The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed to formally review the safety of bisphenol A in polycarbonate, metal cans and other food-contact materials, accepting a petition from public health groups that say new data from European regulators points to the need for a rethink.
The Environmental Defense Fund and a coalition of other groups announced June 2 that the FDA had accepted their petition to review the safety of BPA in some common food-contact materials. They pointed to new data, including a December recommendation from an expert panel of the European Food Safety Authority, that governments set much lower levels for BPA migration and exposure in food.
"Based on studies not previously considered by FDA, the EFSA Expert Panel found that harmful effects from BPA exposure can occur at levels tens of thousands times lower than previously thought," said Maricel Maffini, a co-author of the petition and consultant.
Most people in the United States get 5,000 times more BPA in their daily diets than the EFSA expert panel considers safe, said Tom Neltner, EDF's senior director for safer chemicals.
The petitioners included the groups Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Clean Water Action, Consumer Reports, the Endocrine Society and the Environmental Working Group.
A former senior federal government official working on chemical toxicity, Linda Birnbaum, also joined the petition and said that the EFSA panel's work points to the need for much lower BPA exposure levels migrating from plastics and other materials.
"The scientific evidence is now more than enough to require strict limits on the use of BPA in packaging and plastics that come in contact with our food," said Birnbaum, a former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.
"The results are sobering, indicating that the harmful effects from BPA can occur at minuscule levels, far below what we're exposed to," she said.
Accepting the petition for review does not mean that FDA will agree with its conclusions, but it does subject BPA and its exposure levels to renewed formal scrutiny. Federal law requires the FDA to complete its review by Oct. 31, but the agency sometimes takes longer.