Consumer groups, food packagers and the plastics industry have been awaiting a Food and Drug Administration reevaluation of bisphenol A, or BPA, the plastics additive that has been linked to health problems in a growing number of studies.
But a self-imposed Nov. 30 agency deadline for an announcement has come and gone, leaving interested parties wondering what the hang-up is and how long it will be before the FDA weighs in.
Soon, or at least fairly soon, according to an FDA spokesman, who said late Monday that “it won’t be 2010.”
BPA is a plastics-hardening chemical used in dozens of household items, including CDs, canned food and baby bottles. The compound mimics the effects of the hormone estrogen and has been tentatively linked to a variety of maladies including cancer, diabetes and neurological and behavioral disorders in children.
Food packagers and chemical industry trade groups insist that in low levels BPA causes no harm. That was the FDA’s position, too, until about a year and a half ago when questions were raised about the agency’s reliance on studies financed by the plastics industry. Earlier this year, the FDA agreed to review the science on the chemical and issue a new evaluation, which was to have come Monday.
Meanwhile, most baby bottle makers have stopped using BPA in bottles sold in the U.S. and several retail chains have pulled products containing the substance from their shelves.
In the last month, two more studies have added to the questions about BPA. In early November, Consumers Union reported that children eating multiple servings of a variety of tested food products could get doses of BPA approaching levels that caused harm in animal studies. The substance was present in even in packaging labeled "BPA free."
Later, the journal Human Reproduction reported that a federally funded study found that exposure to high levels of BPA appeared to cause erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems in men.
The FDA’s blown deadline has not gone unnoticed in food safety corners of the blogosphere, and this afternoon an outspoken "green" investment fund urged the agency to hurry up – and ban BPA.
-- Andrew Zajac