Consumer groups, food packaging companies and a wide range of manufacturers have been waiting for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to finish it's reevaluation of bisphenol A (BPA)--the plastics additive that has been linked to health problems ranging from cancer and diabetes to neurological disorders in children and sexual dysfunction in men--and either issue new safety standards that people can trust or ban the use of BPA altogether.
The FDA had set November 30 as the deadline to finish reviewing the available science on BPA and to announce its conclusions--but the deadline came and went with nothing more than a promise from the agency that its findings won't be delayed much longer. One FDA spokesman said on Monday that "it won't be 2010," which apparently means that the agency now plans to make an announcement before the end of December.
BPA was first developed as a synthetic estrogen but today is used in thousands of everyday products, from baby bottles and children's toys to carbonless paper receipts and the lining in many food and beverage cans. Manufacturers use more than 6 billion pounds of BPA annually, and the chemical is so ubiquitous that a Centers for Disease Control study concluded that 93 percent of all U.S. residents likely had BPA in their urine.
A growing number of scientific studies have raised serious questions about the potential health effects of BPA exposure while lobbyists for the chemical and plastics industries have continued to claim that low levels of BPA poses no threat to human health.
The previous FDA standards seemed to support the industry assessment, but the integrity of those standards were called into question when it was discovered that the agency had based its conclusions on just two industry-financed reports while ignoring more than 100 independent studies, and had allowed industry lobbyists to write portions of the report.
Once that conflict came to light, President Obama ordered the FDA to take a fresh look at the science and to determine the relative hazard or safety of BPA exposure at various levels.
People on both sides of the BPA debate are anxiously awaiting the new FDA assessment, because the FDA ruling will determine to a large extent whether BPA can still be used in consumer products. Meanwhile, several state and local governments have imposed partial bans on BPA, and both the U.S. House and Senate are considering bills that would ban the use of BPA in a variety of products.