Lobbyists helped set plastics safety - US panel

Author: Ben Lefebvre


By Ben Lefebvre

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relied on studies paid for by the lobbying arm of the plastics industry in determining the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a US Congressional committee said on Tuesday.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, along with its oversights and investigations subcommittee, said that the FDA based its decision that BPA was safe enough to avoid regulation solely on two studies that were funded by the American Plastics Council (APC).

The FDA ignored government-funded studies linking BPA consumption to diabetes, obesity, cancer and other illnesses, the House panel charged.

“While many scientists have raised concerns about the safety of BPA, FDA seems to have relied only upon science paid for by the plastic industry’s lobbying group,” said subcommittee chairman Representative Bart Stupak (Democrat - Michigan).

The committee asked the FDA to provide the names of the people who decided to base the agency’s findings on the two studies, one of which it said was never made public. It also asked the FDA to explain what steps it would need to take to reconsider its decision regarding BPA’s safety.

The committee asked the FDA supply it with the two reports, threatening to issue subpoenas if it did not comply within two weeks.

The APC is a division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

ACC spokeswoman Tiffany Harrington said the group supports independent scientific research and “government, industry and the public managing chemical products”.  She declined to speak on the record about any conflict-of-interest issues the FDA might encounter by exclusively using industry-sponsored reports.

An FDA spokesman did not immediate return calls before press time.

The House announcement is part of a larger investigation on the relationship between chemical lobbying groups and government agencies. Last week, the committee announced it was probing the role the ACC and other industry players had in previous US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chemical peer-review panels.

BPA is used to create the plastic polycarbonate, which in turn is used in making baby bottles, sports water bottles and the lining of food cans, as well as plastic for automobiles and compact discs. By 2010, the US is expected to consume about 572,000 tonnes/year of the plastic.

The chemical, which mimics the hormone estrogen, has become the subject of concerns that it could cause health problems if it leaches into a container’s liquid contents and is ingested.

BPA safety has been hotly debated for the past year. Some critics, including University of Missouri in Columbia biological science professor Frederick vom Saal, have accused some industry lobbyists of “manufacturing dissent” by funding research intended to show BPA was safe.

Vom Saal, who has been following BPA research since the mid-1990s, said he compiled data showing that 85% of the 176 BPA studies conducted to date show low doses of the chemical adversely affected the health of test animals. All of those studies were government funded, vom Saal said.

The chemical industry funded 13 studies, all of which showed BPA had no health affect on test animals, according to vom Saal’s compilation.

The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, is revisiting its November judgment that BPA had minimal effects on health after it was discovered that some panel members were employees of Sciences International, a chemical industry consulting firm. It is expected to announce its findings this month.

“I would find it appropriate if the FDA said they are seriously looking into this,” vom Saal said. “I think the FDA has to explain how they are aware of the scientific data.”

Despite the controversy over the research, retailers the world over have already started to offer more alternatives to consumers worried about BPA.

BPA manufacturers include Dow Chemical, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, SABIC Innovative Plastics, Sunoco Chemicals and Bayer.

Polycarbonate manufacturers include Dow, SABIC and Bayer Material Science.

For more on BPA visit ICIS chemical intelligence