Bisphenol A (BPA) Research Program
Jerry Heindel, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins and is also found in high concentrations in some cash register receipts. People can be exposed to BPA from many different sources, but the most common way BPA gets into the body is when a person consumes foods or beverages from packaging containing BPA. BPA is also found in medical devices, compact discs, water supply pipes, and many other products.
Scientists, public health practitioners, and consumers have expressed concern over the potential health effects of exposure to BPA. BPA is an endocrine disruptor with estrogenic activity, which means that it has the potential to interfere with the body’s natural hormones. In addition, BPA exposure is widespread. A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 93 percent of a sample of 2,517 Americans over age 6 had detectable levels of BPA in their urine.
Studies using animal models have shown that levels of BPA exposure in the range of what many humans experience can cause harmful health effects in animals. After examining the current science on BPA in 2007, the National Toxicology Program concluded that the chemical is of some concern for its potential effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children. BPA also is being investigated for its potential role in obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, cancers, and other health problems using studies in people, animal models, and cells.
NIEHS funds a variety of research grants to investigate the health effects of BPA in human studies and animal model systems. For example, NIEHS applied funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support two-year studies seeking to fill research gaps and enhance our understanding of the effects of BPA exposure. Researchers from these and other NIEHS-funded projects worked together in a virtual consortium to collaborate and integrate their efforts to examine how BPA affects the health and development of people who are exposed to the chemical in the womb, during childhood, and throughout life.
NIEHS, in collaboration with the National Toxicology Program and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently developed a consortium-based research program to link more effectively a variety of academic research programs and government-sanctioned study designs for investigating BPA. This collaboration is known as Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity (CLARITY-BPA). In the CLARITY-BPA program, NIEHS and FDA agreed to perform a modified chronic toxicity study, conducted using a government-sanctioned study design and involving university-based investigators who would share biological samples from that study to pursue functional, morphological, and molecular endpoints that are not typically included in guideline-compliant studies.