Sunday, August 24, 2008

We Cannot Trust the FDA on BPA

As reported on August 3rd, a bill was passed that will ban 3 types of phthalates from children's toys. This is a huge environmental victory, but we are still unable to get an equally dangerous chemical, bisphenol A, or BPA, out of our food products. While a government organization in Canada called Environment Canada has declared BPA toxic, and announced its intention to ban the chemical (New York Times, April), the American Food & Drug Administration last week declared it to be safe for the rest of us in North America.

Bisphenol A, which is added to polycarbonate plastics, dental sealants, and metal can linings, has been found in the urine of 93% of the American people tested. We have been brought up to understand the traditional theory of toxicity: the dose makes the poison. And this is true for some kinds of toxic materials, such as organic solvents or heavy metals: as long as a certain exposure threshold is not crossed, the person is not poisoned.

For some synthetic chemicals, like BPA, it is not the amount, but the timing of the exposure that is important. As I explained in a Future Earth post from November 8th; because BPA is similar in shape, the human body can mistake it for estrogen. A small amount is enough to confuse the endocrine system. It is especially dangerous to developing fetuses and children. See the Environmental Working Group's website for a chart describing studies that have shown this.

Concern has been growing over the last decade about the folly of exposing ourselves to this chemical in some kind of vast, uncontrolled human experiment. While independent scientists are getting results that would suggest that this chemical is dangerous, industry scientists are creating confusion by casting doubts on their results. One way in which they are doing this is by denying this new understanding of toxicity.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from August 15th; Hundreds of studies conducted by government and independent academic have shown that bisphenol A causes breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes and hyperactivity in laboratory animals...The chemical was developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen but came into widespread use in the 1950s when scientists realized it could be used to make polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to line food and beverage cans.

More than 6 billion pounds of bisphenol A are produced annually in the United States for use in an array of products, including dental sealants, baby bottles and compact discs.

The Chicago Tribune reported the story on August 16th with the following quotes:

"It's ironic FDA would choose to ignore dozens of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health — this country's best scientists — and instead rely on flawed studies from industry," said Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences. Myers said the agency disregarded recent studies of bisphenol's effects included in the National Toxicology Program's April draft report...

Some environmental groups questioned the timing of the FDA's report, noting California lawmakers are expected to soon vote on removing bisphenol from children's products. If signed into law, it would be the first state ban of the chemical. "For this to come out on a Friday afternoon, just before California takes action, it definitely raises some eyebrows," said Renee Sharp, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group.

The bill in California did not pass, with many lawmakers reporting that the FDA statement did influence their decision. Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.

The Environmental Working Group has a page on their site with tips on avoiding BPA. We have to educate ourselves and do what we can to avoid exposure since the government agency charged with ensuring our safety cannot be trusted.


Dirt said...

Shameful! No other word can describe it. Once again, a federal agency in the Bush era fails American citizens. Thankfully, there are still voices like TFE to remind us of the real and valid concerns over BPA.

Since the FDA has demonstrated it will do nothing regarding endocrine disruptors, it is up to us as individuals to make choices to protect ourselves and especially the children in our future. Perhaps, through the work of blogs like TFE and others, millions of educated consumers can accomplish what our government refuses to do: drive unsafe products out of the marketplace by exercising our economic power. Choose BPA-free products. Educate family and friends so they can make BPA-free choices. Leave industry with no choice but to adapt to a BPA-free future.

Tony J said...

Great post! More reading on FDA's recent announcement:

Denise said...

An article in Science News magazine describes recent research that implicates BPA in lowering the body's natural defenses against heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.

Denise said...

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on October 12th that a research center owned by Martin Philbert, the chairman of the FDA panel that made the ruling, received a $5 million donation from Charles Gelman, a medical supply manufacturer and outspoken opponent of BPA regulation.

Denise said...

And, also on October 12th, the New York Times reported on a new study showing that BPA reduces the effectiveness of chemotherapy medication.