By Roy Benaroch, MD
In a reversal of their previous policy announced in March 2012, the FDA this past week announced a ban on the chemical BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups. Still, their spokesman says the chemical is safe, and it can continue to be used in other food packaging, including packaging for infant formula. And they’re still looking into it, and they may change their minds again. Confused?
BPA is a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of food containers and many other products. It’s gotten quite a bit of media attention over the past five years or so, as many people have become convinced that it could cause a number of health problems in adults and children. I’ve written about the issue before, pointing out that studies have been inconclusive and that it’s impossible to be 100% absolutely certain about the safety of things in our environment, including chemicals.
With BPA, several studies do hint at health problems. The most recent one (summarized here) looked at children who had had dental fillings made with BPA, and showed small but real differences in their behavior as they grew. Ironically, the BPA-produced fillings were probably chosen because some people are afraid of the older, mercury-containing silver amalgams (which in that same study showed no ill effects.) The authors of the study acknowledge that the differences in behavior are very small and unlikely to be noticed, but it is possible that the effects might be larger in some children than others.
Because of public concern, most manufacturers had already chosen to remove this chemical from their baby bottles and other products. So the “ban”, in fact, just tells companies to keep doing what they’ve decided to do.
Science can be slow, and often there isn’t a 100% clear answer. People, I think, can understand that. The FDA still claims that the weight of the evidence shows that BPA is safe. I’m not sure that their partial ban is going to help anyone feel more confident about that.