Issue Date: October 20, 2008
Questioning FDA On Bisphenol A
The head of an FDA panel reviewing the safety of the plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA) finds himself in the hot seat for a possible conflict of interest. At issue is whether Martin A. Philbert, chairman of FDA's BPA subcommittee and a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, should have disclosed a $5 million donation from a BPA proponent to the university's Risk Science Center, which he founded and directs.
Charles Gelman, a retired medical device manufacturer who believes BPA is safe, made the donation in July. An Oct. 11 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first brought to light questions about whether the donation could influence Philbert's assessment of BPA's health risks.
Members of Congress reacted to the news by saying it casts doubt on FDA's ability to make the best decisions possible about the safety of BPA. The House Committee on Energy & Commerce says it will investigate the matter.
Philbert did not respond to inquiries from C&EN. But a University of Michigan spokeswoman says Philbert declined to engage in any conversations about BPA with Gelman and did not disclose the donation because he himself did not benefit financially from the money.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that has been pushing for a ban on BPA, expressed concern that FDA's associate commissioner of science, Norris Alderson, reportedly saw no conflict of interest because Philbert's salary is not paid for with the donation. "Such a narrow definition of 'conflict' is inconsistent with FDA's interpretation of the types of remuneration that could present, at minimum, the appearance of a conflict of interest," EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles wrote in a letter to FDA.
FDA says it is reviewing the situation.
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