The FDA’s Mixed Message on BPA
Posted on Friday, January 22nd, 2010
Late last week, the FDA finally announced that it has “some concern” about BPA. According to USA Today,
Although the FDA stopped short of telling parents to change formulas or throw out old bottles, officials said they are encouraging manufacturers to stop making baby feeding products containing BPA. The agency also wants to help manufacturers to find safer materials to line metal cans of liquid baby formula.
The agency also is looking into ways to expand its authority to regulate BPA, in case scientists do find definitive evidence of harm, says Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner.
Federal officials say they will continue studying the issue.
Wow. How very…underwhelming.
And now we can’t help but think about the agency’s recent actions with respect to mercury amalgam fillings. In 2008, the FDA finally acknowledged their potential harm, at least with respect to children and pregnant women. In 2009, though, they did another 180, issuing a “final” ruling that mercury fillings are totally safe – a ruling that Consumers for Dental Choice and others argue was riddled by conflicts of interest.
We’re also reminded of a media release sent out last month by the CDC on findings from its National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. The release focused on the finding that, as the headline put it, “Mercury Present in Most Americans.”
The CDC scientists found or concluded that:
- Most of the participants had a measurable amount of mercury in their bodies.
- Both blood and urine mercury levels tended to increase with age.
- All blood mercury levels were less than 33 µg/L.
- Blood and urine mercury in the US population were similar to levels seen in other developed countries.
The CDC said that “defining safe levels of mercury in blood continues to be an active research area”, meaning we don’t really know what constitutes a “safe” level.
Yet this doesn’t stop the author of the release from spouting the usual party line of “nothing to worry about.”
However, in 2000, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that a level of 85 micrograms per liter (µg/L) in cord blood was linked with early neurodevelopmental effects, and the lower limit of the 95 per cent confidence range of this estimate was 58 µg/L (95 per cent confidence range is a statistical measure of robustness that says if you were to do this experiment or study 100 times, on 95 of those times you would get a figure ranging between these two limits).
The CDC note that this lower 95 per cent confidence limit 58 µg/L is above the 33 µg/L that the Fourth Report estimates as the maximum present in the US population, and point out that: “Finding a measurable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse health effect.”
But wait. Didn’t they just say “we don’t really know what constitutes a ‘safe’ level”?
So now we get another mixed message with respect to BPA: there’s cause for concern but no real action being taken as a result of the concern.
Sarah Janssen, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the FDA should have given parents clear instructions to avoid BPA in food packaging, even as scientists conduct more research. By expressing concern but not banning the chemical, the FDA is likely to confuse parents about the best way to protect their children, she says.
The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, agreed that the FDA announcement may confuse consumers.
In light of all the recent and continuing research about the safety of BPA, we believe that the precautionary principle is in order here:
“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
“In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”
Meantime, if you aren’t already working on eliminating as much BPA as possible from your world and want some tips for doing so, check out EWG’s “Consumer Tips to Avoid BPA Exposure.”