EU identifies Bisphenol A as a substance of very high concern

Studies have shown a hormonal effect on fish and amphibians - UBA considering the case for further regulation

Reagenzkolben mit FlüssigkeitClick to enlarge
Bisphenol A is one of the world's most prolifically produced chemicals.
Source: Vasily Merkushev / Fotolia.com

The German Environment Agency (UBA) welcomes the EU's decision to identify the chemical Bisphenol A as a substance of very high concern due to its hormonal effects on animals in the environment. The competent committee of the Member States of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) resolved on this in December 2017, thereby unanimously falling into line with a proposal made by Germany. As of January 2018, Bisphenol A has been placed on what is known as the REACH candidate list, not only due to its harmful effects on people but also because of its environmental characteristics. The substance can now be subjected to more thoroughgoing regulation. Studies have shown that Bisphenol A has an effect similar to that of hormones on fish and frogs and harms reproduction and development. The UBA will consider whether Bisphenol A in general or, if applicable, particular uses of it should be subjected to further restrictions for better protection of the environment. Implementation would be a matter for the European legislature.

Bisphenol A is a raw material for polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins and, with an annual production volume of 3.8 million tonnes, is one of the world's most prolifically produced chemicals. The substance is to be found in many products of everyday use, such as drinks bottles, food tins, DVDs, till receipts made of thermal paper, and food packaging, and finds its way into the environment via a variety of pathways.

At the suggestion of France, Bisphenol A has already been identified as a substance of very high concern for human beings on account of its hormonal effect and potential for damage to reproduction, and included in what is known as the candidate list. Substances on this list are candidates for the approvals procedure under REACH, which has the long-term goal of replacing the substance and promoting the use of less damaging alternatives.

In August 2017, UBA submitted a dossier to the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, identifying Bisphenol A as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) for the environment. The aim was to identify Bisphenol A as an endocrine disruptor due to its hormonal effects on organisms in the environment. This was confirmed by the competent Committee of the Member States of ECHA in December 2017. The ruling was preceded by a detailed evaluation of the available scientific studies by UBA. This revealed that Bisphenol A can have endocrine-mediated adverse effects on the reproduction and development of fish and amphibians (anurans) in particular.

With its renewed inclusion in the list of candidates, its effects on the environment must now also be considered more fully in further regulatory measures. The use of Bisphenol A in thermal paper is to be prohibited from 2020 for reasons of health protection. This could also reduce inputs of Bisphenol A into the environment. UBA is presently researching into whether limits should be placed on further uses to reduce the occurrence of the substance in the environment, and, if the conclusion is that they should, which uses will be affected. The risks to the environment of substitutes for Bisphenol A are currently being analysed in an UBA research project and in assessments being conducted by EU Member States.

The identification of Bisphenol A as an SVHC and its inclusion in the REACH candidate list is accompanied by a duty of information within the supply chain. Consumers have an explicit right of information concerning the inclusion of SVHC in products. Manufacturers, suppliers and dealers must disclose whether a substance of very high concern is contained in products in a concentration exceeding 0.1%. 

Consumers can use the UBA “Scan4Chem” smartphone app to simply ask questions of manufacturers - thereby making it very clear that they accept no SVHC in products. It is also possible to reduce possible inputs into the environment: Everyday products with Bisphenol A can be avoided by, for example, switching from tinned food cans (where Bisphenol A can feature in the internal coating) and plastic containers to reusable containers made, for instance, of glass. Printed thermal papers, such as receipts, tickets for public transport or entry tickets, should as far as possible be disposed of in normal household waste. This will stop Bisphenol A entering the materials cycle and the environment via recycled paper products such as toilet paper.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany