Corrected: INSIGHT: US BPA baby bottle ban results from market forces

16 August 2012 16:57  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS story headlined “INSIGHT: US BPA baby bottle ban results from market forces” dated 16 August 2012, please read in the 18th paragraph … BPA is still used to make polycarbonate, which is widely used in plastic bottles. BPA is also used in epoxy resins for the internal coatings of food cans … instead of … BPA is still used to make polycarbonate, which is widely used in plastic bottles and as a lining in food cans …. A corrected story follows.

By Brian Ford

HOUSTON (ICIS)--It may seem unusual for a government regulator to limit the use of a chemical at the request of the chemical industry.

Perhaps even more unusual is the action takes place after the industry has already stopped using the chemical for the products in question.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did just that in July when it banned the use of bisphenol A (BPA) to make plastics such as polycarbonate (PC) that went into baby bottles and spill–free “sippy cups”.

But consumer concerns over potential health issues effectively stopped the use of polycarbonate, and thus BPA, in those products years before.

The FDA action was sought by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), despite the fact that the government regulator had denied a request by environmentalists to stop BPA in plastics for food containers of any kind.

Steven Hentges of the ACC’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group maintains that science continues to show that BPA is safe, but added that the chemical has been controversial, particularly when it was used in the production of plastics for children’s products.

“We felt that a good way to bring clarity and certainty was to petition the FDA and have them revise their regulations,” Hentges said.

“We thought it was an innovative way to address the issue,” he continued. “It sounds counterintuitive to push to ban one of our products but that is an over-generalisation."

Hentges emphasised that the FDA decision to ban the use of BPA in plastics to make certain baby products was not based on health or safety concerns, but rather on what had already happened in the market place.

Bowing to consumer concerns, makers of baby bottles and "sippy cups" began four years ago to phase out polycarbonate infant feeding products.

“We had to prove to the FDA that it had been abandoned,” Hentges said. “We did a survey of polycarbonate makers and confirmed they were not selling into the [infant feeding products] market.”

BPA manufacturers in the US include Bayer MaterialScience, Dow Chemical, Momentive Specialty Chemicals, SABIC Innovative Plastics and Haverhill Chemicals (an affiliate of Goradia Capital). Makers of polycarbonate include Bayer MaterialScience, SABIC Innovative Plastics and Styron.

But the controversy over BPA is not over.

Following the FDA’s action in July, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the ban “is only a baby step in the fight to eradicate BPA. To truly protect the public, FDA needs to ban BPA from all food packaging”.

The environmental group’s Sarah Janssen continued: “This half-hearted action – taken only after consumers shifted away from BPA in children’s products – is inadequate. FDA continues to dodge the bigger questions of BPA’s safety.”

The NRDC had earlier asked the FDA for an all-out ban, maintaining that BPA is linked to an array of adverse health effects, including cancer, obesity, abnormal brain development and reproductive problems.

The FDA denied the environmental group’s request on 30 March, saying the NRDC group “did not provide the scientific evidence needed to change current regulations, which allow the use of BPA in food packaging”.

BPA is still used to make polycarbonate, which is widely used in plastic bottles. BPA is also used in epoxy resins for the internal coatings of food cans.

The FDA issued a health information statement in March acknowledging that some studies have raised health hazard concerns.

“But FDA – as well as the Euro­pean Food Safety Authority [EFSA] – has carefully assessed these studies and finds no convincing evidence to support that belief,” the US regulator said. 

Dennis Keefe, director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, said: “We make public health deci­sions based on a careful review of well-performed studies, not based on claims or beliefs. We have to perform an unbi­ased evaluation of the data,” he says.

The FDA is continuing its research and monitoring of studies to address uncertainties raised about BPA. 

The ACC’s Hentges said at least one of the FDA studies is expected to provide “strong support for the safety of BPA”.

The European Commission has also banned BPA in infant feeding bottles, but unlike the FDA, it cited uncertainty over the health effects of the chemical as its rationale.

The action was taken despite assertions by the EU’s food watchdog that there was no need to lower the limit of BPA intake as there was no new evidence that low doses of the chemical had any adverse effects on human health.

Several state legislatures in the US have also considered banning BPA.

Convincing those legislatures that BPA is safe “will take some time”, Hentges said.

“As new science starts to propagate, we have a good story to tell,” he added, noting that the use of BPA to make plastics and epoxy resins goes back some 50 years.

The authority of individual states to enact such bans “is somewhat of a gray zone”, Hentges said.

In 2011, 28 states were active on the BPA issue, Hentges said, adding that most legislation did not pass.

“This year there were 16 states and essentially nothing passed,” he said.

Meanwhile, some companies are marketing alternatives to plastics that could leach BPA, but even some of those products have come under fire in court.

US-based Eastman Chemical is locked in a legal fight with two companies over safety questions about Eastman’s Tritan copolyester.

Additional reporting by Al Greenwood and Joe Kamalick

By: Brian Ford
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