A new study – the first of its kind in the US – has looked at the exposure levels of people who come into contact with high doses of BPA, (Bisphenol A) and found that employees who directly handle the plasticizing chemical had urine levels of BPA around 70 times greater than that of the average US adult.
The NIOSH study looked at BPA levels in the urine of 78 American manufacturing workers employed at six companies that either manufacture BPA or use it to make other products.
Bisphenol A is a chemical commonly found in plastic packaging and the lining of food cans.
A 2008 ruling by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) found that low exposure to the chemical is safe because it is generally ingested orally and thus eliminated from the body quickly, although research is ongoing to determine the chemical’s impact on human hormones.
Studies surrounding the long-term effects of BPA on health and reproduction have previously centered on consumer exposure. Pressure from consumer advocates led to manufacturers voluntarily removing the chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups in the US.
The FDA eventually also banned it from baby formula packaging. Outside the US, a law prohibiting the use of BPA in food packaging of any kind went into effect in France in 2015.
The US has attempted to pass similar legislation outlawing the use of BPA in all food containers, most recently with the introduction of the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2016.
Two studies have found that adults with the highest levels of BPA in their bodies seem to have a higher incidence of heart problems. However, the higher incidence could be unrelated to BPA.
As good practice and as part of continuous improvement efforts, NIOSH encourages companies to review work processes and practices for ways to minimize worker exposure to BPA by following the hierarchy of controls.
Exposure reduction steps could include:
- Eliminating BPA or substituting other chemicals for BPA. In applications where BPA is an essential building block (component) of a material, such as in polycarbonate plastic, substitution may not be an option;
- Containing BPA dust and vapor emissions with either full enclosures or local exhaust ventilation;
- Minimizing the time workers spend in BPA production areas;
- Cleaning surfaces in production areas, offices and lunch rooms regularly to remove BPA residues;
- As a last resort, using personal protective equipment (PPE) and assuring that PPE is properly fitted, worn, maintained, and cleaned. PPE may include respirators, chemically-resistant gloves and suits, and eye and face protection; and
- Implementing a sampling program for BPA to evaluate the efficacy of controls and surface decontamination efforts.