All About BPA & NPEs

bispernol a

Bisphenol A (BPA) mimics estrogen and acts as an endocrine disruptor at very low doses. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the hormone mechanisms of the body. While previous high-dose studies of BPA indicated minimal risk, more recent research into the low-dose effects of BPA on the body’s hormone systems has raised concern among researches and Federal agencies. Source: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Basis Statement for Bisphenol-A.
“There is no controversy that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, acting by inhibiting the effects of estrogen, a vital reproductive and developmental hormone. … The current consensus of most scientists, as well as U.S. and international government agencies, is that there is sufficient evidence that BPA produces adverse effects at environmentally relevant exposures. Well over 100 studies have documented adverse effects on growth, brain development, behavior, early onset of puberty, changes in sex hormones, male fertility, and immune function as a result of exposure to environmentally relevant doses during the prenatal or postnatal period in animal models.”


PEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) are a group of chemicals that, like BPA, mimic the sex hormone estrogen. NPEs are highly toxic to aquatic life, degrade into a long-lived chemical that builds up in the food chain, and may harm reproduction and development in humans. Aggregate exposure to NPEs from all sources threatens the health of children, workers and the environment. For more information about NPEs, refer to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Basis Statement for Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates.

Why is EPA concerned about these chemicals?

NP and NPEs are produced in large volumes, with uses that lead to widespread release to the aquatic environment.
NP is persistent in the aquatic environment, moderately bioaccumulative, and extremely toxic to aquatic organisms. NP has also been shown to exhibit estrogenic properties in in vitro and in vivo assays. NP’s main use is in the manufacture of NPEs.

NPEs are nonionic surfactants that are used in a wide variety of industrial applications and consumer products. Many of these, such as laundry detergents, are “down-the-drain” applications. Some others, such as dust-control agents and deicers, lead to direct release to the environment. NPEs, though less toxic and persistent than NP, are also highly toxic to aquatic organisms, and, in the environment, degrade into NP.

NP and NPEs have been found in environmental samples taken from freshwater, saltwater, groundwater, sediment, soil and aquatic biota. NP has also been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine and is associated with reproductive and developmental effects in rodents.

Limited U.S. regulation:

The European Union has already banned or severely restricted many uses of NP and NPEs. However, only last year did the U.S. EPA issue a chemical action plan to address the health risks associated with these chemicals. To date EPA has relied on voluntary cooperation from industry to help phase out the use of NP and NPEs in household laundry detergents, mainly through EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative. The DfE program incentivizes the production of safer products through a label system, which products for consumer or commercial purchase can earn if they meet certain safety criteria. Currently, the program’s impact is limited to the use of NPs and NPEs in household detergents, although industrial detergents remain a major source of NPEs to the environment.

Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act:

Maine passed a chemical safety law in 2008 called the Kid Safe Products Act, under which manufacturers must disclose the use of priority chemicals of high concern in consumer products. The State may require companies to search for safer alternatives. Priority chemicals in products may be phased out when children are exposed and safer alternatives are available, effective and affordable.

In 2010, Maine named the first two priority chemicals under the Kid Safe Products Act: bisphenol A (BPA) and nonylphenol (NP) / nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). Manufacturers were required to report their use of NPEs in cosmetics, personal care products, cleaners and home maintenance products by October 3, 2011.

What you can do:

When you choose household detergents and laundry detergents:


Look for products that list all of their ingredients.
Look for products that are biodegradable.
Look for products that state they use plant or vegetable-based surfactants (coconut surfactants are one example of a plant surfactant).
Many major brands are starting to introduce cleaning products detergents that do not use NPE-based surfactants

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