Yesterday came and went with no announcement from the FDA on the safety of BPA in food packaging. The agency had created a self-imposed November 30 deadline for releasing a new finding, and in the intervening months, a number of new studies on the health effects of BPA have been released and FDA has brought in an outside expert to head up the review. These developments have understandably slowed the review process.
The question before FDA is whether BPA is safe for its intended use in food contact applications — the lining inside cans, for example. So Kaiser Permanente’s recent headline-grabbing study that showed an increased likelihood of erectile dysfunction and problems ejaculating among workers who were highly exposed to BPA in a Chinese plant might not be very useful in making that determination. But the many studies showing correlations between various exposures to BPA and other adverse health effects might be more important.
As Meg Kissinger reports in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, FDA’s review panel – now headed by Lynn Goldman of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, a renowned expert on endocrine-disrupting chemicals – must make its safety determination amidst a whirlwind of other developments, including voluntary restrictions on certain uses of BPA by the chemical’s manufacturers, local laws banning BPA use in baby bottles, and petitions from public health NGOs for new product labels, warnings, and temporary bans on specific uses of BPA.
The intertwined policy developments and evolving science on BPA’s toxicology have created a difficult environment for FDA to communicate a clear statement to the public about the health concerns connected to BPA. But slow reactions to experts’ warnings on public health threats have plagued FDA in recent years (e.g., suicides linked to antidepressants, dangers posed by children’s use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines). The BPA review presents an opportunity for FDA to show it can be on the leading edge for a change.