By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008
A controversial chemical commonly found in can linings, baby bottles and other household products does not pose a health hazard when used in food containers, according to a draft assessment released by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday.
The report stands in contrast to more than 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories that have found health concerns associated with bisphenol A (BPA). Some studies have linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.
Exposure to the small amounts of BPA that migrate from the containers into the food they hold are not dangerous to infants or adults, the draft said.
"FDA has concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses," regulators wrote in the draft report, which will be reviewed Sept. 16 at a meeting of members of an FDA advisory committee studying the safety of the chemical.
The chemical industry and the agencies that regulate the use of BPA, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, have deemed the chemical safe, largely on the strength of two industry-funded studies that found no problems. The American Chemistry Council welcomed the findings of the new report.
"FDA is the premier agency responsible for the safety of our food," Steven G. Hentges, an executive of the group, said in a statement. "FDA's thorough analysis confirms that food contact materials containing BPA can continue to be used safely."
FDA critic Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, said the agency lacks sufficient data to declare the chemical safe.
"Clearly, their effort was to minimize people being concerned about this," Zuckerman said. "It just seems that whenever there is an opportunity to look at a new, important issue, they just seem to be siding with industry's point of view."
BPA, in commercial use since the 1950s, is found in many everyday items, including compact discs and automobiles. One federal study estimated the chemical is present in the urine of 93 percent of the population.
Concerns about the safety of BPA have kept the chemical industry on the defensive in recent months.
Canadian regulators recently decided to ban the controversial compound in baby products. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, and Toys R Us, the largest toy seller, have said that by January their shelves will be free of children's products containing BPA.
Democrats in Congress have introduced one bill that would ban the chemical in products intended for use by children younger than 8, and another that would restrict its use in food containers. Neither bill has advanced beyond the committee stage.
"Ask any mother of a child if there is an adequate margin of safety for the things that she puts her child in contact with," said Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate for U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group. "When you're talking about the stuff that's going to carry your child's food into their body, you want the safest thing possible."