A new test from the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals finds several endocrine disrupting bisphenols in products for children.
Teething toys, drinking bottles, baby slippers, children’s socks and baby blankets – these are some of the many products that the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals in an extensive test has found several different endocrine disrupting bisphenols in.
These are products, which come into close skin contact with children and that children often put in their mouths. In most of the products, the bisphenols contained in or released from the products are considered to be particularly problematic for children.
Consumer products should not contain bisphenols, particularly not products for children or pregnant women. Hanne Frederiksen Senior scientist, Dep. of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen.
Senior scientist Hanne Frederiksen from the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet says that she is not surprised over the findings and that the only true solution would be a total ban.
”Consumer products should not contain bisphenols, particularly not products for children or pregnant women,” she says.
However, the findings of bisphenols in the products are not illegal, according to Stine Müller, test responsible at the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals. She says: "The problem is that the rules in some cases are completely lacking and in other cases are insufficient, if we are to limit our exposure to these unwanted chemicals.”
Particularly problematic bisphenols
Many of the tested products contain or release bisphenol A, F or S, which are three of the particularly problematic bisphenols with endocrine disrupting effects.
”These bisphenols look like some of our natural hormones and have for example estrogenic and anti-androgenic properties, which means that they can disrupt the natural hormone balance of the body. From several research studies with cells and animals, we know that particularly bisphenol A, F and S have significant hormone disrupting effects in relation to reproductive functions. Consequently, it is problematic that pregnant women are exposed to bisphenols since human reproduction ability is established already in the fetal state,” Hanne Frederiksen explains.
Further, bisphenols have in many studies been associated with early puberty in girls, increased risk of obesity and diabetes as well as affecting development of the brain.
We have not been able to tell where the bisphenols come from but now we have an indication due to this test. Hanne Frederiksen Senior scientist, Dep. of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen.
In a research study supported by the Centre on Endocrine Disruptors, Hanne Frederiksen examined how much young families in Copenhagen are exposed to bisphenol A and other bisphenols.
The study, that measured the content of bisphenols in urine of both parents and children, showed that the majority of the participating families were exposed to bisphenol A, F and S, and that children are equally as or sometimes more exposed to bisphenol A than their parents.
According to Hanne Frederiksen, one explanation could be that children for example suck on toys or wear clothes containing bisphenols.
”We have not been able to tell where these bisphenols come from but now we have an indication due to this test,” says Hanne Frederiksen.
Facts on bisphenols
Bisphenols are used as building blocks in the plastic ‘polycarbonate’, which is a hard and heat resistant plastic, and in epoxy coating, which can be found on the inside of for example food and beverage cans.
Further, bisphenols are used in production of several other plastics, thermal paper used for e.g. receipts, textiles, leather and many other materials.
The bisphenols can also be found in products due to contamination during the production.
There are several different bisphenols. The most common is bisphenol A, which is one of the substances that are produced in the largest amounts worldwide. The abbreviation for bisphenol A is BPA.
Other bisphenols are called BPS, BPF and BPAF. BPA is endocrine disrupting in humans and the environment and several of the other bisphenols have been assessed to have equivalent effects.
The estimations of the amount of BPA that a human can tolerate without significantly affecting their health has been lowered regularly - most recently in April 2023.
The EU regulates the amount of BPA allowed to be released from selected products, for example in toys and in food contact materials. In feeding bottles and other products for food that are intended for children under the age of three, the use of BPA is completely prohibited.
Bisphenols in children’s clothes and leather
According to a 2022 report, there is bisphenol A in almost all Europeans and in the water environment. The report was made by HBM4EU, an EU-project that collects data on e.g. which chemicals EU citizens are exposed to and what effect this chemical exposure has on their health.
In 2019, Spanish scientists found bisphenol A in an examination of 100 children’s socks. Since then, also the Danish Environmental Protection Agency has tested for and found bisphenol A in underwear and socks for kids and adults.
According to scientists, there can be different explanations as to how bisphenol A has ended up in the clothes. Reuse of plastics with bisphenol for textiles is one explanation but the substance can also be used directly in the production of textiles and leather.
”It is worrying if the bisphenols circulate in products when plastic is recycled. However, we cannot conclude that this is the main reason why we are finding bisphenols in textiles. We do not know for certain since bisphenols can be used in the production of many different materials, including textiles and leather,” Stine Müller says.
The cocktail effect
If you have drinking bottles or other plastic products for kids, or if your kids have leather slippers that could have been tanned using bisphenols, there is no reason to be alarmed about the specific products.
This is emphasized by Stine Müller: ”It is surprising that the bisphenols are so widespread and that we find them in so many different types of kids’ products, although they are generally found in smaller quantities. The content or release of bisphenols from the different products do not themselves pose a risk to the health of the children. However, the overall exposure to bisphenols and other unwanted chemicals from other products, also known as the cocktail effect, could,” she says.
The cocktail effect is the effect of the total amount of unwanted chemicals that we are exposed to during our everyday life. There can be unwanted chemicals in your lotion, food, clothes, and furniture, and we are also often exposed to chemicals through indoor air and dust.
It is the many small contributions which consumers are exposed to from many different sources that could be problematic. SOFIE CHRISTIANSEN, Senior scientist, DTU National Food Institute, Lyngby.
According to Sofie Christiansen, senior scientist at the DTU National Food Institute in the Research Group for Molecular and Reproductive Toxicology, we need to consider the cocktail effect.
”It is the many small contributions which consumers are exposed to from many different sources, which can be problematic,” she says.
The limit values do not consider the cocktail effect
For some products – e.g. toys and food packaging – there are limit values for the release of bisphenol A but the problem with the limit values is that they do not consider the cocktail effect, says Hanne Frederiksen from the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet.
”If you are exposed to this one substance only, it is not a problem. But we are exposed to a mix of thousands of substances and bisphenols are only a few of them,” she says and points out that it is a general problem that toxicology does not consider the overall exposure to chemicals.
Problematic bisphenols are not regulated
The regulations of bisphenols in products vary, both in regards to the use of different bisphenols and the types of products.
For textiles and sunglasses there are no regulation of bisphenols but for toys, such as teething toys, there are limits on how much bisphenol A is allowed to be released.
There is also an EU limit on how much bisphenol A and bisphenol S is allowed to be released from for example disposable and reusable drinking bottles. Furthermore, in selected products for babies such as feeding bottles and sippy cups, all use of bisphenol A is prohibited.
However, in our test we found release of other bisphenols than bisphenol A from water bottles and sippy cups, which points to another problem. For years, there has been a focus on bisphenol A, which is classified as endocrine disrupting. However, as regulation of the use of bisphenol A have been tightened, the industry has started using other – often just as problematic – bisphenols, of which there are no regulation .
We have clear indications that the use of bisphenol A has been in decline concurrently with the stricter legislation, but we can see that the industry has simply substituted bisphenol A with other bisphenols. Hanne Frederiksen Senior scientist, Dep. of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen.
In a study from 2019, the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet found that while the amount of bisphenol A has fallen drastically in humans, the amount of bisphenol F and S has increased.
”We have clear indications that the use of bisphenol A has been in decline concurrently with the stricter legislation, but we can see that the industry has simply substituted bisphenol A with bisphenol F and S, which studies show to have the same endocrine disrupting effects as bisphenol A,” Hanne Frederiksen says.
Bisphenol A, B and S are on the EU candidate list of particularly problematic substances because they are endocrine disrupting in humans and the environment but substances such as bisphenol F and AF are still not on the list even though they are also endocrine disrupting.
According to Stine Müller from the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, the test shows that there is a need for further tightening of the legislation if we want to limit our overall exposure to bisphenols and perhaps a strengthening of the legislation is on the way.
New assessment of bisphenol A
At the end of 2022, Germany made a proposition to limit the use of several bisphenols in the EU in order to limit the emissions of the unwanted substances in the environment. In April 2023, the EU authority EFSA – which assesses the safety of chemicals in food - established that the tolerable intake of bisphenol A should be lowered 20.000 times. This means that they assess bisphenol A to have unwanted effects at much lower doses than hitherto assumed.
”In the light of the new EFSA assessment, where even very small doses of BPA can cause unwanted health effects, the widespread use of bisphenol A and other bisphenols needs to stop if we want to protect the consumers. Not just in the already regulated products such as food and beverage cans and toys but in consumer products in general and particularly in products for children,” Stine Müller says.
Limit your exposure to bisphenols
- Look for toys and textiles with the EU Ecolabel or the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, which prohibit use of several of the most problematic bisphenols.
- Wash new textiles before use, which can reduce exposure to bisphenols.
- Only allow small children to munch on products that are intended for smaller children.
- Choose pacifiers and other baby products from other materials than polycarbonate.
- Refill water bottles and cups regularly instead of drinking water that has been sitting in the bottle for a longer period.
- Ask the manufacturer if the product contains bisphenols, including others than bisphenol A.
- Use the app Tjek Kemien/Scan4Chem to ask the producers if their products contain bisphenols from the candidate list.
These children products contain bisphenols
Bisphenols were found in more than half of the 121 products for kids that the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals tested in collaboration with our European sister organizations within ICRT, International Consumer Research and Testing. Therefore, many of the products receive the B- or C-rating.
In the test, we measured the content of several bisphenols in textile and leather products for kids. We also measured the release of several different bisphenols from plastic products for children including sunglasses, teething rings and water bottles. The products were bought in Austria, France, Belgium, Italy, The Czech Republic, Slovenia and Denmark, and online.
Many of the companies behind the tested products have informed us that their products comply with existing legislation and that, in many cases, the amount of the substances is very low. This is consistent with what our test shows.
For many of the tested product types, there is no EU-regulation on bisphenol A. For the product types that do have regulations, we have tested for more bisphenols than the ones included in the regulation. We also tested for lower concentrations than the limit values and under different conditions than the legislation.