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Press release: 16 December 2020
The EU Court (General Court) has today confirmed that the European Chemicals Agency was right when it decided that bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical used to make plastics – is of ‘very high concern’ for wildlife.
It is the third case on BPA before the EU courts. The General Court had previously confirmed the EU decisions recognising BPA as having disruptive properties for humans – specifically on their reproductive and hormonal systems.
With today’s ruling, the General Court upheld ECHA’s 2018 decision recognising BPA as a hormone-disrupting chemical for wildlife, rejecting an attempt by trade association PlasticsEurope to reverse ECHA’s decision.
Dr. Apolline Roger, chemicals lawyer at ClientEarth, the environmental law charity who intervened in the case, said: “This is a crucial ruling. The recognition of BPA as a substance of very high concern for wildlife is not a box-ticking exercise, it paves the way for further restrictions.”
BPA is used to make plastics (mainly polycarbonate) in a wide variety of products including containers and bottles, kettles, dental fillings. It is also used to make resins lining food tins.
Most of the information available on possible health effects of BPA exposure comes from studies in animals. BPA has been proven to mimic the function of natural hormones in animals and humans. For example, it has been shown to harm the ability of fish and amphibians to reproduce with the potential to affect population stability.
The EU banned BPA from babies’ bottles in 2011. It also prohibited the use of the chemical in paper receipts from January 2020 to protect cashiers. France has banned BPA in all food packaging, containers and utensils.
Dr. Apolline Roger added: “The plastics industry has been opposing the much-needed tighter regulation of the chemical for years. But BPA is one of the most studied chemicals and its hormone-disrupting properties are well-documented across the board. The industry needs to switch its strategy, leave the resistance to change behind and focus on safer alternatives."
An ever-increasing body of evidence shows that exposure to the chemical can affect a number of human physiological functions, a disruption associated with serious health problems such as alteration of fertility, type 2 diabetes and alteration of learning and memory.
As a result, BPA was added to the official EU list of “substances of very high concern” (SVHC) under REACH – the EU system to control chemicals. This means manufacturers have a duty to communicate information on the substance but it is also a signal sent to the market to invest in alternatives (alternative chemicals or more broadly alternative technologies).
PlasticsEurope lost a first case challenging the decision to make BPA a SVHC based on its properties as toxic for reproduction.
PlasticsEurope lost a second case challenging the decision to make BPA a SVHC based on its endocrine disrupting properties for humans. Plastics Europe decided to appeal the judgment and the appeal is pending.
PlasticsEurope has now lost a third case challenging the decision to make BPA a SVHC based on its endocrine disrupting properties for wildlife.
In all three cases, ClientEarth acted as intervener – supporting the defendant ECHA in its defence against PlasticsEurope’s challenge before the EU Courts.
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, combatting pollution, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.