by Mitchell Clute
On Sept. 16, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration convened a panel of experts and defended its draft conclusion that the plastics chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, is safe, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study showing a potential link between high levels of BPA and a variety of diseases. BPA is found in hard plastics and can linings, and the FDA's own estimates suggest that formula-fed babies ingest 12.5 times more BPA per pound of body weight than the average adult.
The JAMA study doesn't demonstrate a causal link between BPA and disease states, but British researchers studying BPA levels in the urine of almost 1,500 adults found that those with the highest levels were twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities as those with the lowest levels.
Previously, consumer activists have relied upon animal studies when questioning the safety of BPA. Those studies show that the chemical, in lab animals, affects the prostate and reproductive systems and acts as an estrogen mimic in the body, potentially leading to early puberty, cancers and behavioral problems.
Another government body, the National Institutes of Health, earlier this month expressed "some concern" that BPA exposure may cause developmental damage to infants and children, but the FDA has continued to insist the chemical is safe, a conclusion critics say is based on a handful of studies underwritten by the chemical industry.
"The JAMA study really serves to reinforce the ongoing concern about BPA," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union, an independent product testing organization based in Washington, D.C. "We basically feel that FDA is not doing its job to protect public health, and the agency's assessment that BPA is safe for food and beverage applications is off base."
Speaking at the panel, FDA official Laura Tarantino said, "We have confidence in the data that… we're relying on to say that the margin of safety is adequate." While admitting that consumers could take steps to reduce exposure, Tarantino said the agency saw no reason to do so.
"FDA is basing its decision on only two studies, both of which are industry funded," said Jovana Ruzicic, spokeswoman for the Environmental Working Group, a consumer safety organization based in Washington, D.C. "We believe the best thing to do is avoid BPA, by eating fewer canned foods, and using glass bottles and bisphenol A-free products for infants."