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FDA Raises Flag On Bisphenol A

Chemical Safety: Agency moves to collaborate with other federal partners on health effects research

by Britt E. Erickson
January 25, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 4

FDA supports replacing or minimizing BPA in food can linings, but few alternatives exist.
Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

FDA announced on Jan. 15 that it has “some concern” about the potential health effects of the plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in infants and children. But the agency said that more research is needed to fully assess the safety of the estrogen-like chemical.

The announcement brings FDA in line with the National Toxicology Program, which said in 2008 that it has some concern that BPA may cause neurological effects in infants and children at current exposure levels. At that time, under the Bush Administration, FDA maintained that BPA in food and beverage containers is safe.

“Some concern means, in part, that we need to know more,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said during the Jan. 15 briefing. Over the next 18–24 months, FDA will work with NIH and other federal agencies to conduct key research on the health effects of BPA, she noted.

In the meantime, FDA is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA. For example, the agency is supporting efforts to replace BPA in infant formula cans and minimize the chemical in other food can linings. FDA is also considering a more robust regulatory framework for BPA so that if new information becomes available, it can act quickly.

FDA’s decision pleased some members of Congress, particularly those trying to reform chemical safety legislation. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, called the announcement “a very positive step that sets us back on a path of science-based decision-making.”

Environmental and consumer health groups had mixed reactions. Some were disappointed with the announcement, saying there is already enough scientific evidence to warrant a ban on BPA in food and beverage containers. Others called the announcement a victory for parents and children and a signal of a new era for health protection at FDA.

The American Chemistry Council—a chemical industry trade group that includes BPA manufacturers—said that FDA’s announcement “confirms that exposure to BPA in food contact products has not been proven harmful to children or adults.” The trade group was disappointed, however, saying that “some of the recommendations are likely to worry consumers and are not well-founded.”



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