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Children's Health

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FDA Asked to Rethink Bisphenol A Safety

Panel Says FDA Should Reconsider Earlier Conclusion That Plastic Chemical Is Safe
WebMD Health News

Oct. 31, 2008 -- A scientific panel has formally urged the FDA to rethink a recent conclusion that a chemical used in baby bottles and infant formula packing is safe at current levels.

The chemical, called bisphenol A (BPA), is an ingredient in hard plastics and in the lining of many food cans. Consumer and environmental groups and several foreign regulatory bodies have called for the chemical to be banned over concerns that it may pose a health risk.

BPA is a known toxin. But the vast majority of studies are in animals. That forces scientists in many cases to take studies in mice or rats and extrapolate the results to humans.

The FDA concluded in August that the levels humans typically consume are safe. Earlier this week, a scientific subcommittee rejected that view, saying the agency ignored several studies and that it was premature to declare the chemical safe for human consumption.

On Friday, a scientific advisory board signed off on that report, in effect urging the agency to reconsider its conclusion.

The agency has until February to officially respond to the report. But a response is likely to come more quickly than that, says Stephen Sundlof, PhD, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

"We don't feel like we have to wait until February," Sundlof tells WebMD.

The agency has not urged consumers to avoid BPA-containing bottles or stop buying formula packaged in cans containing the chemical.

Still, some of the panel's members urged the agency to take immediate steps limiting infants' exposure to BPA.

Panel member Larry Sasich of the Lake Erie College of Medicine School of Pharmacy says the FDA is "losing credibility with the public" by failing to take clear steps limiting BPA exposure. "They expect us to come up with some solutions to this problem," Sasich says.

The FDA -- although revisiting its assumptions about safe BPA levels -- is still not recommending any change in consumer behavior. The agency is concerned that switching away from formula could pose a nutritional risk to infants that outweighs any benefit of avoiding BPA.

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