Canada recently announced plans to immediately proceed with drafting regulations to prohibit the importation, sale, and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing bisphenol A (BPA). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains in a draft report that products containing the chemical are safe at current levels of exposure. But an FDA Science Board subcommittee that peer-reviewed this draft report said last week said that the FDA assessment had "important limitations." The report concluded that "the Margins of Safety defined by FDA as 'adequate' are, in fact, inadequate."
BPA is commonly found in polycarbonate baby bottles and sport bottles as well as in the lining of canned foods, including liquid infant formula. Studies suggest that the chemical can mimic estrogen and may be linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, and other health problems in children and adults. Canada announced a proposal last April to ban some items containing BPA and to take action to keep BPA out of the environment. Those regulations are expected to take effect in 2009.
In the U.S., the FDA stated in a draft report in August that an "adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses for infants and adults." The agency says it looks forward to reviewing the new subcommittee report and will respond before the next scheduled meeting of the Science Board in February 2009. Consumers Union testified at an FDA hearing in September that the agency should use its full authority to reduce consumers exposure to BPA by eliminating the chemical from any packaging that comes in contact with food or beverages.
Others have called on industry to eliminate BPA from its products. In October, attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey wrote manufacturers of canned infant formulas calling on them to stop using BPA in the lining of their products. “As Attorneys General, we call for the immediate elimination of this dangerous chemical from our children’s food,” reads one of the letters, which also sites a Congressional investigation of BPA use in infant products and a Senate bill that would ban the chemical in products intended for use by children under seven.
As the attention to the potential risks of BPA has grown, some retailers have already announced phasing out baby products that contain BPA. Several retailers, including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us, have announced they are removing bottles that contain BPA from their shelves.
The FDA released a statement in response to the subcommittee report suggesting concerned parents look to BPA-free plastic alternatives or glass baby bottles, or to talk to their pediatrician about powdered formula. The October 2008 issue of Consumer Reports featured a test of some BPA-free bottles, which discovered that they had negligible amounts of the chemical. Those bottles are better choices for parents who want to use plastic and limit their children’s exposure to BPA.
—Kevin McCarthy, associate editor
For more on plastics and your health, see our Safety blog.