Despite Environmentalist Requests, the FDA Won't Ban BPA

In a response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the agency said it has no reason to believe the chemical is harmful to humans.

The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that it won’t ban bisphenol A, the endocrine-disrupting chemical found in plastic and food products—not yet, at least.

In its decision, the agency emphasized that it is still reviewing the science on BPA, but that government scientists have no reason to believe it poses a health risk. But legions of environmental, consumer, and public health groups already are convinced that the chemical, which is found in more than 90 percent of Americans, poses a threat to humans.

The Natural Resources Defense Council had forced the decision with a petition requesting BPA be banned from contact with food. After the agency failed to respond, the group took the issue before a judge, who ordered the FDA to take action on the petition by March 31.

The ubiquity of BPA is unsettling. Studies have found the chemical in the blood of newborn babies, who absorbed it while still in utero. We consume the stuff every day: It leaches from can linings into our food and drink. It’s on cash-register receipts and smears on the fingertips of anyone who touches one. The stuff is everywhere and has proven hard to replace in products like canned tomatoes. Studies have linked the chemical to cancer and abnormal brain development. But the FDA "was not persuaded by the data and information" presented in NRDC’s petition, David H. Dorsey, the acting associate policy commissioner, wrote in the agency’s response.

Public pressure has been strong enough to win BPA-free sippy cups and baby bottles and some BPA-free canned products from manufacturers. The FDA says it supports both those efforts. But the agency is not convinced that the levels of BPA that actually make it into human bloodstreams should worry us. A recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, for instance, found undetectable levels of BPA in the bloodstream of test subjects fed BPA-rich food products, and argued that contamination (a common problem in BPA tests) might have skewed other results.

But another recent study concluded that even low levels of BPA can pose a problem to humans. Chemicals that mimic hormones can have different impacts at low doses than at high doses, and the study found that low-dose BPA trials have shown negative impacts that didn’t show up at higher dose levels.

For groups like NRDC, the scientific evidence is clear. "The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research," NRDC senior scientist Dr. Sarah Janssen said in a statement. “This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals." In the meantime, the group will continue recommending that individuals avoid BPA.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user p_a_h


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