March 31, 2012 in Business

Feds reject call to ban BPA

Foes want chemical out of packaging
Matthew Perrone Associated Press
 
Widely used synthetic estrogen

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a synthetic estrogen developed more than 70 years ago. BPA came into wide use in the 1960s and 1970s to make polycarbonate plastic for such things as baby bottles. It is also used as an epoxy resin to line metal cans. BPA can be found in cellphones, in dental sealants, in eyeglasses, as a coating for cash register receipts and in hundreds of other household items.

WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration has rejected a petition from environmentalists that would have banned the plastic-hardening chemical bisphenol-A from all food and drink packaging, including plastic bottles and canned food.

The agency said Friday that petitioners did not present compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions on the much-debated chemical, commonly known as BPA, though federal scientists continue to study the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s petition was the latest move by public safety advocates to prod regulators into taking action against the chemical, which is found in everything from CDs to canned food to dental sealants.

About 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, mainly because it leaches out of food and beverage containers.

Some scientists believe exposure to BPA can harm the reproductive and nervous systems, particularly in babies and small children, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases. They point to results from dozens of BPA studies in rodents and other animals.

But the FDA reiterated in its response that that those findings cannot be applied to humans. The agency said the studies cited by NRDC were often too small to be conclusive. In other cases they involved researchers injecting BPA into animals, whereas humans ingest the chemical through their diet over longer periods of time. The agency also said humans metabolize and eliminate BPA much more quickly than rats and other lab animals.

“While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans,” the agency said in its response.

The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban BPA as a food additive, including all uses in food or beverage packaging. Petitions on various safety issues are routinely filed by advocacy groups, companies and even individuals. When the FDA failed to respond within the required timeframe, the environmental group sued the agency. In December a federal judge ruled that the agency had to respond by the end of March.

“The FDA is out of step with scientific and medical research,” said Dr. Sarah Janssen, NRDC’s senior scientist for public health.

FDA officials stressed that their assessment of BPA is ongoing, and they expect to issue another update later this year based on their most recent findings.

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