(And by “It” in the above headline, I mean both the chemical for plastics and the debate about it...)
One reviewer of my recent book on plastics and sustainability wanted me to have covered more about issues with BPA (bisphenol A), one of the chemical building-blocks of polycarbonate and epoxy resins. I believe I did cover BPA in proportion to its importance. And it is important, given that there has been a scientific debate about its health effects, and that non-BPA based substitute materials are being sought by people who want to avoid BPA.
But both the furor and news coverage about BPA seem to have died down since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided in March to deny a ban of BPA in food-contact items (despite still “unanswered questions” about its effects on human health). Numerous studies are cited in the FDA’s petition denial letter (warning: this government site link can be very slow-loading!); its decision may have been influenced by studies like those summarized here.
Still, new “BPA-free” copolyester and polypropylene alternatives to polycarbonate continue to be commercialized. And studies reporting negative health affects of BPA continue to be published (see here and here, for example).
So where are we in this debate? Plastics-related environmental/health debates tend to hang around for a long time, and most never really are resolved (consider PVC’s various issues, bag bans, plastics recycling and litter controversies, and so forth). Since BPA-based resins such as polycarbonate are so established in so many different applications, it’s likely that there’s still long way to go in the BPA debate as well.
Mike Tolinski is the author of Plastics and Sustainability, published in Oct. 2011 by Wiley-Scrivener, and he is Contributing Editor for Plastics Engineering magazine of the Society of Plastics Engineers in the USA. His views have been shaped by his engineering, university, and journalism experience in the plastics and manufacturing industries over the past 21 years. You can follow Mike and be alerted on blog updates via Twitter.