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FDA Defends BPA in Baby Bottles

May 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The federal agencies that regulate use of the estrogen-mimicking chemical BPA are agreeing with the chemical industry in defending its safety.  Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced it sees no reason to advise consumers to stop using products made with the controversial chemical, which is found in many plastic items.  Norris Alderson, the FDA's associate commissioner for science said although the FDA is reviewing concerns about bisphenol A, or BPA, "a large body of available evidence" indicates products such as liquid or food containers made with BPA are safe.  In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Alderson defended the FDA's reliance on two industry-funded studies in making this determination. Critics have accused the FDA of failing to act on BPA concerns and have accused them of acquiescing to industry.

Meanwhile, in a number of studies not funded by industry, a variety of health problems have occurred in laboratory animals exposed to low BPA levels, which have been found to cause changes in behavior; in the brain, prostate gland, and mammary gland; and the age at which girls enter puberty.  In the lab, BPA is linked to sex-hormone-imbalances, including breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, miscarriage, low sperm count, and immune-system changes.  The National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found BPA risk and exposure causes neural and behavioral effects in children, becoming the first federal agency to accept such fears.  A group of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the FDA, and the Institutes of Health (NIH) warned that very low doses of BPA cause profound effects on laboratory animals, particularly during pregnancy and infancy and that BPA can permanently rewire genetic programming before birth.  The federal National Toxicology Program said experiments on rats found precancerous tumors, urinary tract problems, and early puberty when animals were fed or injected with low BPA doses.

And, despite the FDA’s statements to the contrary and industry’s defense of BPA, legislation has been proposed in several states to limit or ban BPA use.  Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, Playtex, and CVS have all announced that they are phasing out bottles and other baby feeding products containing BPA and Nalgene said it would stop using BPA.

Some senators also faulted the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for also failing to protect consumers from phthalates, another class of controversial chemicals that is used to improve flexibility in plastics.  This March, the Senate passed legislation to impose a nationwide ban on phthalates in children's toys and products.  "The FDA could hardly be doing less," Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said.  Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the FDA was "looking the other way" on safety concerns about BPA.  "Parents always err on the side of caution when it comes to their kids' health.  We think that the law should do the same," he added.  In April, Schumer, Kerry, and other Democratic senators introduced a bill to ban BPA in children's products and direct the CDC to study BPA health effects in humans.

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