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FDA Announcement Regarding BPA Expected Today

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to respond to a petition to ban BPA in food-related items.

Update 3/31: The FDA Friday announced that it will continue to allow the use of BPAs in food and beverage containers according to the Huffington Post.  

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By March 31, 2012 the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to decide whether or not to continue allowing food packaging that contains BPA.

You’ve probably heard a lot about BPA in regards to baby bottles, sippy cups and other products made for children.  But it’s in many, many products that we all use, and in too many instances BPA is used in food packaging and other consumer products.

BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a “synthetic estrogen that disrupts normal endocrine function,” notes The New York Times, adding that “there is growing evidence in animal studies that exposure during fetal growth affects the development of reproductive systems and, in offspring, can lead to neurological problems. BPA has also been linked to prostate and breast cancer.”

A 2010 report published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised some concerns regarding exposure of fetuses, infants and young children to BPA.

In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. In the EU and Canada BPA is banned in baby bottles. A number of States have taken action at the State level in the US.  But until now the FDA has not announced its intentions.

As noted by The Environmental Working Group, “BPA is a toxic chemical and that it has been associated with breast cancer, prostate cancer, insulin resistance, reproductive defects and miscarriages. Nevertheless, BPA is allowed in consumer products, drinking water and food, the top exposure source for most people…As a result, studies have found BPA in breast milk, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid and cord blood.”

BPA is in A.T.M. receipts printed and most other thermal paper such as cash register receipts. It is in dental sealants, the lining of food cans and in many other items.

The FDA’s announcement, expected today, is in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to ban the chemical completely from food-contact materials. 

It will be interesting to see what the FDA says.  The American Chemistry Association insists that BPA is safe.  In a March 30, 2012 press release they note that, “In a recent study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers from three federal laboratories including FDA reconfirmed that it is very unlikely that BPA could cause human health effects due to the efficiency and speed by which the human body metabolizes and eliminates BPA.”

However, my concern is this:  If BPA is banned, what chemicals will they use in its place?

BPA is a well-known, well-studied entity.  As evidenced in the “BPA-free” furor surrounding baby and kid products, sometimes consumers just accept that taking out one potentially dangerous chemical has made it safe.  This is not always the case.

As I noted in a May 2011 article for Patch.com, some companies are using BPS instead of BPA in some thermal paper. Bisphenol S (BPS) is structurally similar to BPA.  It has not been studied as much as BPA but preliminary studies show that it shares the same hormone-mimicking properties.

The EPA has a voluntary program that is currently evaluating BPS and 17 additional substances, but has not yet issued any information.

And some aggressively marketed “BPA-free” children’s items in the US use plastic containing BPS instead.

Bisphenols in general seem to be bad news, but it’s easy to market something as “BPA-free” and still be exposing people to dangerous substances, when other bisphenols are used instead.

As another example, The New York Times explains that “BPAF is BPA’s fluorinated twin. It is used in electronic devices, optical fibers and more. New studies have found BPAF to be an even more potent endocrine disrupter than BPA. Bisphenol B and Bisphenol F are other variants used instead of BPA in various products. In the limited testing done on those chemicals in other countries, scientists found Bisphenol B to be more potent than BPA in stimulating breast cancer cells.”

And these are being used as BPA substitutes.

So, where is the FDA’s announcement going to leave us, the consumers?

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