Bisphenols: What’s new in 2022

For years bisphenols have remained in the spotlight following growing evidence of their connection with numerous health and environmental concerns and 2022 has been no exception. New research has continued to demonstrate the harmful impacts of bisphenols on wildlife and public health, fuelling calls for further restrictions.


What are bisphenols?

Bisphenols are a group of chemicals used in thermal paper, such as tickets and receipts, as well as plastics and metal can linings. One of the most common and well-known bisphenols, BPA, is now recognised as an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC), meaning it can interfere with the normal hormone function of people and wildlife[i]. Following its widespread use across the globe, BPA has been detected in the blood and urine of almost every person tested[ii]. It has been found on beaches in at least 18 countries, from England, Italy and Greece, to Japan, Costa Rica and India[iii], and has even been found to pollute the air as far as Antarctica[iv]: hence bisphenols’ other name, the ‘Everywhere Chemicals’.

What is being done to protect people and wildlife from bisphenols?

Some restrictions on bisphenols are already in place. For example, in 2020, BPA was banned from receipts across the UK and EU due to the health risks posed to the unborn children of cashiers who handle receipts regularly[v]. However, as the ban only focused on one substance within the bisphenols group, it did not protect against ‘regrettable substitution’. This refers to a known harmful chemical being replaced with a similar chemical with similar risks of harm; in this instance, replacing one bisphenol with another. And sadly, evidence suggests this is exactly what happened. A survey conducted by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) estimated that 61% of all thermal paper would contain Bisphenol-S (BPS) as a replacement for BPA following its restriction[vi]. BPS is also a suspected EDC and reproductive toxicant[vii]. Another common replacement, Bisphenol-B (BPB), was similarly identified as an EDC by the French authority, ANSES[viii].

Thermal paper offers just one example of regrettable substitution amongst bisphenols. Other restrictions on BPA in baby bottles have also resulted in similar outcomes and concerns over health and environmental protection[ix]. Calls for a group-based approach to chemical regulation to cover all bisphenols have therefore continued to grow, and in 2022, we saw early signs that these calls may have been heard.

Signs of Change

In its UK REACH Work Programme, the UK government listed “bisphenols in thermal paper” as one of its priorities for 2022-23[x]. Although not much detail has yet been provided, we know that bisphenols in receipts are due to be reviewed under a Regulatory Management Options Analysis (RMOA) at some point within the next year. Whilst there is no guarantee that the RMOA will result in any restrictions or other changes in bisphenols use, the wording appears to indicate that bisphenols will be considered as a group, rather than the traditional substance-by-substance approach; watch this space!

Another encouraging sign comes from Germany, who has recently published a restriction dossier proposing to restrict BPA as well as any other “bisphenols and bisphenol derivatives with endocrine disrupting properties for the environment[xi]. The proposal not only highlights a crackdown on the bisphenols group, it also demonstrates a shift towards a more holistic and forward-thinking approach to chemical management by opening restrictions to more than one substance at a time.


Latest Evidence

Just in case we needed a reminder as to why effective chemical legislation is so important, 2022 has also produced yet more evidence on the widespread uses of bisphenols and their potentially harmful impacts on our health and environment.

A new report by IPEN released in February this year highlighted the on-going presence of BPA in baby bottles[xii]. The study collected baby bottles from 8 countries; Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, and found BPA to be present in 78% of the 98 products tested. Alarmingly, 61% of samples were found to be mislabelled as BPA-free, raising concerns of continued use or potential contamination of recycling streams.

In May the EU’s human biomonitoring project, HBM4EU, announced that all adults tested were found to be exposed to at least low levels of BPA, and half the adults tested were also exposed to BPS and Bisphenol-F (BPF)[xiii]. Using computational tools, researchers were able to draw links between BPS exposure and obesity, as well as BPF and “an adverse outcome pathway for thyroid cancer”. A later study published in October also drew connections between BPA exposure and increased risks of thyroid cancer[xiv].

Most recently, a review paper published in December this year discusses how BPA pollution reaches our ground water sources[xv]. The review explains how pollution originating from human activity, including production, use and disposal of goods, now flows through wastewater, sewage sludge and landfill leachate into our groundwater reservoirs. Despite efforts to treat wastewater, not all BPA can be effectively removed. This allows BPA to accumulate in sewage sludge, which is then spread over fields and forests for its high nutrient content, unintentionally spreading BPA pollution throughout our environment.


What next?

If one thing is for sure, it is that 2023 is not the year to take our foot off the break! On-going research continues to demonstrate need for effective chemical management, and with early signs of positive change emerging from UK and EU Governments, now is the time to keep our asks strong and clear: we need a group-based approach to managing chemicals of concerns, including the Everywhere Chemicals, bisphenols.

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[i] Member State Committee Support Document: 4,4′-isopropylidenediphenol (Bisphenol A; BPA). ECHA, 2017.

[ii] Concentration of bisphenol A in thermal paper. Mendum, T., Stoler, E., VanBenschoten, H. and Warner, J.C., 2011. Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews, 4 (1), pp.81-86.

[iii] Kwon, B.G., Chung, S.Y. and Saido, K., 2020. Sandy beaches as hotspots of bisphenol A. Environmental Research191, p.110175.,considerable%20time%20on%20the%20beach.

[iv] Fu, P. and Kawamura, K., 2010. Ubiquity of bisphenol A in the atmosphere. Environmental Pollution, 158(10), pp.3138-3143.

[v] Towards safe use and recycling of receipts: case for group-based restriction on bisphenols in thermal paper. Fidra, 2022.

[vi] Bisphenol S has replaced bisphenol A in thermal paper. ECHA, 2020.

[vii] 4,4’-sulphonyldiphenol. ECHA, 2022.

[viii] Evidence for Bisphenol B Endocrine Properties: Scientific and Regulatory Perspectives. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2019.

[ix] From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup? CHEMTrust, 2018.

[x] The Agency for UK REACH Work Programme 2022/23. Health and Safety Executive, 2022.

[xi] Registry of restriction intentions until outcome. ECHA, 2022.

[xii] How plastics poison the circular economy – Data from China, Indonesia and Russia and others reveal the dangers. IPEN, 2022.

[xiii] Flagship biomonitoring study shows Europeans exposed to high levels of toxic substances. Chemical Watch, 2022.

[xiv] Marotta, V., Grumetto, L., Neri, I., Russo, G., Tortora, A., Izzo, G., Panariello, I., Rocco, D., Pezzullo, L. and Vitale, M., 2023. Exposure to Bisphenol A increases malignancy risk of thyroid nodules in overweight/obese patients. Environmental Pollution316, p.120478.

[xv] Dueñas-Moreno, J., Mora, A., Cervantes-Avilés, P. and Mahlknecht, J., 2022. Groundwater contamination pathways of phthalates and bisphenol A: origin, characteristics, transport, and fate-A Review. Environment International, p.107550.