisphenol A are well established.

The European Authority for food safety (EFSA) has defined exposure to bisphenol A as dangerous for the immune system. It therefore reduced the tolerable daily intake (TDI) for BPA to 0,2 nanograms (0,2 billionths of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day (compared to the previous threshold of 4 micrograms. (2)

An insufficient measure and late, stigmatizes SAFE.

During the years multiple studies have demonstrated the negative effects on health of exposure to bisphenol A. EFSA’s new opinion is welcomed but is not sufficient and comes late. 

Several Member States have introduced bans on bisphenol A in food packaging for years; ECHA has already identified bisphenol A as endocrine disruptor in 2017. 

Only in 2023 did the European Food Authority recognize bisphenol A as a health risk‘, says Floriana Cimmarusti, founder of SAFE.

BPA, the scientific evidence

Studies on the harmful effects of BPA shows disturbing results:

– the presence of BPA in urine and blood is related to harmful effects on fertility, brain development, metabolism and cardiovascular function,

– classified as endocrine disruptor, BPA interferes with the hormonal system and is associated with various diseases, such as behavioral changes (hyperactivity), diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Furthermore, it is suspected that it may cause problems fertility, precocious puberty, endometriosis and prostate and breast cancer. Some conclude that even small amounts of BPA can have a negative impact on the brain development of children.

SAFE’s requests to the European Commission

SAFE calls for the gradual elimination of bisphenol A from all consumer products and products with which children come into direct and close contact. And it indicates to the European Commission some elements to address, in light of the latest EFSA opinion.

1) Harmonized protection for all EU consumers

Some Member States have already introduced restrictions on the use of BPA.

La Denmark and Belgium have banned the use of BPA in cosmetic products for children and babies.

La Sweden banned the use of BPA in the coatings and paints of cosmetic products intended for infants and children.

La France banned baby bottles made with BPA and went further by introducing a law in January 2015 banning the use of BPA in all food packaging.

The differences between the laws nationals pose a threat to European consumers, who do not receive the same protection. SAFE calls for the harmonization of EU rules to phase out BPA from all consumer products placed on the EU market, as well as banning BPA in all food contact materials intended for infants and children.

2) Better coordination between REACH and legislation on endocrine disruptors of FCMs

Better coordination between REACH and FCM (food contact materials) legislation, it must ensure that harmful substances eliminated under REACH are also eliminated in FCM.

The two agencies involved in the evaluation of chemical substances under both legislations, ECHA and EFSA must therefore cooperate to ensure maximum consumer protection from harmful and dangerous chemicals.

3) European legislation on chemicals must include the cocktail effect

The effects of chemicals on humans and the environment are traditionally assessed on a chemical-by-chemical basis. Consequently, risk management measures are also usually based on single substances, leaving aside the ‘effect’.chemical cocktail‘.

However, it is known that the combined effect of chemicals is greater and more toxic than the effect of individual substances. Let us remember, for example, that the Cancer Research Center at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna has demonstrated how exposure to cocktails of pesticides and other agrotoxics, even at doses permitted in the EU, causes toxicity.

It should also be emphasized that chemicals that are not harmful on their own can have harmful effects when combined with other substances that have no effects on their own. This means that zero plus zero plus zero is not equal to zero.

SAFE calls for the inclusion of a Mixture Assessment Factor (MAF) in all EU chemicals regulations.

4) Adequate protection from environmental contamination by BPA

About to BPA contamination of foods through the release of micro and nano-particles in irrigation water and soil, it is necessary to activate the evaluation of the phenomenon, through three steps:

– obtain data from Member States on micro- and nano-plastic contamination of irrigation water,

– ask Member States to prepare contingency plans to determine BPA contamination in food, in particular for fruit and vegetables,

– mandate EFSA to provide a risk assessment of environmental contamination of food and feed by BPA.

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) Safe Food Advocacy Europe. Bisphenol A in food is a health risk: a possible contamination via micro-nano plastic in soil and irrigation water. 4.10.23 https://www.safefoodadvocacy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Bisphenol-A_Position-paper_04-10-23.pdf 

(2) Dario Dongo, Giulia Pietrollini. Toxicity of bisphenol A, EFSA declares a public health alarm. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.4.23

(3) Dario Dongo, Microplastics gone with the wind, contaminated even the air. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 29.4.19

(4) Dario Dongo. Microplastics in water and agriculture, first study in Lombardy. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade), 18.12.18

(5) Marta Strinati. Microplastics in pesticides, the CIEL report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.7.22

(6) Marta Strinati. Pesticide cocktails cause toxicity, even at the doses allowed in the EU. New study. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.10.20

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".